Human Trafficking and the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Wednesday, 19 August, 2009 - 10:28

As the 2010 FIFA World Cup approaches, attention is increasingly focused on one of the most pervasive crimes expected to accompany the boom in the South African tourism industry: human trafficking. The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is likely to increase in order to meet the expected rise in demand for sex

As the 2010 FIFA World Cup approaches, attention is increasingly focussed on one of the most pervasive crimes expected to accompany the boom in the South African tourism industry: human trafficking. The trafficking of women and girls for sexual abuse purposes is likely to increase in order to meet the expected rise in demand for sex. Most authors argue that a positive correlation exists between the demand for sex work in one place (i.e. profit-generating opportunities) and the presence of large numbers of male tourists. There are, however, parties who disagree that such an increase will take place, most notably on the premise that the increase in police presence during the World Cup will render the environment too risky for traffickers to function as they wish. Focussed police presence may, however, not be the deterrent it is hoped to be. The police force’s current involvement in the sex work industry is questionable and the proposed decriminalisation of sex work before the World Cup contributes significantly to the complicated character of human trafficking.

Experts have warned South African authorities to take trafficking of women and girls more seriously and to ensure they are sufficiently prepared for the increase in trafficking that will presumably accompany the World Cup event. Ambassador Luis C deBaca, Director of the US Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State, addressed a conference on human trafficking in South Africa, Pretoria, on July 6, commenting that, “With the 2010 we might see an uptake of prostitution and brothels moving closer to the sites... pimping of children is also on the cards” (‘2010 attracts human trafficking’, The Citizen).

As stated earlier, some commentators believe that the increased presence of police during the event will force traffickers to maintain a low profile. They argue that the once-off nature of the event is not worth the while of traffickers (Global Alliance in Traffic Against Women, 2009). Contrary to this, The Mercury newspaper reported on July 16 that the South African Justice Department said it knows that more women are being trafficked into the country ahead of the World Cup. They are apparently being hidden away in residential areas until the World Cup tourists start flooding into the country.

Trafficking, police and the sex work industry

Shanaaz Parker, a researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), found that organised crime and trafficking are closely linked to the sex work industry (‘Call to legalise sex work before 2010’, Pretoria News). While arguments that the decriminalisation of sex work is necessary to protect sex workers rights are valid, we must also consider the impact of a legal sex work industry on the women themselves and connections between sex work and trafficking.

In April 2009, the Sex Worker Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) called on the South African government to speed up the decriminalisation of sex work. They want sex work to be decriminalised before 2010 so that sex workers’ rights are recognised and protected by law. The group emphasised that it would like to see sex work decriminalised in the long run, for the women’s sake, not only for the World Cup period and for male tourists’ pleasure, as former National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi suggested earlier this year. SWEAT hopes that a decriminalised sex industry will help protect sex workers, but the opposite may be the case if the police force dedicates fewer resources to the industry, given that it would then be legal. The police force may well be inclined to commit its limited resources to actual criminal activities instead of protecting the regularly abused rights of sex workers.

Errol Naidoo and a group of local and international activists are developing a document that outlines why the South African government should not decriminalise sex work. Naidoo is the Chairperson of the Family Policy Institute in Cape Town. He points out that the Institute’s research shows that countries who had sex work decriminalised are now trying to reverse their decisions. “Child trafficking, prostitution and the drug industry have exploded in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, where the industry was decriminalised more than 10 years ago,” he said. “The police and intelligence service in those countries are far more sophisticated than South Africa's, and yet they can't control it. How will we control it with corrupt police officers and with our political instability?” Naidoo asks.

The police force’s relationship with the sex work industry is turbulent and abusive. Policemen are free to abuse sex workers because their rights are not protected by law. Research undertaken by SWEAT found that sex workers fear abuse by police members. “Our experience indicates that the highest levels of violence against sex workers come from the police and law enforcement sectors,” said one of the researchers, Nicole Fick. Thirty percent of sex workers who have made statements to SWEAT have been forced to have sex with police officers (‘Sex workers fear abuse from cops – survey’, Independent Online). Is it thus very possible that the trafficking of women and children will increase as the 2010 World Cup approaches, and the nature of legislation against or for sex workers, as well as the police’s presence or absence and tendency to abuse sex workers, will all have impact on vulnerable women and children during the World Cup.

Can the trafficking of women and children be prevented?

South Africa is taking several measures to prevent an increase in the trafficking of women and children. Legislation that deals specifically with trafficking currently sits before the parliamentary portfolio committee. Police and non-governmental organisations launched a campaign - ‘Red Light 2010’ in July 2009 in an effort to create awareness amongst citizens of trafficking in persons. “During 2010, there will be a lot of visitors coming to our country. With so many people in South Africa, we will see women and children being trafficked. This campaign intends to give people knowledge about how trafficking happens,” said Child Welfare’s Assistant Director, Carol Bews.

It is the author’s opinion that what is most necessary is for the Government to pay more attention to this issue immediately. Why not criminalise the men who form the massive demand for sex work? They are, after all, one of the main reasons the sex work industry is flourishing. If the demand for sex work can be diminished, the supply of it is likely to decrease, too. The fact that sex workers are seen as criminals and stigmatised but those who pay for their services are not, is a ridiculous notion. The complexity of this issue cannot only be outlined in a few pages. Fundamentally, sex workers’ rights need to be recognised and protected in a way that will reduce their (and other women’s) vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking.

Charlotte Sutherland is the Research Manager: Gender Issues in Africa, at Consultancy Africa Intelligence. The Augustl edition of the Gender Issues in Africa Newsletter is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political, and economic happenings in Africa. For more information see or Alternatively, visit to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, three-month trial to the company’s Standard Report Series.

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