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Helpline launched to combat 2010 trafficking 0

A 24-hour toll free helpline for victims and members of the public to report human trafficking was launched in Johannesburg this week. 08000-RESCUE is a joint initiative between The Salvation Army and BE HEARD, an organization with ten years experience in operating anonymous tip-off services.

“This toll free number will create an opportunity for two things: firstly, it will allow people to call for help on all matters relating to human trafficking and secondly, it will serve as a platform for people to offer tip-off information on suspicious circumstances,” said Major Marieke Venter, National Coordinator of The Salvation Army Anti-Human Trafficking Task Team.

Call centre consultants receive training from The Salvation Army and will assist callers in eight languages. All human trafficking cases will be reported to The Salvation Army, while emergency cases will be referred directly to the South African Police Services.

The Salvation Army and other cooperating organizations will provide victims with support and a safety net structure. As part of their ongoing campaign, The Salvation Army recently opened the Beth Shan Shelter in Pretoria for abused women and victims of human trafficking.

“We are also engaging in as many conversations as possible with schools and women’s groups so that they are aware of the need to fight human trafficking,” said Venter.

According to The Salvation Army 450 000 of the two million people trafficked each year are in Africa. They are used for exploitation as prostitutes, forced labour or for their body organs. There are an estimated 50 000 child prostitutes in South Africa.

“We therefore have the responsibility, both individually and collectively, to work for the liberation of those who have been enslaved in this manner, and to establish the legal and social mechanisms by which human trafficking can be stopped,” Venter added.

Venter said although they are cautious not to create too much hype around the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there is a strong possibility that human trafficking in South Africa will increase at that time.

At the moment the helpline only offers consultation in South African languages, but according to Brian Adams, founder of BE HEARD, this will be improved to include other languages like French, Swahili, Russian and Thai as soon as capacity increases and more finance becomes available.

Adams said they were also addressing issues around the securing of the call centre against possible threats from syndicates involved in trafficking, and working on improving their relationship with the SAPS and government structures to enhance cooperation.

A big stumbling block, however, is the fact that there is still no legislation to fight human trafficking in South Africa. Major Venter said a draft bill on human trafficking is currently being discussed in Parliament, and that they were hopeful that it would be passed within the year.

“We urge the government to pass legislation on human trafficking so that offenders can be brought to book. We know that the draft bill is being discussed in Parliament so we are adding our voice in support of what other organizations have said,” said Venter.

According to Adams from BE HEARD, the tip-off service will eventually be available across six mediums, including sms, e-mail, fax and a website.

By Linda Krige – South Africa Good News

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