Cape Town march helps spread awareness of modern-day slavery

The majority of the participants of Saturday’s anti-human trafficking march shared a common sentiment: they were ignorant of the magnitude of modern-day slavery before being exposed to A21. According to the organisation’s website, the movement’s name stems from a mandate to be the abolitionists of the 21st century.

VIDEO: Holly Charlton

A21’s research has found that 46% of South Africans are considered vulnerable to human trafficking.

“People who are vulnerable to human trafficking are often persons who want a better life and someone takes advantage of that. Sometimes it’s even family who sell their own family members,” said Cornel Viljoen, the prevention and awareness coordinator for A21.

“A lot of teenagers get lured through social media, like Facebook, often by starting a false relationship with someone who gives them affirmation that they may not find at home.”

One trafficking survivor that Viljoen will never forget is a woman who was trafficked to Greece and forced into sexual slavery. “She had to service over 110 men a day. That’s eight men an hour,” remembers Viljoen.

“She had to act like she wanted to be with them every time because if you don’t service that client well enough, you get beatings. This was horrific because the average we normally see [in sexual slavery cases] is 40 to 50 men per day, so she was severely exploited.”

GRAPHIC: Holly Charlton


Keren Kinsey, an intern at A21, began her journey as an activist because she refused to do nothing once the severity of human trafficking became clear to her. “I became aware of it and it’s one of those things where once you know about it, you can’t sit and do nothing. I thought, how did I not know this existed? And now that I know it exists, how can I do nothing about it?”

She added that one of the biggest misconceptions about human trafficking is the belief that it only happens when someone is taken from one country to another. “Trafficking can happen within a country, you can be trafficked to Joburg or Pretoria, for example.”

A21 educates the public about human trafficking by doing “presentations in high schools and primary schools,” said Viljoen. She added that A21 also provides intervention training to people in positions where contact with trafficked individuals is more likely, such as healthcare professionals or flight attendants.

Viljoen has seen progress in the fight against human trafficking over the past two years because of groundbreaking legislative developments. “Two years ago the legislation that made human trafficking illegal came into play, which is great because now we can actually prosecute properly. Groups like the Hawks can now practically implement that law on the ground.”

Hundreds of marchers supported A21’s anti-human trafficking initiative on Saturday morning. PHOTO: Holly Charlton

Hundreds of marchers supported A21’s anti-human trafficking initiative on Saturday morning. PHOTO: Holly Charlton

Almost 1 000 participants supported the walk for freedom through the streets of Cape Town.

The route was intentionally planned through Long Street, which organisers said was a common hunting ground for human traffickers.

Laurenchia Petersen, a march participant, heard of human trafficking for the first time in 2008 when she was 20 years old. “There were some girls who were giving their testimony of being trafficked. I put myself in their shoes and thought that I wouldn’t ever want someone to exploit me like that.”

For Sharon Chirau, another march participant, the popular movie Taken, in which a young girl is trafficked, was her first exposure to slavery in the 21st century. “It sparked a curiosity in me, I wanted to know if this actually happened in real life. I discovered the truth after I went online.”

Chirau’s message to survivors of human trafficking was to never underestimate the power of sharing their story.

“There are a lot of people rooting for you, you may not see it, but believe that there are people who are helping.” -Holly Charlton

Want to do your part to put an end to human trafficking? Follow this link to A21’s website:

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