by Katleho Khang SNJM

Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world and in South Africa. This trade has been treated as ‘invisible,’ yet it has a huge impact on individuals and countries. Considering the fact that over 80% of victims of human trafficking are women, commemorative days such as International Women’s Day give us an opportunity to explore the impact of human trafficking on women’s lives.

Some of the questions that arise include: how does this industry affect our understanding of humanity? Why does this evil trade affect more women than men? How does it reinforce gender inequality? What can be done to stop the demand for trafficked women and effect social change?

Two concepts – patriarchy and gender socialization – help us explore this issue. In many cultures, there is a preference for men over women, and male children are socialized into a model of masculinity. According to this model, being a ‘real man’ is marked by the struggle for control, conquest and domination, making men grow up to be more disposed to violent domination.

Furthermore, the universal media promotes consumerism in a way that commercializes and commodifies the female body as a sexual object to sell products; it also promotes pornography. These factors create an increasing insatiable demand for sex and make women more vulnerable to exploitation.

Many women are uneducated, do not get good jobs, and consequently suffer economic disadvantages. When they get jobs, especially in the domestic and entertainment industries, their employers exploit them financially and often harass them sexually.

The trafficking of women continues to thrive because of corrupt and ineffective judicial systems. Government departments ignore or pay lip service to this problem, and do not enact or enforce current laws.

Speaking to members of an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops who work with civil society to eradicate human trafficking, which is a modern-day slavery, Pope Francis urged these groups to pay attention to “the various forms of complicity by which society tolerates, and encourages” the sex trade, and “the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children.” He further encouraged the members of these groups to ensure “responsible use of technology and communications media” and to work towards the “dismantling of criminal structures” that create the environment in which human trafficking is allowed to flourish.

Programmes for the celebration of International Women’s Day should raise awareness of the need to fight this obnoxious trafficking in women. We must seize every opportunity to work towards the promulgation of new laws and the enforcement of old laws against trafficking in women, and all other forms of human enslavement, and the protection of women’s rights.

In the biblical account of Cain and Abel, God asks Cain: “Where is your brother?” In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are taught that regardless of our station in life and our sphere of influence, we have a moral obligation to care for others. This includes working against all forms of human trafficking and exploitation.