Social media is for most people a form of escape and relaxing. It is designed to connect people but for human trafficking predators it is an online store with countless opportunities and options. Modern-day slavery is a market that increase rapidly and because of this, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.
64% of the 40 million people who are enslaved is children from Africa.
Traffickers trawl through apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, looking for vulnerable children and girls. Once they’ve found a potential target, grooming begins by establishing a connection through a friend request, liking or commenting on a post.
“The numbers are now on par with estimates of the numbers of Africans who were enslaved in the 16th and 17th centuries,” said spokesperson for the non-profit organisation Stop Human Trafficking, Jameel Essop.
“Among the 30 000 children being prostituted in the country, half of these children are younger than 14 and as young as 4.
“KwaZulu-Natal is the main recruitment area for victims of human trafficking. Combating trafficking has become a major challenge, especially with perpetrators using social media,” he said.
In 2017, Polaris published a report, The Typology of Modern Slavery, explaining the types of human trafficking business models.
“The most shocking thing is that people know the victim really well and they go with them from a place of naiveté and a yearning for jobs and a better life,” said Mandy Murugan, a member of The A21 Campaign.
“They are then taken to cities and are either sold immediately into sex slavery, into domestic servitude or fishing boats and wine farms.
“Sadly no community is immune to this atrocity,” she said.
Below is a matrix showing some of the intersections that various social media platforms may have on potential victims.
A dot represents touch points throughout a trafficking life-cycle which includes identification, grooming, recruiting to overall business operations.
We as a community must educate our children.
While social media giants continue to tighten their rules and guidelines in the fight against human trafficking, parents are urged to speak openly to their children about the dangers online.
There are various online resources and programmes available to help further understand, identify and reduce the risk of human trafficking.
Nobody allows strangers into their homes, so why accept friend and message requests from someone you don’t know? Set your childrens’ profiles to private and ensure geotagging is switched off.
“When you get a too-good-to-be-true job offer with no normal processes to look into them, phone the company,” says Murugan.
“Be careful on social media who you become friends with and beware of any offers to travel or study.
“When it comes to kids, be careful who they’re talking to online as well. They’re just looking for affirmation and love, and they sometimes look in the wrong places.”