Prostitution and Trafficking


Human trafficking has become the third largest international criminal activity after arms smuggling and drug trafficking. According to the American State Department approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders every year. This excludes trafficking within countries.

80 percent of these victims are women and girls and as many as 50 percent are children. The majority of female victims are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. That is why there is such a strong link between prostitution and trafficking. Christians through the ages, such as The Salvation Army, have reached out to prostitutes.

About four years ago Doctors for Life (DFL) started an outreach centre to prostitutes in Durban called Lifeplace. There has been fruit from this work and many people have been helped. As a result of the work at Lifeplace the European Union Commission asked DFL to help them with information on human trafficking in South Africa. They in turn told the National Prosecuting Authority about them and they were invited to participate in a conference on human trafficking in June 2008.

Prostitution can be defined as the exchange of sexual acts for reward. In South Africa certain acts associated with prostitution such as brothel keeping and pimping have been criminal offences under the Sexual Offences Act of 1957. Pimping is acting as an agent for a prostitute. Prostitution itself was only criminalized by a law passed in 1988. In 2002 a group of prostitutes and a pimp challenged the criminalization of prostitution in the constitutional court. DFL made a submission to the constitutional Court on behalf of the State. The submission contained expert evidence by a number of international experts opposed to prostitution. The Constitutional Court upheld the laws criminalizing prostitution.

Generally speaking nobody else really said anything more about changing the laws that criminalize prostitution. That was until early last year when former National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi suggested that prostitution be legalized for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. A survey done directly after his comments showed that 79% of all South Africans are opposed to legalised prostitution.

At the beginning of this year parliamentarian George Lekgheto said that prostitution should be legalized for 2010. He eventually apologized because some of his comments were insulting to women. Recently the Durban municipality said that they want to create so called red light areas to centralize the legal sex industry such as strip clubs and escort agencies for 2010.

DFL is opposed to the legal sex industry and regards it as a front for prostitution and trafficking. The municipality also said that they want to legalize prostitution in these areas even though prostitution is a criminal act. They acknowledged that this would require parliament to change the laws on prostitution.

DFL is not aware of any discussions happening in parliament about prostitution yet. But the World Cup gives these proposals a sense of urgency, and opens up the discussion on prostitution, which is exactly what they are intended to do.

There are four main ways that prostitution is dealt with by governments:

1. Criminalization is the position held by DFL and should be the position of all Christians. It sends a clear message to the public that prostitution is unacceptable under any circumstances and will not be tolerated. At the same time we should show compassion towards the prostitute. There are reasons why people end up in prostitution, often very sad ones, such as childhood physical and sexual abuse, broken homes and addictions.

2. Partial Criminalization is where the buyer of the services of a prostitute is guilty of a crime but the prostitute is not. This model is based on the principle that the prostitute is a victim. The prostitute can just keep on re-offending. This is an unhealthy situation.

3. Decriminalization removes all laws on prostitution. It sends out a message that prostitution is a normal and acceptable way of earning a living. It also creates a situation where pimps and traffickers can operate freely. This is a bad situation.

4. Legalization basically means that the state regulates prostitution and becomes the pimp, hiring out its most vulnerable citizens for profit. It is absolutely unacceptable.

If prostitution is legalized or decriminalized it will require an act of parliament. If this happens it’s almost impossible that it will be reversed in the future. 2010 could be used as an excuse to change the prostitution laws in SA for keeps. The legalization or decriminalization of prostitution in South Africa would be an open door for pimps and traffickers to ply their evil trade. South Africa has an official unemployment rate of 37%. The temptation of earning dollars and euros will corrupt the moral fiber of the youth.

Prostitution and pimping is glamorized in popular culture and music videos. We can expect the youth to be harmed. Thousands of daughters and sons will be lured to the cities with promises of employment only to end up trafficked into prostitution.

If you hear or see anything in the media that sounds as if the discussion on prostitution has moved to provincial or national parliament level, contact Doctors for Life. The constitution stipulates that before parliament can strike down or pass any laws that there has to be public participation.  It is possible that it could be rail roaded through Parliament. So we must be ready for action.

How to help people avoid trafficking and prostitution

Prevention is better and far less painful than cure.

1. Warn your community about the dangers of trafficking and prostitution.

2. Warn the youth, especially girls and women about the dangers of accepting job offers, especially from newspaper adverts. Job offers must be properly checked out.

3. They should never hand over their ID documents or passports to anybody except an authorized official and even then, only for a very good reason.

4. Be aware of new faces in your area, especially if they are hanging around where young people, especially girls, get together. The presence of a woman with them doesn’t automatically signal safety. Traffickers use women to recruit girls and other women.

4. They should not accept gifts from anybody that they don’t know well.

5. They should never accept lifts from strangers.

6. They should never accept drugs or alcohol.

7. Traffickers often look for victims among those who are rebellious and prepared to try something new or different. Lonely and desperate people are also their main targets. They will often befriend and get to know them in order to deceive them.

8. Tell them that it could easily happen to them. They could become the next victim of human trafficking and prostitution. These victims suffer the most terrible violence and sexual abuse. It really is sexual slavery.

Martin Coltman 

Doctors for Life International
Email:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tel: 032-481 5550
Fax: 032-481 5554

Other useful websites:
Captive Daughters:
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women:
Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe:

Christian Action P.O.Box 23632 Claremont 7735 Cape Town South Africa - 021-689-4481 -
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