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 CNS Story:

SAFRICA-TRAFFICK Jan-12-2010 (740 words) xxxi

South African Catholics prepare to fight trafficking during World Cup

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Catholic officials are working to make sure South Africa's hosting of the world's largest soccer championship does not endanger the nation's citizens, especially women and children.

While the 2010 FIFA World Cup provides a "wonderful opportunity for building global unity and friendships," hosting it is full of risks and threats, including human trafficking and the marginalization of the poor, said Dominican Father Mike Deeb, director of the justice and peace department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The church in South Africa needs to highlight these threats "so that everyone is aware of them and those in authority are challenged to address them," he said in a telephone interview from Pretoria.

Raising awareness of human trafficking among potential victims and their families and working with the police and other authorities to prevent it are the biggest challenges before the June 11-July 11 World Cup, said Holy Family Sister Melanie O'Connor, who since January 2008 has been coordinating the bishops' efforts to combat trafficking.

Criminals intending to establish prostitution rings at the sporting event "need to know that we're ready" to stop them, Sister O'Connor said in a telephone interview from Pretoria. She said thousands of people have been trained to assist the police in maintaining law and order during the games.

"Working with the International Organization for Migration and other groups, we teach people what to look out for, how and where trafficking is happening and how to respond," said Sister O'Connor, who has traveled the country, focusing mostly on rural areas where women and children are in danger of being taken from their homes and sent to the soccer tournament's host cities and towns.

On a visit to South Africa's Eastern Cape province to run training workshops, "I was appalled at the ignorance about trafficking," she said, noting that she "heard many people there say they didn't know it really happened."

Volunteers from parishes around the country are being trained to look out for women and children who may have been forced into prostitution -- mainly those who have no identification documents, speak little English and are afraid of reporting their situation to the authorities -- and to help them to contact organizations able to give them shelter and spiritual, material and psychological assistance, Sister O'Connor said.

Large syndicates that are "bound up with drugs and pornography" are involved in trafficking in countries such as South Africa, Russia and Brazil, as are "smaller local rings that will take advantage" of the influx of tourists into South Africa for the World Cup, she said.

Representatives of an international network of 252 women's religious orders involved in combating human trafficking in 36 countries will visit South Africa in February to check on local readiness for the World Cup and give assistance where necessary, she said.

The network, called "Talita Kum," Aramaic for "Get Up," was established in June at a Rome meeting sponsored by the International Union of Superiors General and the International Organization for Migration.

Father Deeb warned that "marginalization of the poor threatens the social cohesion that hosting the World Cup could bring."

While the poor are among the country's greatest soccer fans, most will be unable to attend the games because ticket prices "are way beyond their reach," he said.

While the World Cup is "very likely to boost South Africa's economy," with new roads, railways and other improvements to the country's infrastructure creating many jobs and businesses, "there is no guarantee that the poor will benefit," Father Deeb said.

"Some people view the World Cup as a waste of money that could have been better spent on poverty alleviation," he said, noting that "it is interesting that people from the host cities are more positive about the tournament than those who live in rural areas and are unlikely to benefit."

South Africa's high crime rate should not deter visitors, Father Deeb said, noting that, with thousands of extra police officers on duty during the games, "the chances of being a victim have been reduced, as long as fans are careful and vigilant."

During the World Cup, the church plans to offer trauma counseling to crime victims, said Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban.

"It's a big challenge to us as church to put together the infrastructure to cater for the influx of visitors," Cardinal Napier added, noting that "we need to ensure that people know Mass times and where our churches are."


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