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Sex Slavery – big business during the World Cup

Created: 02 July, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
6 min read

Editors Note: For two weeks, Katia Lopez-Hodoyan volunteered in Cape Town, South Africa in a program offered through Southwestern Community College. The goal is to help underprivileged children with their education. But as days passed it was the reporter who learned more than she expected….

    It happens once every four years and every time the World Cup comes around intense excitement seem to burst around the globe.

    Millions of enthusiasts are die hard fans. Others, roll with the punches and become fans for only a few weeks. Either way the thrill is undeniable.

    But amid all the excitement, the world cup brings a darker side that’s seldom exposed.

    While some are looking to buy tickets for a soccer match, others are lurking to find a good deal on ‘renting’ a sex slave, be it a child or a woman.

    “This isn’t something that may happen,” says Danielle Schneider, a lifelong teacher who trains instructors who work with underprivileged kids near Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s something that’s already materializing.”

    Some studies estimate that about 100,000 people may fall prey to human trafficking schemes during the 2010 World Cup. Most of them women and children. The going rate is roughly $8,500. But the business is even more lucrative when there is no purchasing price.

     “We’ve gotten word of abductions that have happened in malls,” says Schneider. “In one case, the parents were lucky and found their little one. In a matter of hours, the child had different clothes on and a different hair cut.”

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    Human traffickers see the World Cup as an opportunity to strengthen their market and tap a new one. With millions of visitors, virtually all sales increase. From T-shirts and food to drugs, alcohol and even minors.

    “Every time you have a big event, you have tourists, business owners and also people who are up to no good,” says Schneider as she shakes her head in disgust.

    Some women and children will be taken to South Africa to be sold as prostitutes. Others who live in that country will be abducted and trafficked in their own land.

    New traps are always on the works to strengthen this modern form of slavery. From traffickers posing as photographers who claim to look for young high school models to men posing as soccer camp organizers.

    “They’ll go up to a group of kids and say, ‘Oh, I see you’re playing soccer, would you like to go to a soccer camp?’ There may be a few games that come out of it, but it’s all a plan to later abduct them and force children into sex slavery,” asserts Schneider.

    This teacher also recalls how those who victimize the young are often family friends.

    “In really rural areas, sometimes human traffickers will hire someone they know will be trusted by their prey, which often times means a family friend. That person will then try to convince the parents that their children will have a better education if they go with them.”

    Human trafficking and sex slavery is not a new problem. During the 2006 Word Cup in Germany an estimated 40,000 women were trafficked into that country, according to the “2010 Stop Human Trafficking” campaign.

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    But in South Africa, the issue brings up a new dynamic. The country is still healing from its racially divisive apartheid regime. Unemployment rates are over 20%. Poverty is rampant and the country is still dealing with a ‘learn as you go’ governing structure that makes child trafficking even more appealing to criminals.

    The U.S State Department categorized South Africa as a “tier 2” country, which means it doesn’t have the resources to systematically eliminate the sex trafficking trade. Current statistics on human trafficking in South Africa are unavailable, since the country has not yet defined what exactly constitutes this illicit behavior.

    The “Stop Human Trafficking’ campaign argues this gives law enforcement little incentive to pursue human trafficking cases, especially since its definition is vague. In turn, this creates an ideal business site for traffickers.

    The landscape in some parts of South Africa also lends itself to this problem. Some townships (communities where residents build their makeshift homes without proper authorization) are often away from the city. Some of the shanty-towns have no roads and the residents are often uneducated. Those factors are exactly what the traffickers are looking for. A perfect target audience.

    “These townships are usually up a hill,” says Schneider. “These kids will do anything to not walk that route in the heat. Sometimes that includes hoping in a stranger’s car. It’s not hard to see how this can become dangerous. There is really nothing stopping these predators from going into the townships.”

    Months before the World Cup, many American teachers working and volunteering in South Africa were already planning ahead. Some taught curriculums on what exactly child trafficking is and what students can do to stay clear of these predators. The lectures were taught to children as young as 6 years old.

    “We have to keep this information in the forefront,” insist Schneider. “We can’t use the same techniques that are used in the U.S. This is a completely different culture.”

    Dealing with a different culture can also be frustrating. As a teacher who taught Pre Kindergarten to 3rd grade for nearly a decade in Nashville, Tennessee, Schneider is facing a different education system in Cape Town that some would describe as unstructured.

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    “I just don’t understand why educational departments here in South Africa don’t promote prevention campaigns to its students.”

    Most of the publicity roaming around this year’s world cup reads “This is South Africa’s time.” While it’s true this country deserves to be recognized for all the hurdles and challenges its overcome, Schneider says it’s also time for South Africa to be strong and outspoken when opposing the human trafficking trade.

    Steps are being taken.

    The “2010 Stop Human Trafficking campaign” produced two videos that were seen by tens of thousands of South Africans before the World Cup. One of the videos includes celebrities urging children and parents to constantly be aware. It urges locals to celebrate their role as World Cup hosts… and also to protect those who are vulnerable….

    For more information, one can visit and

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