Statement by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini on the occasion of media briefing on the repatriation of South African children in distress in foreign countries, Tshwane

29 July Print

Statement by the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini on the occasion of media briefing on the repatriation of South African children in distress in foreign countries, Tshwane

Good morning everyone.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the media,

 

I am pleased to welcome you here this morning for the briefing on the repatriation of two babies whose mothers are serving prison terms in Brazil for illicit drug trafficking.

 

This morning I want to highlight the extent and threat of transnational organised crime, in particular illicit drug trafficking. It destroys the lives of youngwomen, their families and bringing misery to the lives of their children. I also want to highlight the services that our department provides to South African citizens in distress in foreign countries.

 

We are fortunate to be joined this morning by Ms Vanessa Goosen who spent 16 years, six months and 16 days in a women’s prison in Bangkok, Thailand. We have invited her to share her experience. Her story is similar to many stories of South African women whom I met during my recent visit.

We are deeply concerned about the growing number of young South African women who are arrested for drug trafficking in foreign countries. Many of these women are recruited by drug cartels operating in South Africa with sophisticated criminal networks throughout the world. In most instances, these women are lured into drug trafficking business by drug cartels who promise them easy money, a better life and greener pastures.

 

The majority of these women are recruited from poor communities. Recently, the modus operandi includes the recruitment of young and vulnerable rural women from far flung areas such as Bushbuckridge and Kimberley. This growing trend indicates that the issue of drug trafficking has a strong gender dimension due to women’s economic vulnerability. Many of the women arrested play a minor role as drug mules while the cartels which recruit them always manage to evade justice. In fact, a higher proportion of South African women are arrested for drug trafficking crimes in foreign countries.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that if we are to address such a serious challenge, we must clearly understand its size and scope.

 

Recent information obtained from the Consular Services of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation indicates that there are three hundred and thirty seven (337) South African females incarcerated in foreign prisons for drug trafficking. A large number of these women, ninety two (92) are incarcerated in some of the nine female prisons in Brazil. Currently, seventy one (71) South African females are serving their sentences in female prisons in Sao Paulo alone. The youngest is aged twenty and the eldest is 62 years old.

Most of these women were sole breadwinners for their families before their incarceration. Most are also mothers and their imprisonment places a huge strain on their families. Others are arrested at advanced stages of pregnancy and as a result they give birth to children while in prison. Three (3) are currently pregnant. This creates complex challenges for children, particularly with regard .to their own physical, mental and emotional development, including their interaction with other children.

Furthermore, there are serious ethical and legislative questions about keeping children in prison with their mothers. Many countries only allow children to remain with their mothers in prison for a limited period.

In Brazil this period is limited to six months and thereafter the child must be placed in alternative care either locally or in the mother’s country of origin.  Our obligation as government is to protect children from harm in line with The Hague Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The Department renders international social services to individuals, children and families confronted with social problems in foreign countries as a consequence of international migration or displacement, as is the case with the two repatriated children. The babies, aged 10 months and one year respectively are currently in temporary safe care while awaiting foster care placement. We will continue to provide psychosocial support to the foster care families to ensure the babies adapt well to their new environment. According to the Consular Services, sixteen children have been repatriated from foreign countries to date.

Let me take this opportunity to thank PEP Store in Church Square, Pretoria, for donation of clothes to the two babies.

Ladies and gentlemen, our major concern is that in the past few months there has been an unprecedented increase in the arrest of drug mules, mainly women from South Africa. Twenty eight South Africans were arrested in Brazil alone since the beginning of this year. This can be attributed to the recent Confederations Cup hosted in Brazil.

The number is likely to increase during the build-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup if necessary measures are not put in place to disrupt the drug cartel networks in South Africa. Similarly, we need to put effective measures in place to protect young vulnerable women from the exploitation perpetrated by the drug cartels who seem not to care about the devastating consequences of their business. To this end, we need a coordinated national action and a sense of shared national responsibility as highlighted by President Jacob Zuma during the Youth Month.

Ladies and gentlemen, given the aforementioned situation, our national efforts to prevent and to combat alcohol and substance abuse, including illicit trafficking has never been more urgent. At the same time, our government recognises that the drug problem is complex and requires decisive and collective national action.

By establishing the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Combating Alcohol and Substance Abuse, we are coordinating our collective national efforts from prevention, community mobilisation, treatment and law enforcement amongst others.

Cabinet recently approved the National Drug Master Plan (2013-2017), which will be driven by the Central Drug Authority (CDA). The National Drug Master Plan offers a roadmap on how we can move forward together to coordinate and strengthen the work of government in fight against the scourge of alcohol and substance abuse. It reflects the fact that addressing this scourge is no longer just a law enforcement issue. It is a problem that demands the attention of a broad spectrum of partners, including the general public.

For this reason, we will continue to implement the Anti-Substance Abuse Programme of Action, with particular focus on reviewing existing and introducing new legislation. We will also intensify community mobilisation campaigns to raise awareness and to educate the general public on the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse, including illicit drug trafficking and promoting the participation of local communities in our prevention efforts.

With this new Plan, we are signalling our commitment to combat this scourge. However, none of us underestimates the task at hand. Defeating and dismantling the drug cartels and their sophisticated global networks will not be an easy task. The 2013 World Drug Report shows that the African continent is increasingly becoming vulnerable to the illicit drug trade. The routes that most drug mules use are Sao Paulo to Johannesburg and Sao Paulo to Portugal to Mozambique. This therefore, requires the regional law enforcement authorities and regional structures such as SADC and AU to work together to prevent and to combat illicit drug trafficking.

I will share the report of my visit to Brazil with the IMC which is meeting on Tuesday, 30 July 2013 to ensure a coordinated government approach to this problem. Fighting alcohol and substance abuse is an on-going and deliberate national action. We cannot afford to lose the democratic gains we have worked so hard to achieve in the last nineteen years.

Working together, we can build a drug-free society and a better future through our united efforts.

I thank you.

 

ISSUED BY GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS (GCIS) ON BEHALF OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.

Pretoria

28 July 2013

 

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