Lies, Damned Lies and statistics: Unravelling SA’s child trafficking condundrum
by Robyn Wolfson Vorster
The announcement by Deputy President Cyril Ramphosa this week that he will lead an inter-ministerial committee that will investigate the negative effects of the country’s stringent new visa regulations is a welcome admission that the plan, implemented under the guise of halting child trafficking, is deeply flawed.
It was more than 100 years ago that Mark Twain popularised the saying: “there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” The quote dates back to a time when government could use numbers, good, bad or indifferent to “beguile” (Twain’s word) the general populace into accepting policy.
That was a different era but even now in our Google-enabled world, the government knows there is something deeply soothing about a good solid statistic, especially when it is used in defence of a controversial or challenging scheme. Take, for example, Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni’s briefing to Parliament a month before Home Affairs’ controversial visa regulations were applied.
In his report, he claimed an estimated 30,000 children, 50% of whom are under 14, are trafficked through South Africa every year, and that the new regulations would protect those children from trafficking. While 30,000 is a number that is difficult to dispute, it appears to be one that is even harder to defend. Most recently and most alarmingly, it was publicly queried by a fellow cabinet minister.