Human Trafficking


Human trafficking

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

A study by Songololo in 2000 reported that there are between 28,000 and 38,000 prostituted children in South Africa. The figure stood at 45 000 in 2010. It is estimated that it could be 100 000 by the year 2019.
It also reported that 25% of the prostituted population in Cape Town comprised children. It found that parents, particularly mothers, are among the primary traffickers in children. Studies by both UNICEF and the IOM in 2003 found that victims are afraid of law enforcement and do not trust the police to assist them.

Communities across South Africa have ventilated much frustration and anger about the prevalence and intersection of drugs, prostitution, human trafficking and a variety of criminal activities.

Many traffickers are involved in other transnational crimes, and the profits from trafficking in human beings make it the fastest growing source of profits for organized criminal enterprises worldwide. Trafficking is third, behind only drug and gun running, in generating profits for organized crime.

International syndicates involving Nigerian, Thai, Chinese, Russian, or Bulgarian traffickers are consistently reported to operate in South Africa with impunity. Nigerian syndicates, implicated in local and transnational human trafficking, features prominently in reports and are said to “dominate the commercial sex trade in several provinces” (US Department of State, 2015, 2016, 2017). Children also fall victims to associated crimes, or are in fact usurped into the larger crime whirlpool. Criminal activities that interweave with human trafficking for sexual exploitation include child sex tourism, forced marriage and harmful cultural practices, child pornography, the ‘blesser’ phenomenon, arms trafficking, drugs and drug trafficking.

It is reported that as many as 50 men and boys cross the South African border on a weekly basis – many of whom succumb to operational injuries, suicide, murder and poor health. Corruption on all levels is reported to enable the persistence of these activities with similar operations in the Free State and Vaal area reported to be ring-fenced by corrupt police officials, prosecutors and private security companies.

South Africa passed the trafficking Act in 2013:  Act No. 7 of 2013: Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2013
What makes this piece of legislation so important is that it allows the South Africa to specifically target human trafficking as a stand-alone crime – something that existing laws do not allow. The Trafficking Act seeks to eliminate human trafficking in three primary ways: through prosecution, protection, and prevention. Combating human trafficking in these three ways underpins a holistic strategy.

The legislation adopts a broad definition of what constitutes trafficking. It includes:

The delivery, recruitment, procurement, capture, removal, transportation, transfer, harbouring, sale, exchange, lease, disposal or receiving of a person, or the adoption of a child facilitated or secured through legal or illegal means, within or across the borders of the Republic, of a person trafficked or an immediate family member of the person trafficked, by various means including threat of harm, fraud or abuse of power.

a) Intentionally lease or sublease any room, house, building or establishment for facilitating or promoting trafficking in persons or allows it to be used or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that it will be used to facilitate or promote trafficking in persons;

(b) Subsequent to the lease or sublease of any room, house, building or establishment, becomes aware or ought reasonably to have known or suspected that it is being used to facilitate or promote trafficking in persons and fails to report that knowledge to a police official;

(c) Intentionally advertises, publishes, prints, broadcasts, distributes or causes the advertisement, publication, printing, broadcast or distribution of information that facilitates or promotes trafficking in persons by any means, including the use of the internet or other information technology.

What is trafficking

Trafficking in human beings is generally referred to as the 21st century’s slavery, and it has been asserted that slavery/trafficking is more common now than at any time in history, from the Roman Empire to the transatlantic slave trade.

The term trafficking covers a multitude of sins. It can apply to children being exploited in myriad ways, among them: sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ removal, forced marriage, forced conscription (child soldiers), and illegal adoptions through abduction or sale of children. South Africa is commonly regarded as the main country of destination for trafficked persons in the Southern Africa region. In many cases, women and children are lured to South Africa with promises of jobs, education or marriage, only to be sold and sexually exploited in the country’s major urban centres, or small towns and more rural environments.
Victims are often lured with false promises of well-paying jobs or are manipulated by people they trust, but instead are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, farm or factory labour, or other types of forced labour.

humantrafficking250_000007894Barbados South Africa is a hotbed for the billion dollar human trafficking industry.

People are sold for muti and organ “donation”, babies and children are used for sexual exploitation, cheap labour and even forced marriage. Besides the approximately 28 000 child prostitutes in South Africa, about 400 000 children are working as child labourers. Their average pay is R10 per day. Sex exploiters pay anything from R10 to R150 to traffickers for access to a child’s body. Parents act as traffickers of their own children by allowing others to sexually exploit them for financial reasons such as paying off debts. In rural areas, parents are found to sell daughters as child brides.

Traffickers especially target women and children from rural areas, and often lure them away under the pretext of jobs in the big city. Parents in rural areas are often poor, unemployed, suffering from addictions and are often not nurturing parents to their children. Innocent girls go away to work elsewhere as an escape, because they think they might get a better life and escape the poverty cycle.

Traffic rings are highly sophisticated. There’s a whole network of people involved – recruiters, taxi drivers, the person waiting in the city, etc. There are even women that help with the trafficking of children and other women. Children are also taken from malls, bus stops and taxi ranks. Traffickers treat the girls well in order to gain their trust.

The girls are drugged – it’s placed in their food and drinks – so by the time they realize they are in trouble, it is far too late. While they are drugged, they are raped and photos are taken of them, which is used to blackmail them. Their clothes and shoes are taken away, so that they don’t escape. They are brought into the big cities and dropped off  for domestic work where they are treated like slaves. In other cases, they are taken to clubs and brothels where they are kept drugged, beaten and abused. They are kept prisoner and are constantly watched. Some girls are even sold from person to person.

Types of human trafficking

There are many forms of trafficking, but one consistent aspect is the abuse of the inherent vulnerability of the victims.

Trafficking for forced labour

Victims of this widespread form of trafficking come primarily from developing countries. They are recruited and trafficked using deception and coercion and find themselves held in conditions of slavery in a variety of jobs. Men, women and children are engaged in agricultural, fisheries and construction work, along with domestic servitude and other labour-intensive jobs.

Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation

This prevalent form of trafficking affects every region in the world, either as a source, transit or destination country. Women and children from developing countries, and from vulnerable parts of society in developed countries, are lured by promises of decent employment into leaving their homes and travelling to what they consider will be a better life. Victims are often provided with false travel documents and an organized network is used to transport them to the destination country, where they find themselves forced into sexual slavery and held in inhumane conditions and constant fear.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism

This crime type has been apparent in Asia for many years and has now taken hold in Africa as well as Central and South America. The phenomenon is promoted by the growth of inexpensive air travel and the relatively low risk of prohibition and prosecution in these destinations for engaging in sexual relations with minors.

Trafficking for tissue, cells and organs

Trafficking in humans for the purpose of using their organs, in particular kidneys, is a rapidly growing field of criminal activity. In many countries, waiting lists for transplants are very long, and criminals have seized this opportunity to exploit the desperation of patients and potential donors. The health of victims, even their lives, is at risk as operations may be carried out in clandestine conditions with no medical follow-up. An ageing population and increased incidence of diabetes in many developed countries is likely to increase the requirement for organ transplants and make this crime even more lucrative.

People smuggling

Closely connected to trafficking in human beings is the issue of people smuggling. This has taken on new proportions in recent months, especially in the Mediterranean region, and it is clear that organized criminal networks are taking advantage of the humanitarian crisis for financial gain.

Indicators of Human Trafficking

Common Work and Living Conditions:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health:

Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control:

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

The legislation criminalizes various acts that constitute or relate to trafficking in persons and imposes harsh penalties for violations. Among the offenses enumerated in the legislation are:

  • Trafficking in persons, punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.
  • Engaging in conduct that causes a person to enter into debt bondage, punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment
  • Carrying a victim of trafficking in and/or out of South Africa knowing that he/she does not have the proper documentation, punishable by a fine or five years of imprisonment
  • Benefiting from services of a trafficking victim, be it financially or otherwise, punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment 
  • Facilitation of trafficking in persons (including through leasing of rooms, publishing of advertisements), punishable by up to ten years in prison.
  • In addition, it imposes a duty on Internet service providers to prevent the use of their services to support trafficking in persons (including advertising or promoting of trafficking in persons), to report to the South African Police Service when they discover such uses, and to take measures to suppress such use. Failure to comply is an offense punishable by up to five years of imprisonment.

The U.S. Department of State  monitors international efforts at combating human trafficking, and scrutinizing the degree to which a country is complying with those standards.
According to the Department, in order to cohere with minimum international standards, a country must be in compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”).

The TVPRA focuses on three key issues: prevention, protection, and prosecution.

  • Regarding prevention, the TVPRA aims to create public awareness, and international economic development programs to assist future victims.
  • The TVPRA also seeks to protect victims by making them eligible for witness protection programs, and other state and federal benefits that are afforded to refuges. Such benefits include: job training, social service programs, health care, and educational services.
  • The TVPRA also grants qualified victims a T-Visa, which allows them to become temporary citizens.
    Finally, regarding prosecution, the TVPRA makes human trafficking a federal crime with strict penalties.
  • It also mandates restitution for victims.

Factors that hinders the effective combatting of human trafficking in South Africa

Currently, South Africa does not have specialized human trafficking units. This is problematic due to the complex nature of human trafficking cases, particularly at the investigatory stage. This is perhaps one reason why very few human trafficking cases reach South African courts, as data has uncovered that an alarming amount of human trafficking crimes go unreported each year.

Currently, investigators and prosecutors who deal with human trafficking cases are also tasked with undertaking other crimes as well. Indeed, heavy workloads where investigators and prosecutors have to deal with cases across the criminal spectrum, coupled with the complexities of litigating human trafficking cases, has made fruitful investigations and successful prosecutions scarce.

Human trafficking victims play a key evidentiary role in the prosecution process. At a minimum, domestic legislation must provide victims with necessary protections (e.g., witness protection programs). The Children’s Act and the Sex Act are silent on any type of victim protection program.
Additionally, neither the Children’s Act nor the Sex Act provides for the protection of a child’s identity or privacy during the litigation process.

Studies have shown that state attorneys, prosecutors, and judges systematically overlook the compensatory concerns of female victims for two discriminatory reasons: first, state officials ignore the specific vulnerabilities of female victims by failing to ensure that proactive measures are in place to address their unique needs. State officials regularly fail to apply available compensation avenues for victims – compensation that would have addressed the gendered financial needs of female victims, including post assault medical care and security and relocation expenses.

Interviews and victim surveys confirmed that prosecutors rarely informed sexual violence victims of available state compensation sources (namely the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG) and Court Witness Stipends (CWS).

interviews with magistrates and judges confirmed that state role-players incorrectly assumed that government benefits would be abused by sexual violence victims by way of false claims and that victims of sexual violence did not have urgent post-assault economic losses, in relation to their court attendances and health and security concerns, that required government interventions.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (“DOJCD”) – the institutional overseers of the court – displayed a similar lack of understanding of these gender-specific needs. The DOJDC asserts that victims of sexual violence can only seek compensation for losses or damages to property in sentencing proceedings. Gender-specific injuries include medical counseling, childcare, and pregnancy related issues.

Another compensatory mechanism includes various provisions in the Prevention of Organized Crime Act (“POCA”). Under POCA, victims can claim an interest in the instrumentalities of the underlying crime forfeited by the perpetrator. These instrumentalities include: cars, houses, or other real property that the offender used while committing the offense. Through POCA, courts can compensate victims from the proceeds procured from the properties in question.

Regrettably, data indicates that approximately 10 victims per year obtain grants through the SRDG mechanism. By comparison, there were 43,195 reported instances of sexual violence between 2014 and 2015 in South Africa. Thus, many victims are clearly not benefiting from SRDGs.

Robert Caver, “A Critical Analysis of Human Trafficking in South Africa Remedies and Recommendations” (The Center for Civil and Human Rights, 2016).

child_labours_in_asiaDo not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victim’s safety is paramount. Instead, please contact local law enforcement directly or call the tip lines indicated on this page:
Know the signs of human trafficking and report it to: 0800 555999

* The South African Police – 10111
* Childline/Lifeline – 08000 55555
* Molo Songololo – 021 448 5421
* Safeline – 08000 35553
* Cape Town Child Welfare – 021 638 3127
* The Trauma Centre – 021 465 7373
* Molo Songololo, Patrick Child Line – 08000 55555
* The Child Trauma Centre – 021 556 9556
* Jelly Beanz Inc – 082-jelly-00 (082 5355 900)
* The Salvation Army – 021 761 8530/1/2/3/4/5
* Rape Crisis – Athlone 021 447 9762 and in Khayelitsha 021 361 9085

Human Trafficking Myths

Be aware of these enduring myths about human trafficking:

Myth: Trafficking must involve the crossing of borders.
Fact: Despite the use of the word “trafficking,” victims can actually be held within their own country—anti-trafficking laws don’t require that victims must have travelled from somewhere else.

Myth: Only citizens from certain countries are trafficked.
Fact: Citizens from any country in the world can be trafficked.

Myth: Victims know what they are getting into or have chances to escape.
Fact: They’re actually duped into it and may not even think of escaping because of threats against them or ignorance of the law.

Myth: Victims are never paid.
Fact: Sometimes they are paid, but not very much.

Myth: Victims never have freedom of movement.
Fact: Some victims can move about, but are coerced into always returning, perhaps with a threat against their families back home.

Myth: Only adult women get trafficked for sex purposes
Fact: This true but sadly not the only reality. The average age of trafficking victims is 12 years old, which means children from a young age are at risk for trafficking.

Myth: All victims of child trafficking are kidnapped
Fact: Only a tiny minority of abducted children are taken by strangers. There have been many reported instances where the abductees were not aware that they were being abducted.

Myth: Trafficking victims are mostly uneducated and rural
Fact: Trafficking affects all groups of people. Vulnerability levels may be higher in the disadvantaged areas, due to poverty and lack of employment opportunities, which is why there are cases such as ukuthwala.

One last note: human trafficking is often confused with alien smuggling, which includes those who consent to smuggling to get across a border illegally.


No one may:
• Force you to work against your will;
• Collect a debt by using threats or forcing you to work to pay the debt;
• Force you to work using threats to harm you or your family;
• Force or pressure you into prostitution or to do other sexual acts;
• Use you for any kind of sex work if you are under 18;
• Take away your passport, birth certificate, or identification card to control you or your movements.

If any of these things has happened to you, you might be a victim of a serious crime.
You are not alone. Please talk to us. We can help you. Select LIVE CHAT

You may stay anonymous if you talk to us. No one can trace your chat – the system doesn’t save it on your end.

Your Safety…
We want you to be safe. Remember, you are now away from the people who hurt you, and we can help you plan how to be safe. We may also be able to help your family if they are in danger from the traffickers.
We can help you find:
• Emergency medical assistance;
• Emergency food and shelter;
• Translation services;
• Counseling and legal assistance.

humantraffickingWe Want to Stop People Who Hurt You…
We will see if criminal charges can be brought against those who hurt you, but we need your help. We would like to talk to you about what happened to you. It is important to tell us the truth. If you are afraid of someone, please tell us. We will do our utmost best to protect you and your family, and we won’t give your name or the names of your family members to the public.

Some people may tell you not to trust immigration agents, other federal agents, or the police. Don’t believe them. The people who say these things want you to be afraid of the people who can help you the most. Please talk to us on the MobieG Live Chat. We can help you.


  4. /Child trafficking – debunking common myths on a South African reality



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