Human trafficking

Human 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. There are approximately 28 000 child prostitutes in South Africa, and 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.


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.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. Myth: Only citizens from certain countries are trafficked.

Fact: Citizens from any country in the world can be trafficked.

  1. 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.

  1. Myth: Victims are never paid.

Fact: Sometimes they are paid, but not very much.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Article compiled by: S. Crouse, Managing Director, MOBIEG. 31 March 2015.


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