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Cape Town - The Western Cape has seen a spike in the number of people freed from the clutches of human traffickers over the past few months.
The introduction of specialised units focusing on human trafficking syndicates in the Western Cape has seen at least 13 cases being investigated, eight of which are in court. And nine women or girls have been rescued in the past two and a half years, according to police.
But despite these strides, there have been no convictions to date.
At the end of last month, the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill was signed into law, giving the country for the first time a statute dealing specifically with human trafficking. It carries a maximum penalty of R100 million or life imprisonment, or both, if convicted.
Until now, the law dealing with trafficking has been fragmented.
Richard Bosman executive director of safety and security, said the criteria that separated a human trafficking case from other sexual offences included recruitment, transportation, and harbouring and exploitation. Elite units like the city’s vice squad and the Hawk’s human trafficking investigation team, established in 2010, have been instrumental in tracking down traffickers.
Bosman said that over the past few months, there had been an increase in the number of human trafficking victims rescued owing to “integrated operations” and good intelligence. The number of victims rescued from the sex trade had opened doors for others to approach officers, he said.
Captain Paul Ramaloko, the national spokesman for the Hawks, said initially the police had not focused on trafficking cases as these crimes were investigated by various detective branches at different police stations.
Now they had dedicated detectives, he said, adding that they not only reacted to reported cases but were also involved in operations to combat trafficking. “The team conducts regular undercover operations at brothels and massage parlours,” he said.
But he said that some women had been abusing the system. Some women reported being trafficked “just to get a free ride back to their country, or province of origin”, he said.
Others who were rescued were often dependent on drugs, and once they were booked into a place of safety to get clean, they sometimes escaped and went back to their traffickers to satisfy their addictions. Some were scared of their captors, fearing for the safety of their families.
Cases on the court roll include:
* Four Nigerian men accused of being involved in a syndicate that trafficked at least three women from Joburg, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, allegedly for prostitution.
Francis Chidiebane Nweke, 31, Nwafor Emmanuel Jideoffer, 24, Billy Emeka Amune, 37, and Ogechukwu Kingsley Mmaduekwe, 32, are facing charges in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court related to trafficking and the exploitation of women.
* A 27-year-old man, Ikechi Cyprian Anyawu, is accused of kidnapping, trafficking, raping and prostituting women in Brooklyn. He was arrested in July and has appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court.
* In Atlantis, four women and a man have been accused of selling a 13-year-old girl for sex for as little as R20 a time. One is the girl’s mother and the male accused is her stepfather. It is alleged that the other three women, Maranatha Lotriet and Evelina Fortuin and Denise Muller, both of Philadelphia, sold the girl for sexual exploitation to a doctor.
Before the bill was passed, the perpetrators were charged with kidnapping. Now, charges range from prostitution and sexual exploitation to pornography.