South Africa is a hotbed for the billion dollar human trafficking industry.
Even worse, experts say parents often play a role in the modern-day slavery of their own babies and children.
People are sold for muti and organ “donation”, babies and children are used for sexual exploitation, cheap labour and even forced marriage.
In Durban, police have found girls as young as 12 years old selling their young bodies on the streets.
The Centre for International Policy’s Global Financial Integrity programme estimated last year that global human trafficking accounted for R230 million of illicit trade, only one third behind drugs and counterfeit goods.
In 2000, social workers and officers of the Child Protection Unit estimated there were 28 000 child prostitutes in South Africa.
Joan van Niekerk from Childline says they are still trying to assess exactly how many people have been caught up in the human trade.
“However, it is a significant problem in South and Southern Africa and is fed by our high levels of poverty, orphanhood and parental irresponsibility,” she says.
According to Barbara Ras, founder of the Atlantis Women’s Movement and a shelter for trafficked victims in Atlantis, there has been an increase in numbers.
“In 2009, we had 16 trafficking victims, in 2010, 35, and last year we had 67,” she tells the Daily Voice.
“I think the reason for this spike is that no one is making a noise about it, our courts are too quiet.”
Recently a Joburg teenager told of how she escaped a child trafficking ring.
The 16-year-old girl was kidnapped in Bramley last year by four men.
After being drugged, she was taken to Khayelitsha where she was raped, beaten, threatened and told she would be put to work as a prostitute.
After two months, she managed to escape and was reunited with her family.
The Hawks are currently investigating the case.
Barbara says traffickers especially target women and children from rural areas, and often lure them away under the pretext of jobs in the big city.
“These people are poor, there are no jobs, some parents are alcoholics and don’t take care of their children,” says Barbara.
“These are innocent girls who go away to work because they think they can get a better life and escape the poverty cycle.”
She says trafficking rings are more sophisticated than people think.
“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,” she explains.
“However, girls are also taken from malls, bus stops and taxi ranks.”
Barbara says 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 realise they are in trouble, it is far too late,” she says.
“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.
“Some of these girls don’t even have breasts yet.
“They are brought into Cape Town and dropped off in places like Athlone and Goodwood for domestic work where they are treated like slaves.”
Barbara adds: “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 – this problem is bigger than we realise and this came to light through the active work of the City’s Vice Squad.”
Barbara says trafficking is done by both local and foreign perpetrators.
“One of the biggest contributing factors to trafficking is that there is too much free access to our borders,” she says.
“We need more border control and national government must make sure we get our specialised units back – we really need them.”
Meanwhile, organisations have called on Parliament to finalise the Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Persons Bill, also known as the TIP Bill.
Currently offenders are charged with sexual abuse, rape and kidnapping.
According to Molo Songololo, a large number of cases gets dismissed in court due to lack of evidence, poor investigations, poor cooperation from witnesses (victims), and the length of the prosecution process.
“Another danger is when these perpetrators are arrested but not convicted, they come back and search for these girls because they know too much,” adds Barbara.
“The scars never heal for these children, many are so damaged that they go back to the streets and prostitute themselves.
“Traffickers are unscrupulous people and they must be brought to book. And if people know about it, they must speak out.”
Joan van Niekerk of Childline urges everyone to be vigilant against traffickers.
“Be alert – keep an eye on children in your community and, in keeping with the spirit of Ubuntu, see every child as your child,” she explains.
Look out for signs of abuse, bruises and a fear of different people.
If you are worried about a situation, contact:
A victim of human trafficking is defined as someone who is being forced or being lied to and then moved (from their home) in order to be exploited for sexual purposes (rape, porn, prostitution), cheap labour or their body parts, among other purposes.
In some cases, the person can be trafficked without being moved, “ownership” of the person changes from trafficker to trafficker at a fixed location.
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.
The Network Against Child Labour estimates that there are 400 000 children working in South Africa.
According to the Human Rights Committee, child labour is everywhere, from taxi ranks to farms and coal yards.
They are forced to work brutal hours that adults are protected against simply because they have no recourse to the law.
Their average pay is R10 a day.
Sex exploiters pay anything from R10 to R150 to traffickers for access to a child’s body.
Reports say human trafficking is mostly TO South Africa and it is organised by international crime syndicates from Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.