The Malawian children rescued by the SAPS in North West province. Police are yet to ascertain the intended destination for the 57 children. Photo: SAPS

 

Pretoria - Three Malawian nationals appeared in the Rustenburg Regional Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, facing 57 counts of human trafficking, acting South African national police commissioner Johannes Phahlane said.

The trio was arrested around Rustenburg, North West province, in the early hours of Sunday by members of the SA Police Service.

“The officers were busy with their routine patrol duties when they stopped a suspicious truck driving at high speed in the early hours of Sunday, 24th July. On investigation, and during the search, 57 undocumented children aged between 11 and 21 years were found in the back of a delivery truck, which is without windows,” Phahlane told reporters at the SAPS Tshwane Training Academy on Tuesday.

He said 18 of the children were female, while 39 were male. Phahlane said when police forcefully opened the truck’s cabin, two of the children fell out. The only ventilation for the children inside the cabin was through openings at the top.

“These children were transported by the three adult occupants, including the driver, who are Malawian nationals. These adults could not provide a satisfactory account on the status of all the children,” said Phahlane.

“The driver and his two companions were arrested for human trafficking. Further probe has revealed that all children were also Malawian nationals. An investigation is currently underway which involves authorities and law enforcement agencies including engagements with our counterparts in Malawi.”

Phahlane expressed gratitude to the Malawian officials for their cooperation so far. He said issues relating to how the children crossed into South Africa’s border was a serious concern and was being probed.

“The issues related to how these children were able to cross the borders of our country, including how they were able to reach Rustenburg is a matter of serious concern. The outcome of the investigation in finding answers to all the related questions is thus eagerly awaited,” said Phahlane.

“We will continue to crack down on the transnational criminal organisations or syndicates involved in the smuggling and exploitation of migrants. We are further calling on all the community members to rally behind the police in dealing with the scourge.”

The three accused traffickers made a brief appearance in court on Tuesday and their matter was postponed.

“Their case is postponed to the 13th of September 2016. They are facing 57 counts of human trafficking. These three accused persons are remanded in custody until their next appearance before court,” said Phahlane.

“The 57 children are, in compliance with the laws of our country, accommodated at a place safety under the auspices of the department of social development in the North West province. These centres provide support and care in line with the Child Care Act.”

Police units are yet to establish the intended destination of the children.

Phahlane said human trafficking was a serious human right violation and the South African police would follow up on leads which will assist in reducing such crime.

South African law provides for a maximum penalty of R100 million or life imprisonment or both in the case of a conviction.

African News Agency