Johannesburg - South Africa said on Monday it will ask Mozambican authorities to investigate reports of sexual abuse of its female nationals held in the neighbouring country's jails.

A local newspaper reported at the weekend that 15 South African female prisoners in Mozambique were suffering sexual exploitation by prison warders in exchange for food, sanitary pads, toothpaste and other basics.

The foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that it viewed “these allegations in a serious light” and will alert the Mozambican government.

“The matter will be brought to the attention of the Mozambican authorities for further investigations,” said the ministry.

One of the prisoners told South Africa's Sunday Times that “sometimes, girls are forced to have sex with the warders in exchange for bread or bathing soap... we are just sex slaves.”

Mozambican prison authorities said they were unaware of the allegations when contacted by AFP on Monday.

In 2012 Amnesty International inspected some Mozambican jails and catalogued a slew of alleged abuses ranging from prison overcrowding to arbitrary arrests and police torture.

The international rights watchdog found in addition to problems faced by Mozambican detainees, foreign nationals' problems were compounded by language barriers and that they faced even more difficulties to access legal assistance.

Amnesty International said without regular visits from families, foreigners did not have access to food to supplement “apparently nutritionally inadequate diet”, or sanitary material where these are not provided by the prison.

While detainees from other countries were regularly visited by their countries consular officials at the time, “the South African women did not receive such visits,” according to Amnesty International.

But the South African government on Monday claimed officials from its embassy in Maputo make regular visits to prisons to monitor the conditions of inmates.

During the last visit the South African prisoners complained about poor medical treatment and food, the government said. - AFP