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SA human trafficking rings exploiting girls as young as 10, US State Dept report says

File Picture: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

File Picture: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Published Sep 8, 2021


DURBAN - South Africa is a central hub for sex and human trafficking with girls as young as 10 years old being trafficked, the US Department of State 2021 Trafficking in Persons report has noted.

The report said that human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Africa.

“Traffickers recruit victims from poor countries and poor and/or rural areas within South Africa, particularly Gauteng province, and exploit them in sex trafficking locally and in urban centres, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein. South African trafficking rings exploit girls as young as 10 years old in sex trafficking,” the report said.

According to the report, traffickers operating in South Africa were increasingly from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Ghana.

“Syndicates, often dominated by Nigerians, force women from Nigeria and countries bordering South Africa into commercial sex. In some cases, sex traffickers exploit women in brothels disguised as bed and breakfasts,” it said.

The report said that the South African government did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but was making significant efforts to do so.

These efforts included continuing to prosecute and convict traffickers, sentencing convicted traffickers to substantial terms of imprisonment, and continuing a few investigations into officials allegedly complicit in trafficking.

Liza Moroney, of eXpose HOPE, a non-profit organisation in Durban that cares for women who are trapped within the sex industry and victims of trafficking, said human trafficking and sex work were often linked.

Her organisation works with over 250 women working on the streets and in over 35 brothels in Durban.

“Our ladies are trafficked on a daily basis. It is from one brothel to the next. People often think that trafficking means that someone had to be gagged and put into a container and shipped overseas. Because that’s what they see in the movies. But in reality it is not. Women who are trafficked are seen as a commodity by brothel owners who move them from house to house,” she said.

Moroney said that many of the women trafficked to Durban were stuck in a vicious cycle as they were too scared to go home and had become dependent on their traffickers for either money to send home or to feed their drug habit which was forced upon them.

Women wanting to escape the sex industry could do so, she said, by going to a safe place if they were drug-free.

“If you are a sex worker, and you are on drugs, which 99.9% of them are, then help is very difficult to find because there is only one rehab centre in the whole of Durban that takes women and they only take in women twice a year. We are stuck between a rock and hard place,” she said.

The US Department of State 2021 Trafficking in Persons report, however, noted that corruption and official complicity in human trafficking remained a significant obstacle, and the government did not take action in most reported cases.

“Law enforcement was notably less engaged on trafficking during the reporting period, and multiple observers reported agencies did not investigate some reported trafficking cases, even when they had the resources and co-operative survivors to help build cases. While the government maintained modest shelter and protection services for victims, it identified substantially fewer victims and only referred approximately half of those identified to care. Moreover, some law enforcement continued to inappropriately arrest and detain suspected sex trafficking victims during raids targeting commercial sex establishments,” the report said.

According to the report, the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) along with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) investigated 31 cases of trafficking during the reporting period.

This was an increase from investigating 24 new cases in the previous reporting period.

Most suspected traffickers were foreign nationals, particularly from Nigeria, China, and Bangladesh.

The government prosecuted 31 new trafficking cases of an unknown number of individuals and continued prosecutions in 14 cases from prior reporting periods, compared to the prosecution of 71 individuals for trafficking crimes in an unknown number of cases during the previous reporting period.

The government convicted seven traffickers in an unknown number of cases, compared to the conviction of eight traffickers in five cases in the previous year. Judges sentenced two traffickers to life imprisonment and five traffickers to between 22 and 25 years’ imprisonment.