Cape Town - After the courts failed to convict their mother for allegedly human trafficking them to men in their area, two teenage sisters are bravely telling their story in the hopes of helping silent victims.
The teenagers, aged 14 and 16, were rescued six years ago by Aziza Nolan, a child psychologist who converted her home into a safe house called Peace Home.
The girls share the home with their 11-year-old brother, who was previously being raised by a relative.
Nolan also takes care of 10 other children.
All three siblings never went to school before they met Nolan.
They are being home schooled at Peace Home Academy, which opened after the girls were bullied at their own school.
The children are in grades 9, 7 and 3.
Pain is etched on their faces when they revisit their past at “The Vlei” in Athlone.
They lived inside a wooden structure which had no roof, just material sheeting.
They shared it with their mother who was addicted to drugs such as heroin and tik.
Nolan was contacted six years ago about the siblings, who used to beg daily outside Habibia Mosque (Soofie Saheb Masjid) in Rylands near Athlone.
Nolan has been running her safe house, an NPO for nearly 10 years after working as a child psychologist in the UK.
Soon, the siblings were rescued and their mother arrested.
A court case ran for nearly five years at the Wynberg Regional Court but collapsed when police failed to arrest the main suspect.
The girl’s mother was found not guilty in October 2017 due to a lack of evidence.
Nolan said the girls gave damning evidence during the trial but the main suspect was never arrested.
Initially there were three people arrested, two which were men who were set free at the start of the case and the mother was on trial for five years.
“The mother never wanted to reveal who the man was in the red car who she had sold her eight year-old daughter to for just R10.
“After the mother was set free, I approached the social workers and told them that the girls want to tell their story in the media,” Nolan said.
“Human trafficking is a forgotten crime. I opened this safe house for children who have been sexually abused, and when you see a child begging on the street just know there is a story there.”
But for the children, justice begins by telling their story in the hope of saving young girls just like themselves.
The 16-year-old said they begged for food and money daily to feed their mother’s addiction, even when it rained.
“Our job was to beg for food and money and we did it in front of Habibia Mosque.
“We lived in a tiny hokkie (shed) which had no roof but a sail (plastic-like sheeting) and when we begged and it was raining we used black bags to cover our bodies because we hardly had clothing.
“Our mother was a heavy drug user and she would take the food, money and clothing we received from people and sell it to get her drugs.”
The 14-year-old reveals there were often times she was so hungry that “I used to eat sand or scratch in the bins”.
Death was a common sight for the children and others in “The Vlei”.
“We would play in the dam and we would sometimes find bodies,” said the 16-year-old.
Soon the girls became nifty and would cleverly hide money from their mother to feed themselves and their little brother.
The 14-year-old remembered the day when she was just eight years old and her mother took her hand and placed her inside a red car with a male driver inside.
“We sat outside the mosque and it was daylight,” said the teen.
“My mother took my hand and placed me inside a red car and this man gave her a R10, I remember this because I saw the colour green, that is how we knew the amount of money.
“After that, this man took me to a house. It was ugly from the outside but very posh on the inside.
“I remember the house had stairs and the one bedroom we passed was a child’s room.
“After he was done, he dropped me back outside the mosque where my mother was waiting.
“I could not walk, my legs were so numb because of what had happened.”
Soon the family moved to a brick house where the mother’s boyfriend lived.
He would allegedly pay the 16-year-old R20 in exchange for sexual favours.
“He would give us electricity and this place to stay, he would be nice to me, grooming me,” explained the teen.
Later, the 16-year-old would also meet the “man in the red car”.
“He said he knows my mother and took me to a place behind Athlone Stadium,” said the teen.
“He would often change his cars, that is why it was hard for the police to find him and people there never wanted to speak.”
Soon the girls mustered up the courage to tell an adult about their ordeal and met Nolan.
“My sister knew these children and the social workers had also been looking for them, we took them in and bathed them and, as a psychologist, we counselled them as we are still continuing today.”
Nolan said that late last year the girls said they were ready to tell their story.
The 16-year-old was encouraged by a book she had been reading: “I told myself I need to forgive those who did me wrong and not to forget what happened and I knew I had to tell my story like the girl in the book.
“When I was at high school before being home-schooled, I used to educate the children about rape.”
Barbara Rass, ward councillor in Atlantis and an activist for women’s rights and human trafficking victims, said human trafficking was a forgotten crime.
Rass said: “There was no human trafficking bill during those years when I started helping victims but afterwards it was drafted and I was part of team advocates when it was amended.
“There are three categories of human trafficking, the one is international human trafficking which is more sophisticated. The second is national, where people are working in top jobs. The lowest level is when children are being sold by their own family.
“In a case, which I specifically dealt with, there was a mother who had three friends, and together they sold her daughter at a very young age. The media covered the story and, sadly, there was no justice.
“That child is now 21, her mother was acquitted. She is now living at a home for the disabled because she never recovered from what happened to her.
“She was removed from my care and placed by social services in a home and the system failed her.
“While the case was pending, the one suspect who was a prostitute died and the mother was later released after she became ill.
“Mothers who sell their children for sex must get a harsher sentence than the perpetrators themselves,” said Rass.
“Human trafficking cases are not investigated properly and these perpetrators are given bail to continue their trade.”
Law enforcement started a unit, the Vice Squad, aimed at investigating human trafficking cases.
Spokesperson Inspector Wayne Dyason confirmed the unit was active.