Two sisters who survived rebel attacks, were trafficked and forced into a life of drugs and prostitution, have found their way to freedom after two years.
For two months they lay hidden in trucks transporting potatoes that were headed to the sisters’ freedom in South Africa.
The two, aged 17 and 19, shared their horrific journey that started in their home country, Congo, after it was attacked by rebel forces in 2020.
After escaping, the sisters found themselves in a local township, until they were brought to a safe house where they received counselling.
“It was like a horror movie,” said the 19-year-old.
“Life was not hard at first but it started to become difficult and when the rebels came they started to rape girls, to kill people; young boys were taken by force to become soldiers.
“We began to run one night and we found ourselves hiding in a tree, we were seven in total, and later there were only three left, that was us including our brother.”
But the nightmare did not end there, they often had to live off water while being expected to take drugs and work as prostitutes.
“We did use a lot of transport and had to hide in potato trucks and we did drugs, sex and we used taxis and buses, motor boats, and it took us two months to arrive in South Africa,” the teen explained.
“When we drove, we would pass a lot of villages, and a lot of countries. At times we never had a place to sleep.
“We had to eat anything they would give us, and sometimes there was nothing to eat. Sometimes for two days, we would just drink water and we would just be in the bush or farm and we would have to sleep there.”
“When we arrived in the Western Cape, South Africa, we found ourselves living under a bridge, then there was someone who helped us.”
A consultant for the police who works closely with the The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) on such cases was part of the team that helped to rescue them.
He could not be identified due to security and safety reasons which might pose a danger for the identity and location of the sisters.
In everything that he had experienced, he said this case broke him as a man.
“I did not think animals are treated so badly, this was one of the most inhumane, immoral and pure evil to do to children. They are now teenagers and it has been two years, they were taken when they were 15 and 17.
“They were taken out of their village, their whole village was wiped out in Congo. I asked them how they came into the Western Cape, into South Africa, they said they were placed on the trucks that transport potatoes and they were placed underneath the potatoes.
“That truck came straight from Botswana or Mozambique to Cape Town. The eldest of the sisters took the brunt of everything, she tried to protect the younger one. They were forced into prostitution.”
“When they came into the township, that is how they managed to get away and that is when I got a call from one of my people there and I had to fetch them as their recruiters would be looking for them.”
The UNDOC said they are unable to comment on particular cases, but said they are working on boosting efforts to curb human trafficking.
“In South Africa, we are currently involved in the roll-out of training for law enforcement officers across different provinces. So far, more than 150 officers have been trained and a further 200 are due to take part in the training by the end of 2022. Much of the focus is on boosting case identification and investigation in order to increase conviction rates for human trafficking, which globally are quite low,” the UNDOC said.
“A regional trafficking in persons case digest for Southern Africa has been established, with over 80 ground-breaking cases.”
The UNDOC said they worked to assist countries to draft, develop and review laws, policies and action plans they need to effectively combat human trafficking.
The Department of Social Development’s Esther Lewis said they had helped 13 victims of human trafficking in the past year.
“The Department assisted 13 victims of human trafficking with assessments and access to social services during the 2021/22 financial year.
“It must be noted that victims are referred to the department from the South African Police Service,” she said.