Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - South Africa

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - South Africa, 14 June 2010, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced commercial sexual exploitation. Children are largely trafficked within the country from poor rural areas to urban centers like Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein. Girls are subjected to sex trafficking and involuntary domestic servitude; boys are forced to work in street vending, food service, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. The tradition of ukuthewala, the forced marriage of girls as young as 12 to adult men, is still practiced in remote villages in the Eastern Cape, leaving them vulnerable to forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Local criminal rings and street gangs organize child prostitution in a number of South Africa's cities, which are common destinations for child sex tourists. To a lesser extent, trafficking syndicates traffic South African women to Europe and the Middle East for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Nigerian syndicates also send South African women to the United States to households of African migrant clients. In a new development, South African men recruited by local employment agencies to drive taxis in Abu Dhabi were subjected to forced labor subsequent to their arrival in the UAE. South Africans most vulnerable to becoming trafficking victims are poor blacks from rural areas suffering high rates of unemployment. NGOs estimate 60 percent of the trafficking victims in South Africa are children. Because they are usually enslaved on farms and in private homes, children are often hard for police to identify and rescue. Trafficking syndicates send recruiters, who are as likely to be women as men and are often trusted family members, acquaintances, or neighbors, to rural towns. Posing as employment agencies, traffickers for domestic labor use job ads in local newspapers to lure victims. Traffickers control victims through intimidation and threats, use of force, confiscation of travel documents, demands to pay job "debts," and forced use of drugs and alcohol. Women and girls from Thailand, Congo, India, Russia, Ukraine, China, Taiwan, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe are recruited for legitimate work in South Africa then involuntarily subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and other forced labor in the service sector. Some of these women are transported to Europe for forced commercial sexual exploitation. Fewer Thai women than in the past appeared subjected to forced prostitution in South Africa's illegal brothels, while Eastern European organized crime units still forced some women from Russia and Ukraine into debt-bonded prostitution in exclusive private men's clubs. Organized traffickers from China bring victims from Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland to Johannesburg for commercial sexual exploitation, or to send them on to other cities. Migrant men from China and Taiwan are forced to work in mobile sweatshop factories in Chinese urban enclaves in South Africa, which evade labor inspectors by moving in and out of nearby Lesotho and Swaziland. Young men and boys from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe voluntarily migrate to South Africa for farm work, sometimes laboring for months in South Africa with little or no pay and in conditions of involuntary servitude before unscrupulous employers have them arrested and deported as illegal immigrants. Organized crime gangs force teenage boys from Zimbabwe and Mozambique to enter abandoned South African mines and steal leftover bits of gold.

The Government of South Africa does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government convicted its first trafficking offenders, created a Child Protection Strategy at the national and provincial levels, continued developing inter-ministerial operating procedures, and trained officials on the draft anti-trafficking law, victim identification procedures, and agencies' roles in combating trafficking. The government's comprehensive anti-trafficking bill, however, was not passed or enacted, though the government had been promising to pass this legislation since 2008 so it could be fully implemented before the World Cup began in June 2010. In addition, the Children's Amendment Act of 2007, which prohibits child trafficking, has not been fully funded or implemented. Labor trafficking received less official attention than sex trafficking, despite increasing reports of labor trafficking in mines and on farms. Despite the availability of government financial and other resources, the South African government devoted little funding for anti-trafficking law enforcement activity or victim protection compared with the substantial financial and personnel contributions from a large number of foreign donors and NGOs.

Recommendations for South Africa: Enact and begin implementing the draft comprehensive anti-trafficking law; fund and fully implement the Children's Amendment Act of 2007; increase awareness among all levels of relevant government officials as to their responsibilities under the anti-trafficking provisions of the Sexual Offenses and Children's Acts; continue to support prevention strategies developed by NGOs to address demand for commercial sex acts and protect children from commercial sexual exploitation beyond the 2010 World Cup; support the adoption of measures to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism; investigate and prosecute officials complicit in trafficking; and institute formal procedures to regularly compile national statistics on the number of trafficking cases prosecuted and victims assisted, as is done for other crimes.


The government minimally increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. South African law does not specifically prohibit all forms of trafficking. The Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) prohibits sex trafficking of children and adults and the Basic Conditions of Labor Act of 1997 prohibits forced and child labor. The SOA prescribes punishments of up to 20 years' imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses, penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Penalties of up to three years' imprisonment for forced labor are not sufficiently stringent. In March 2010, South Africa's parliament began consideration of a comprehensive anti-human trafficking law – the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill – that the government had been drafting for some years.

Most prosecutions opened from 2006-2009 were not concluded, including the trial of "Diana," a Mozambican women charged in early 2008 under the SOA and labor laws with child trafficking and forced labor for exploiting three Mozambican girls in prostitution and domestic servitude. In the country's only successful trafficking prosecution of the reporting period, a court in Durban concluded prosecution in March 2010 of a case begun in 2007 involving a husband and wife charged with 22 counts of racketeering, money laundering, and offenses under the SOA and Immigration Act, convicting both defendants on 17 counts; the couple has not yet been sentenced. During the past year, police identified victims and opened investigations into at least seven trafficking cases, though none have yet gone to court. Durban police began investigating the case of a 13-year-old girl rescued from a brothel in October 2009. In November 2009, a South African woman originally from Thailand was arrested for promising Thai women jobs in Durban massage parlors, then forcing them into prostitution. In December 2009, private security officers at a gold mine in Barberton caught and handed over to police 260 illegal diggers working for organized crime gangs; more than 80 were Zimbabwean and Mozambican teenage boys who had been brutally coerced to work as mine robbers. Also in December, Johannesburg police rescued two 10-year old Basotho girls from a brothel and began an investigation. In January 2010, a businessman from Uitenhage was arrested for raping a child repeatedly during 2007-2009. The girl's mother was arrested and charged with sexual exploitation, sexual grooming, and failure to report a sexual offense against a child. The businessman allegedly paid the mother $10 to $15 each time to rape her daughter. Police continued to alert some embassies and IOM in advance of raids on brothels suspected of holding foreign victims. The press reported the arrest of Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials involved in the 2006 "After Dark" case in Durban were arrested for facilitating the movement of Thai victims into South Africa. On-going cases in Durban and Rustenberg involve police allegedly complicit with trafficking gangs.


The South African government sustained its efforts to ensure trafficking victims' access to protective services during the reporting period. There were no official statistics concerning the number of victims assisted during the reporting period, since victims of trafficking continued to be classified in police records as victims of rape, domestic abuse, gender-based violence, and forced labor. Overall, the government abided by requirements in the SOA and Children's Act to provide child victims with safe shelter, medical aid, and legal support, though provision of services was uneven, and lacking most in rural areas. The government did not provide dedicated funding for the protection of trafficking victims, despite the availability of government resources. Victims of forced labor on farms near the borders with Lesotho and Mozambique were routinely denied care and summarily deported. Both identified and suspected trafficking victims received care at overtaxed facilities for victims of domestic abuse, gender-based violence, rape, and sexual assault run by NGOs, faith-based organizations, and community charities, with some funding from the Department of Social Development (DSD). As the only body authorized by judicial authorities to refer crime victims to private shelters, the DSD was involved in each case. Officials monitored victims' care, prepared them for court, and accompanied them through trial and repatriation stages. DSD and the South African Police Service (SAPS) formally notified each other of trafficking cases to enable rapid access to care, and effective gathering of evidence and testimony. The government does not offer long-term care to victims, except foreigners assisting with investigations or in need of protection. Seven victims were in such voluntary witness protection programs at the end of 2009 in the province of Kwa Zulu Natal alone. Officials encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders; almost all foreign victims, though, preferred to return home without pressing charges. The amended SOA stipulates that sex trafficking victims not be charged with crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, yet some victims were still arrested. In one case, the victim was locked in the same cell with the alleged trafficker. The law did not provide all trafficking victims with legal alternatives to deportation to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.


The government demonstrated progress in combating human trafficking through prevention. In 2009, the government forged partnerships with counterparts from Lesotho and Swaziland to plan anti-trafficking activities and raise awareness. It helped sponsor the fourth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Week in December 2009, which alerted the public to the threat of trafficking and promoted an NGO's new trafficking helpline. In partnership with the IOM, the National Prosecuting Authority trained 812 law enforcement and other government officials as part of an on-going program funded by the EU. Training covered the difference between trafficking and smuggling; victim identification criteria; legal frameworks; and roles of various government departments and community actors. Another 238 representatives from the SAPS, DSD, Department of Health, DHA, and other agencies were certified through "train the trainers" programs. As part of its plan for hosting the FIFA 2010 World Cup, the Victim Empowerment Directorate drafted a national Child Protection Strategy, which it tested during the Confederations Cup in December 2009. DSD tasked each province hosting an official match with writing its own local plan, some of which were completed in early 2010. Because the government would not agree to provide security at venues other than stadiums hosting official matches, civil society groups independently prepared to carry out trafficking prevention activities at "child-friendly spaces" at fan parks and other World Cup-related venues. In December 2009, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF), in partnership with DSD and civil society organizations, launched the "Champions for Children Campaign: 2010 and Beyond" to raise awareness of trafficking and other risks to children, and promote child protection. The Department of Home Affairs Minister began an overhaul of the DHA to combat internal corruption, and reduce document and identity fraud, which allow traffickers to easily move victims into and out of South Africa. The project focused on registering all South Africans (complete with biometric data), ending late birth registrations, and producing a secure South African passport within the next few years. As part of its efforts to promote child protection and educate the public about the dangers of trafficking, the government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

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