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2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - South Africa

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - South Africa, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 24 October 2017]
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 forced labor and sex trafficking. Children are trafficked mainly within the country, from poor rural areas to urban centers, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein. Girls are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude; boys are forced to work in street vending, food service, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. The tradition of ukuthwala, the forced marriage of girls as young as 12 to adult men, is still practiced in some remote villages in Eastern and Western Cape provinces, leaving these girls vulnerable to forced labor and prostitution. Nigerian syndicates dominate the commercial sex trade within the country, though local criminal rings and street gangs organize child prostitution in a number of South Africa's cities. To a lesser extent, syndicates recruit and transport South African women to Europe and the Middle East, where they are forced into prostitution or domestic service. Traffickers control victims through intimidation and threats, use of force, withholding of passports, debt bondage, and forced use of drugs and alcohol. In 2011, South African trafficking victims were discovered in Bangladesh and Turkey.

Women and girls from Thailand, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, China, Taiwan, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are recruited for legitimate work in South Africa, but are then subjected to prostitution, domestic servitude, and forced labor in the service sector or are taken onward to Europe for forced prostitution. Chinese and Taiwanese men are forced to work in mobile sweatshop factories in Chinese urban enclaves in South Africa. Young men and boys from Lesotho, 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. Taxi drivers or thugs at the border transport Zimbabwean migrants, including children, into South Africa and may subject them to sex or labor trafficking upon arrival.

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. Efforts to address the myriad forms of human trafficking in South Africa remain constrained by systemic challenges, including: laws that do not conform with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; inadequate resources dedicated to fighting human trafficking; and low awareness of the full breadth of the trafficking problems, particularly with regards to forced labor. Nonetheless, the government demonstrated increased efforts to address human trafficking through the conviction of two offenders – sentenced to significantly longer prison terms than in previous years, including life imprisonment – and the provision of trafficking-specific victim services to 59 victims. The Department of Social Development (DSD) evaluated and accredited 13 private, multi-purpose shelters to provide care specifically for trafficking victims, including a nine-week rehabilitation program. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development continued revision of and stakeholder consultation on the draft comprehensive anti-trafficking bill, and several departments began to draft required implementing regulations. These steps notwithstanding, the draft anti-trafficking bill – first drafted in 2003 – remained in parliament for a fourth year. Although the government began prosecution of at least five offenders and continued several prosecutions from the previous reporting period, law enforcement efforts remained focused on sex trafficking, with little attention to forced labor. Task teams and rapid response teams in some provinces not only increased coordination in the investigation of trafficking cases and effective gathering of evidence and testimony, but further enabled victims' rapid access to care through strengthened partnership with NGOs. Despite the government's considerable financial resources, anti-trafficking law enforcement personnel and protective services providers in much of the country lacked adequate funds and coordination mechanisms to respond to the trafficking challenges effectively. The absence of formal procedures for screening and identifying trafficking victims amongst vulnerable groups, including illegal migrants and women in prostitution, remained a significant gap.

Recommendations for South Africa: Enact and begin implementing the draft anti-trafficking bill; continue to increase awareness among all levels of government officials as to their responsibilities under the anti-trafficking provisions of the Sexual Offenses and Children's Amendment acts; allocate far greater financial resources to anti-trafficking programs and personnel; criminally prosecute employers who utilize forced labor, and ensure that labor trafficking victims are not charged with immigration violations by screening all deportees for victimization; ensure officials adequately screen for victims amongst other vulnerable groups, including women in prostitution; replicate the coordinated anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim referral mechanisms of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Western Cape in all provinces; ensure translators are available to assist victims in obtaining care, cooperating with law enforcement, and testifying in court; investigate and prosecute officials suspected to be complicit in trafficking; and institute formal procedures to compile national statistics on trafficking cases prosecuted and victims assisted, as is done for other crimes.


The Government of South Africa maintained strong law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking during the year. South Africa's laws do not 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 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 in the 1997 labor act are not sufficiently stringent. Effective in 2011, the Children's Amendment Act prescribes penalties of five years' to life imprisonment or fines for the use, procurement, or offer of a child for slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, or to commit crimes. The Prevention of Organized Crime Act of 1998 was often used in combination with the SOA to add additional charges – including money laundering, racketeering, and criminal gang activity – and stiffer penalties against offenders. Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, drafting of which began in 2003, remains pending in parliament for a fourth consecutive year. In 2011, the government continued its readiness survey to determine the current capacity of various departments to implement the pending legislation. In November 2011, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD) drafted a revised version of the bill, which was sent to the justice portfolio committee later that month. In August 2011, the DOJCD began to draft implementing regulations for the bill to ensure it is quickly brought into effect following passage.

The government convicted two sex trafficking offenders and began five prosecutions, in contrast to 2010 when it initiated 22 prosecutions and convicted nine offenders. In July 2011, the Pretoria regional court sentenced a convicted trafficker, discovered in February 2008 to have trafficked three Mozambican girls into commercial sex, to life imprisonment – the most severe penalty ever applied in a trafficking case in South Africa. In February 2012, Mitchell's Plain magistrates court sentenced a Cape Town man to 23 years' imprisonment – 15 years on the human trafficking charge – for the sex trafficking of a Swazi woman after fraudulently offering her a job. Furthermore, the government began the prosecution of five suspected traffickers and apprehended an additional five suspected traffickers, including two allegedly complicit police officers and two suspected labor trafficking offenders. A number of cases, however, remain pending from previous reporting periods and prosecution efforts continued to focus largely on sex trafficking cases, with little attention to labor trafficking from the Department of Labor (DOL), the NPA, the South African Police Service (SAPS), and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). One labor trafficking case remains pending prosecution from the previous reporting period.

In February 2012, the Durban task team conducted a successful raid on a brothel, facilitating the rescue of 16 females – including eight children, some as young as 13 – and arresting and charging four offenders with sex trafficking and drug and prostitution offenses. Prosecutors dropped the charges against one suspect, while the other three alleged offenders remain in custody awaiting a bail hearing. In October 2011, Western Cape police arrested two police officers and one additional suspect in Nelspoort for the alleged sex trafficking of South African girls between the ages of 12 and 15. The Cape Town vice squad, under the jurisdiction of provincial authorities, arrested eight suspected trafficking offenders in four cases, including the only new labor trafficking case identified by South African authorities during the year.

The NPA's Sexual Offenses and Community Affairs Unit (SOCA) continued to lead anti-trafficking efforts through its six provincial task teams, which enabled police, prosecutors, and NGO staff to work together to investigate potential cases, resulting in an increased number of arrests during the year, but not an increase in prosecutions. Between April and December 2011, the NPA trained 116 prosecutors on the use of existing legislation to prosecute trafficking cases. In December 2011, the DHA provided training on trafficking and the identification of victims to 350 officers from the South African National Defense Forces, who assumed the role of immigration management at all South African airports. Foreign embassies in South Africa reported that when they reported cases of abuse of their nationals to law enforcement, both police and prosecution authorities responding seriously by vigorously investigating the allegations, though this varied by province.

Although DOL staff participated in provincial and national task teams, the department neither recognized nor made proactive efforts to address labor trafficking within the country. Suspected instances of labor trafficking involving foreigners have been deemed episodes of "localized migrant abuse." Additionally, the DOL has never identified a case of forced child labor; rather, it failed to identify potential trafficking victims among child laborers and generally classified such cases as involving "children in need." Labor inspectors are not adequately trained to identify cases of trafficking, including those involving children.


The South African government increased its efforts to ensure that trafficking victims had access to protective services during the reporting period though – despite its considerable resources – it did not provide these services directly or increase funding for the private organizations that do so. DSD accredited 13 multi-purpose shelters in 2011 to host trafficking victims and trained their staffs to assist trafficking victims; these shelters provided services to 59 trafficking victims referred by DSD – the only body authorized by judicial authorities to refer crime victims to private shelters – during the reporting period. DSD identified 22 additional shelters that could potentially care for trafficking victims and began their assessment for accreditation. It also began provision of a nine-week rehabilitation program – developed in the previous reporting period – to address the psycho-social well-being of trafficking victims in the care of these shelters. However, there are no shelters available for the care of men. In 2011, the city of Cape Town supported the establishment of three NGO-run safe houses for trafficking victims; two of these already open provide short-term emergency care, while victims await transfer to DSD-accredited shelters. During the year, DSD developed an intake booklet to be used in the training of 13,000 employees at shelters, hospitals, and social service facilities. In 2011, the Western Cape task team established a rapid response team comprised of government agencies and NGOs – modeled after the one in Kwa-Zulu Natal – to quickly coordinate protective services, including shelter, for victims. DSD began drafting implementing regulations for the social services portions of the anti-trafficking bill.

The government did not develop formal procedures for the identification of trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate care; however, provincial task teams and rapid response teams – including representatives from law enforcement, DSD, and NGOs – enabled quick access to care in some provinces. Although the SOA stipulates that sex trafficking victims not be charged with crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some victims were still arrested and jailed, as the screening of women in prostitution was at times done too hastily to accurately assess trafficking victimization. Additionally, NGOs reported that the police's longstanding focus on deportation of undocumented migrants caused them to overlook potential foreign trafficking victims. Officials encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders and provided long-term care to foreign victims who did so. However, the law did not provide all trafficking victims with legal alternatives to deportation to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. Thus, during the year, prosecutors experienced difficulty in pursuing cases, as victims often chose to return home or at times, DHA deported victims – often without notifying prosecutors – before they had been interviewed thoroughly or were able to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers. During the reporting period, the government provided witness protection to an unknown number of trafficking victims. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation assisted in the repatriation of a group of potential South African trafficking victims from Turkey.


The government continued efforts to prevent human trafficking, but national awareness campaigns were smaller than in previous years. The NPA continued to chair the national Trafficking in Persons Inter-Sectoral Task Team (ISTT), which met quarterly. The government jointly sponsored, with a foreign donor, the sixth annual human trafficking awareness week in October 2011, which raised awareness on trafficking and appropriate responses to it; these activities were coordinated by the DHA at the ports of entry. The national action plan to combat trafficking in persons developed in a previous reporting period was not implemented or released. The Cape Town metro vice squad partnered with local and national printed media to raise public awareness through the placement of articles on human trafficking. The government, through the South African National Defense Forces' Peace Mission Training Centre, provided anti-trafficking training to South African troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The government did not undertake efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the reporting period.

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