About three children a week – sometimes as young as 12-years-old – were being trafficked from the central Karoo to Cape Town to be used as cheap, or even unpaid labour. The girls were predominantly used for domestic labour while boys were used to sell flowers, said Activists Networking Against Exploitation of Child Domestic Workers (Anex) director Julayga Alfred.
While Alfred said these were not solid figures, but information gleaned through an informal network, Anex had assisted 10 children who had been victims of child trafficking since the beginning of the year.
Alfred said the girls were often recruited by agencies who paid money to poverty-stricken parents and brought the children to the city to work for families which provided them with food and shelter, but often paid no wages, a modern “form of slavery”.
Children between the ages of 14 and 17-years-old were the most vulnerable to being sold off by their parents as it was no longer compulsory for them to be in school and they were too old for the families to receive child support grants.
“The youngest minor assisted through us was a nine-year-old boy,” said program assistant of the Southern African Counter Trafficking Assistance Program (SACTAP) Mia Immelback.
Responding to questions via email, Immelback said 251 trafficking victims had been assisted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) since 2005.
34 of the victims were children.
The children were from the Southern African region as well as from Cameroon, Thailand, Kenya, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and the DRC.
Yet despite the fact that human trafficking is a problem, NGOs say preventative legislation is lacking.
South African Law Reform Commission (SALC) researcher Lowesa Stuurman said the only provisions for human trafficking were contained in the Sexual Offences Act and the Children’s Act.
However, Stuurman said these provisions were transitional and there was no other legislation in South African law preventing human trafficking.
The only direct criminalization of child trafficking is contained in Chapter 18 Children’s Act of 2005, a chapter which has yet to be implemented.
But while the Act was passed in 2005, Chapter 18 is yet to be finalized. The current draft still needs to be regulated and sent to the departments of justice and finance before going to the NCOP.
Until Chapter 18 is implemented, it is not possible to charge anyone directly for child trafficking in South Africa. Traffickers can only be charged with affiliated crimes, such as kidnapping.
The Sexual Offences Act, which is already in force, does make provision for the trafficking of persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation, but doesn’t cover people being trafficked for labour, for instance.
Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan) director Cheryl Frank said Chapter 18 of the Act was specifically drafted to give effect to South Africa’s international obligations in relation to the UN Protocol to Prevent Trafficking in Persons.
She said the Act made provision for the criminalisation of child trafficking (or any related behaviour that results in trafficking), the provision of assistance to children that have been trafficked and repatriation of children who have been trafficked into SA.
Frank said currently it was very difficult to tackle child trafficking as very few cases had come to light – both in terms of in-country trafficking as well as cross border trafficking – and the systems for dealing with these situations were untested.
National Department of Social Development Children’s Act manager Agnes Muller said the slow process of implementing regulations related to Chapter 18 was due to the drafting process as it had to be signed off by a number of departments before finalization.
“This can take a while,” said Muller.
She said it was hoped that the regulations would have been completed by the end of November, but the process was “complicated and long” and the Chapter was only likely to be signed off “early next year” once Parliament came back from recess.
Unicef estimates that globally one million children are trafficked across borders each year, said Immelback.
Getting exact figures was problematic as victims needed to be identified in order to keep statistics, but the identification process was difficult due to low levels of awareness about trafficking.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that globally, human traffickers generate between $8 to $32 billion per year.
* Reporting by Yugendree Naidoo.