/ 20 July 2022

Rise in number of human trafficking victims in South Africa

Protest Against Human Trafficking In South Africa
People with black tape on their mouth walk along the Sea Point coast as they attend a protest against human trafficking in Cape Town. (Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The number of people trapped in human trafficking more than doubled in the 2021-22 financial year in South Africa, according to the latest Trafficking in Persons annual report

From April 2021 to March 2022, 83 people were trafficked, compared with 16 people the year before. Of the 83 people, 74 were referred for care.

In addition, 24 children were trafficked but were found and referred to care by nonprofit organisations and 62 potential victims were identified. The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 2 146 calls in 2021. As a result, 20 people were removed from exploitation. 

The 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report assessed 188 countries and territories for  crime relating to the exploitation of adults and children by forcing them into labour or commercial sex.   

Combining global law enforcement data, the report shows that 10 572 cases of human trafficking were prosecuted, out of which just 5 260 led to convictions. Globally, 90 354 people were trafficked. 

In South Africa, 11 traffickers were convicted, with five receiving life sentences and one getting 20 years in jail while five are still awaiting sentencing.

South Africa remains on the Tier 2 Watch List of the TIP rankings for the second consecutive year.

“The government of South Africa does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” reads the report, noting that efforts include “convicting and sentencing traffickers to substantial terms of imprisonment, including government officials complicit in human trafficking”.

Zimbabwe is also placed on the reports’ Tier 2 Watch List. Botswana and Mozambique are ranked on Tier 2, while Namibia received a ranking in the top group, Tier 1. Countries ranking on Tier 1 fully meet the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards for eradicating trafficking.

Countries ranking on Tier 1 fully meet the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards for eradicating trafficking. 

Being ranked on Tier 2 Watch List means  South Africa does not meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but is taking action to comply with the Act. Being placed on the Watch List means the “estimated number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions … or there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year”.

Ongoing investigations and prosecutions involve 426 human trafficking survivors, a sharp rise from the 226 identified survivors in 2020, 377 in 2019 and 260 in 2018. 

Trafficking in South Africa

Sex trafficking rings in South Africa exploit girls as young as 10, according to the latest TIP report. 

“Syndicates, often dominated by Nigerians, force women from Nigeria and countries bordering South Africa into commercial sex, primarily in brothels and other commercial-front establishments,” it says.

While most traffickers operating in South Africa are from Nigeria, information suggests some are from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Malawi, Pakistan, Ethiopia and China. 

“High unemployment, low wages, and pandemic-related restrictions increased vulnerability of exploitation, particularly of youth, black women, and foreign migrants,” reads the report. 

Aside from commercial sex, victims in South Africa are forced into labour, agriculture, criminal activities, domestic services and mining. 

The report recommends the government increase its efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict officials complicit in trafficking crimes and traffickers within organised crime networks. The training of police officers in this regard also needs to be heightened.

(John McCann/M&G)

The South African Police Service must increase its training “on trauma-informed interviewing techniques, as well as victim identification and referral standard operating procedures” and “train specialised investigators on human trafficking investigations and computer forensics to investigate online exploitation”.

According to the report, there are no dedicated officers to investigate human trafficking crimes in South Africa. The country has 50 investigators at the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the Hawks) who conduct trafficking investigations while carrying out other duties.

Human trafficking is increasing globally, and was considered the most pervasive criminal market by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime report in 2021. 

“The human trafficking market has been fuelled by mass displacement, often overlapping with human smuggling, and caused by, among other factors, conflict, desperate socioeconomic conditions and — not least of all — crime,” reads the report.

Scoring 5.58 out of 10, human trafficking ranks the highest across 10 criminal markets evaluated over a period of two years.