/ 2 February 2023

South Africa struggles to limit human trafficking – USAID report

Police Minister Bheki Cele. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

South Africa remains a key source, transit, and destination for trafficked people, with few successful prosecutions against perpetrators.

Furthermore, the total number of trafficking in persons (TIP) in the country is weakened by poor record keeping, the inaccessibility of official data, and the still outstanding integrated information system required to collate and analyse information.

A research report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and research partners launched this week says the number of ongoing and successful TIP prosecutions by the government is “disproportionately low when compared to data from civil society, available police statistics [and] media coverage”.

Between December 2007 and January 2022, an estimated 11 077 human trafficking cases were reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS). In September 2021, Police Minister Bheki Cele told parliament that between 2018 and 2021, 781 South African children were recorded as victims of child trafficking.

The report identified 44 successfully prosecuted TIP cases between 2007 and 2022, of which sex trafficking cases were the majority at 36. Only 77 traffickers were convicted — 50 of them South Africans.

In 2021, there were 79 TIP-related prosecutions ongoing in South Africa.

The report says evidence from all data sources suggests a significant undercounting of victims in South Africa: “Both ongoing prosecutions and successfully prosecuted TIP cases suggest that there are frequently more victims of trafficking than the complainants that were screened, submitted statements and/or testified in these cases.”

In other words, many victims are not counted. The study says SAPS “explicitly stated that these cases [the TIP incidents reported to police] are not an accurate reflection of TIP cases in South Africa”.

“Reasons include that TIP is dependent on police action and is ‘under-reported, which makes it difficult to measure’ … and due to ‘incorrect incident allocation and the lack of a specific TIP crime code’. A process of filtering information to avoid these inaccuracies, is undergoing [sic] by SAPS,” the report says.

It adds that the lack of proactive investigations and intelligence sharing, and a largely inactive national TIP task team, means that evidence of South Africa as a transit country is not proactively pursued with international counterparts.

Citing a 2019 multi-country study by the UN on the smuggling of migrants and the trafficking in persons from Nepal, the report says South Africa is a “main destination” for smuggled and trafficked persons on the African continent.

According to that 2019 report: “Most Africans see South Africa as the easiest country of transit to reach Europe or the Americas”, and it is “an origin and transit country for trafficking towards Europe and North America, and for trafficking and smuggling to and from Latin America and Asia”.