South Africa

2013 Trafficking in Persons Report
Tier 2

South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. South African citizens and foreign nationals are subjected to human trafficking within the country. 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 in Hillbrow and other areas, though local criminal rings and street gangs also organize child prostitution; Russian and Bulgarian crime syndicates operate in the Cape Town sex trade, and Chinese nationals coordinate the sex trafficking of Asian nationals. To a lesser extent, syndicates recruit and transport South African women to Europe and the Middle East, where some are forced into prostitution or domestic service. Traffickers control victims through intimidation and threats, including witchcraft, use of force, withholding of passports, debt bondage, and forced use of drugs and alcohol. In 2012, South African trafficking victims were identified in Brazil; in addition, four South African women reported being forced to serve as drug mules to Bangladesh or Thailand via Brazil. In 2012, Namibian authorities apprehended a child sex tourist from South Africa.

Women and girls from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are recruited for legitimate work in South Africa, but are sometimes subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, domestic servitude, or forced labor in the service sector or taken onward to Europe for forced prostitution. In 2012, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Somali nationals were intercepted in Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, and Swaziland en route to potential exploitation in South Africa. Chinese and Taiwanese men are forced to work in mobile sweatshop factories in Chinese urban enclaves in South Africa. During the year, IOM identified potential victims of forced labor from Cambodia aboard fishing vessels in South Africa’s territorial waters; NGOs and international organizations continue to report additional distress calls from foreign fishermen in similar situations. There were also reports of more than 50 Malagasy victims of forced labor aboard a Chinese fishing boat in South Africa’s territorial waters. Young men and boys from Uganda, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe voluntarily migrate to South Africa for farm work, including cattle herding, sometimes laboring for months with little or no pay and in conditions of forced labor 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. In May 2013, the parliament passed anti-trafficking legislation, which now awaits presidential signature and publication in the government gazette for official enactment. In addition, during the year, several government departments took preparatory steps, such as developing regulations and policy directives, to be ready to implement the legislation upon enactment. The government convicted one offender during the year and began prosecution of two suspects for alleged forced child labor offenses; however, challenges remained in the identification and investigation of trafficking cases. Despite its almost exclusive focus on sex trafficking, the government has not yet successfully prosecuted any major international syndicates reportedly responsible for much of the sex trade in the country and did not systematically address labor trafficking offenses in the country. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD) took over duties from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for inter-departmental coordination on the national level after the NPA scaled down its Inter-Sectoral Task Team (ISTT). Task teams in six provinces continued operations and made efforts to train officials and raise awareness, but the lack of a trafficking statute and a coordinating entity stymied progress. In 2012 the government made efforts to protect victims through continued oversight, by the Department of Social Development (DSD), of shelters that provided trafficking-specific victim services. The absence of formal procedures for screening and identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including illegal migrants and women in prostitution, remained a significant gap. As a result, some foreign victims were repatriated without being identified as trafficking victims.

Recommendations for South Africa: Enact and implement the 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; more effectively utilize financial resources for anti-trafficking programs and personnel; prosecute employers who use 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 of being 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 continued to conduct anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period through a small group of provincial task teams. The government convicted one trafficking offender during the year, marking the third conviction in the country’s history. South Africa’s laws do not prohibit all forms of trafficking. The Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) prohibits the sex trafficking of children and adults, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (BCEA) prohibits forced labor. The SOA prescribes punishments of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Penalties under the BCEA of only up to three years’ imprisonment for forced labor 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 is sometimes used in combination with the SOA to add additional charges—including money laundering, racketeering, and criminal gang activity—and stiffer penalties against offenders. In May 2013, the parliament passed comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, the Combating and Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Bill, which now awaits presidential signature. The South African Police Service (SAPS), NPA, and DSD took steps to prepare for implementation of the anti-trafficking legislation; other key government departments had not yet begun to prepare their directives.

In 2012, one trafficker was convicted in South Africa. Prosecution of seven cases was initiated, and ongoing prosecutions of five offenders from the previous reporting period continued. According to news reports, the Grahamstown High Court sentenced a convicted sex trafficker to 10 years’ imprisonment for procuring an 11-year old girl for an Eastern Cape man in April 2012. In February 2013, Sabie Magistrate’s Court initiated the prosecution of two offenders, a Mozambican woman and a South African businessman, charged with the sex trafficking of five Mozambican girls. The March 2010 Thai sex trafficking convictions were overturned on appeal because the court translator who was fearful for her safety had covered her face during the proceedings.

Five defendants awaited prosecution, and several other trials remained ongoing from previous reporting periods. An ongoing prosecution of three defendants for sex trafficking, drug, and prostitution offenses following a raid on a brothel by the Durban provincial anti-trafficking task team was supplemented through the arrest of the property owner and his wife in March 2012; both were released awaiting trial. The government failed to prosecute any officials allegedly complicit in trafficking-related crimes, including immigration, border, and police officers who may work in collusion with traffickers or be among the “clients” of sex trafficking victims. In addition, the government did not yet initiate prosecution of two police officers arrested in the Western Cape and one additional suspect arrested in Nelspoort in October 2011 for the alleged sex trafficking of South African girls.

In its efforts against sex trafficking, the government has prosecuted low-level cases with one to three victims, typically from South Africa or neighboring countries, but has not successfully prosecuted larger, international syndicates involving Nigerian, Russian, Bulgarian, Chinese, and Thai traffickers who dominate the sex trade in several South African cities. Well-known brothels, including some that have previously used sex trafficking victims, continued to operate without police intervention. No cases against traffickers of Thai women have been initiated since 2007. In addition, many stakeholders report the failure of police to proactively identify sex trafficking victims or pursue investigations of some cases; police regularly evacuated alleged victims of sex trafficking without opening investigations against the perpetrators, and there was one report of police taking one week to respond to a distress call from a victim.

In 2012, the government did not systematically address forced labor; however, it initiated the prosecution of two suspects under the BCEA for the forced labor of 10 children in two separate cases. For example, in February 2013, Zastron Magistrate’s Court in Free State held a hearing involving a Chinese grocery store owner charged with violating the BCEA for using seven children in forced labor. However, the government did not comprehensively monitor or investigate labor trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors. The government has yet to institutionalize anti-trafficking training for its officials, which further inhibited progress; however, many departments have initiated plans for training in 2013 to coincide with the passage of anti-trafficking legislation. Trainings held by committed members of the Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga task teams could not take the place of a coordinated effort reflecting internationally recognized police standards and practices.


Although the government made efforts to protect trafficking victims, considerable obstacles remained to ensuring justice and protection for all victims in South Africa. DSD continued its oversight of and funding to 13 accredited multipurpose shelters in 2012, which hosted 43 foreign and 44 South African trafficking victims referred by DSD during the year, an increase from 59 victims referred in 2011. It also began oversight of 17 NGO-run safe houses designed to temporarily shelter victims before they reach an accredited shelter. The government provided financial support for these shelters on a per victim, per night basis. The DSD continued its nine-week rehabilitation program to address the psycho-social well-being of victims and paid for the stay of victims at rehabilitation centers for overcoming drug addiction. There were no shelters available for men. In 2012, the Gauteng task team established a rapid response team—comprised of government agencies and NGOs—modeled after those in Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal—to coordinate protective services, including shelter, for victims.

The DSD continued drafting implementing regulations in preparation for the social services portions of the anti-trafficking bill and began development of formal procedures for the identification of trafficking victims and their referral to appropriate care, though these have not yet been put into effect. DSD rolled out its guidebook for service providers and first-line responders on the identification of trafficking victims, updated its shelter intake forms to capture trafficking victim data, and conducted a workshop for field social workers and supervisors that included review of these procedures. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation assisted in the repatriation of a South African trafficking victim from Brazil and the Mpumalanga provincial task team participated in a cross border meeting with Mozambican officials to discuss the repatriation of children, including child trafficking victims.

Despite these efforts made by DSD, systemic hurdles continued to inhibit progress in providing justice and protection for victims in South Africa. Foreign language interpretation remained a significant problem, impeding the investigation of trafficking cases, prosecution of suspected offenders, and screening of victims who spoke only Spanish, Russian, Bulgarian, Thai, and Ukrainian. Although officials reportedly encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders and provided long-term care to foreign victims who did so, this was often stymied by the lack of legal alternatives available under South African law for victims to avoid deportation to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. Prosecutors experienced difficulty in pursuing some cases because the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) deported victims before they had been thoroughly interviewed thoroughly or were able to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers. During the year, eight child trafficking victims were repatriated without adequate time to provide victim statements, which led to the withdrawal of charges against their alleged trafficker. Although the SOA requires sex trafficking victims not be charged with crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some victims were nonetheless arrested and jailed, as the screening of women in prostitution was at times done too hastily to accurately assess trafficking victimization. For instance, 11 women in prostitution were brought in front of the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court after police arrested them for contravention of the Immigration Act during a brothel raid; one woman remained in jail for seven months without being screened. Some observers believed that at least some of these women were potential victims.


The government continued efforts to prevent human trafficking, but unlike previous years, no national level campaigns took place during the reporting period. The national action plan to combat trafficking in persons developed in a previous reporting period was not released or implemented. At the close of a donor-funded program, the NPA ceased its coordination of the country’s anti-trafficking efforts through the ISTT, which it had chaired, effectively ending its oversight of its six provincial task teams. However, the Department of Justice Victim Support Directorate (DOJ/VSD) coordinated interdepartmental efforts through a body comprised of DHA, DSD, SAPS, Department of Labor and the Department of Health, that worked to ensure department preparedness for the eventual implementation of anti-trafficking legislation and to provide funding for local awareness and training events. However, as the DOJ/VSD is not a law enforcement body, it is without jurisdiction to appropriately and adequately oversee the provincial task teams, serving law enforcement functions. The DOJ/VSD supported awareness-raising efforts throughout the country; in December 2012, it sponsored an awareness campaign led by the DSD and Mpumalanga task team across the province, reaching 600 people through events at malls and a door-to-door campaign. The DSD published awareness materials and distributed them during campaigns in Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces. In October 2012, as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Week, the Northern Cape SAPS team coordinated awareness campaigns targeting mine workers, seasonal workers on grape farms, and youth.

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; in addition, the South African military prosecuted troops who perpetrated sex crimes while serving on missions abroad. The government did not undertake efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the reporting period.