Rates of conviction in human trafficking cases 'disturbingly' low

31 August 2017 - 14:52 By Bianca Capazorio
Slavery. File photo.
Slavery. File photo.
Image: Thinkstock

Members of Parliament have expressed concern over South Africa's low conviction rates for cases involving human trafficking of women and children.

Over 170 women and children were the victims of human trafficking in the last year‚ but convictions were only secured in nine cases‚ Parliament has heard.

Briefing Parliament's multi-party women's caucus on the issue of human trafficking of women and children‚ the Hawks' Major-General Sylvia Ledwaba said that of the 176 victims recorded for the 2016/17 year‚ the vast majority (117) were from Malawi‚ 27 came from South Africa‚ while 17 were from Swaziland. Mozambican‚ Thai‚ Zimbabwean and Congolese nationals made up the remainder.

Human trafficking of adults only became a criminal offence in 2015 after the introduction of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons act in August 2015. Prior to that‚ only child trafficking and sex trafficking were offences.

However Ledwaba said that trafficking for sexual purposes and forced labour were the most common forms of trafficking detected.

The majority of victims were women and teenage girls‚ she said.

She said there was a "strong nexus between illicit mining activities" and suspected trafficking or smuggling.

"Minor boys are often exploited as zama zamas (illegal miners)" she said‚ while "female drug addicts’ vulnerability is abused so that they can be exploited as sex workers and drug couriers".

Outlining the convictions‚ she detailed sentences ranging from a R6‚000 fine or three years of imprisonment handed down to four Thai women in a Durban trafficking case‚ to life imprisonment for a Swazi man who was convicted of two counts of rape and contravening the immigration act in a case involving three Swazi children.

ANC MP Thandi Memela said she was "disturbed" by the number of convictions.

"And when it comes to the trafficking of young kids‚ which is very common‚ sentences can't be this lenient‚" she said.

Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said convictions were "a deterrent in one way or another".

"The sentences are high‚ which is good to see‚ but the convictions need to increase" she said.

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