Legislative measures in place to prevent human trafficking

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The South African Government has put in place legislation and measures to prevent human trafficking. But as Gabi Khumalo finds out, the country is still grappling with child and human trafficking, a complex challenge that officials say requires a decisive and collective national action.

Recently Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini, found herself at OR Tambo International Airport once again waiting to welcome two children who were repatriated from Malawi.

The children, aged 14 and 20 from Mpumalanga were removed from the care of their grandmother to Malawi in July 2014 by a woman claiming to be from Swaziland and posing as a former teacher.

The woman had promised to send the children to the United Kingdom (UK) to further their education. One of the children had learning difficulties and the alleged abductor had offered to take the child to the UK for specialist care which the grandmother could not afford. 

However, the promise of taking them to the UK did not materialised and instead the children were taken to Malawi were they were abused. While there, the 14 year-old contracted malaria but has since been treated and cured.

A specialist team comprised of the Department of Social Development’s International Social Services and Interpol travelled to Malawi on June 22 to return the children safely back home. The two were officially handed by the Malawian Government to the South African Government represented by the South African Higher Commissioner to Malawi, Cassandra Mbuyane-Mokone.

The grandmother, who is over 60 years old was reunited with her grandchildren on Thursday.

This is one of many cases being investigated by the police annually. Unlike some families, who have been living with the pain of not knowing where their loved ones are, the grandmother was lucky to be reunited with her grandchildren, thanks to the department and the Interpol for acting immediately when the case was brought to their attention.

Human trafficking cases increasing

Head of police communications, Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said between 2012 and 2014, police have seen an increase of around 59% in cases of kidnapping which translates to just over 2000 cases.

“From the side of SAPS, kidnapping of people is a huge concern. We are seeing a number of people that are being trafficked inside the country and also see people being taken out of the country, where they are being used to trafficked drug, used as sex slaves and also undergo other various forms of abuse,” said Makgale.

Special task teams

In a bid to prevent and combat the trafficking of human beings, Makgale said special task teams have been appointed in provinces, especially Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Limpopo as some of the provinces that have borders in their policing precinct.

“We have also trained a number of detectives, who are within our specialised unit called the Family Child Protection and Violence unit, who are looking at dealing with this particular problem, as and when they arrive,” Makgale said.

He noted that this type of crime sometimes takes place in an organised form, a syndicate involved in other forms of crime and using human beings to commit the crimes.

“The hawks look at those cases to deal with them in an organised fashion.”

In relation to the case of the 14 and 20 year old, Makgale said police were busy with the investigation. The case was reported in October last year in Komatipoort in Mpumalanga.

“We started an investigation immediately. We are looking at what under circumstances the person took them there, who was involved and assisted her through the process of taking the children to Malawi. We are also interested in establishing whether the information we received that the suspect could have left with other kids previously, is indeed the case.

“We have already made contact with our counterparts in Malawi, they are assisting us extremely well and we believe that in the not too distance future, we’ll be able to come back to the public of South Africa to inform them on the progress of our investigation.”

Minister Dlamini said such cases highlighted the need for society as a whole to be vigilant about the trafficking of children, especially those communities situated in regions where South Africa shares borders with other countries.

Guidelines for Prevention and Response to Child Exploitation

As part of combating child and human trafficking, Minister Dlamini said government has developed Guidelines for the Prevention of and Response to Child Exploitation. The guidelines have been submitted to Parliament.

The guidelines promote a developmental and multi-disciplinary approach to child exploitation throughout the continuum of care, including prevention, early intervention, statutory and reintegration services. 

“The reintegration services for children from other countries and South African children found in foreign countries are undertaken by the International Social Services unit of the Department. International Social Services will contact social services in country of origin to establish whether circumstances of family are favourable to return the child or not,” Minister Dlamini explained.

In order to further strengthen the foster care system and adoption processes, the Department of Social Development has also proposed amendments to the Children’s Act (Act 38 of 2005) to allow social workers employed by the department to process child adoption applications as opposed to being done only by adoption agencies. 

“Social workers employed by the department work directly with communities, households or families as well as individuals or children, and as such, have an intimate understanding of the circumstances of the children they work with,” the Minister said.

The Minister emphasised that while they come up with regulations, their systems have been very strong and this was proven during the 2010 World Cup.

Identifying shelters with necessary security

Since 2010 the department has been working with international office on migration, where they started to identify shelters to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary security.

The department also came up with a policy framework to accredit programs and NGOs that will work in the field since it’s a field, which needs specialised knowledge and specialised skills to deal with victims of human trafficking.

Trainings were also conducted in provinces in preparation for the implementation of the legislation, while continuing to identify more shelters and make them ready to accommodate victims of human trafficking and for victims not to be targeted easily by the syndicate.

Minister Dlamini warned that the country is dealing with highly sophisticated organised crime issues, where some children are forced to do illegal and dangerous work.

“Some children are forced to beg on the street, smuggles or sell drugs, for illegal adoption, for use of as child soldiers, for body parts and organs, as well as for commercial sexual exploitation and child pornography,” the Minister highlighted.

Culture of materialism

She further warned that there were a few very negative cultures developing in communities, such as materialism, lack of trust and a culture of getting used to strangers.

“Those are basic skills that our communities have to understand so that you are not being taken for granted. South Africa has free schools, bursaries and grants. We are doing all these things to ensure that we take out families out of the cycle of poverty but there’s thinking that there’s something better out of the country.

“South Africans must understand that most of the services offered by government through social solidarity, are the best, some throughout the world and some throughout the region. Our children need to be very patient and parents need to be firm. You cannot allow children to be taken by a stranger not knowing whether you will see them or not,” the Minister said. – SAnews.gov.za

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