Pretoria - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has called on southern African states to develop comprehensive legislation on human trafficking.
Lucas Duncan of the UNODC Southern Africa Regional Office said human trafficking had become a major global concern affecting all regions in the world, including southern Africa.
Mozambique is the only country in the region which has wide-ranging legislation dealing specifically with trafficking in persons, said Mr Duncan, adding that until countries harmonized their legislation, there was nothing they could do to criminalize this offence.
Mr Duncan was speaking at the launch of the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons in Pretoria on Wednesday.
According to the report, although some countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have laws related to human trafficking, the legislation does not criminalize all or most of the forms of this activity.
These laws also do not define trafficking in persons.
The report also revealed that not a single conviction was recorded for trafficking in persons in the entire region. This could be blamed on the low response to the crisis.
In response to these shortcomings, the UNODC Southern Africa Regional Office has established a partnership with SADC in providing technical assistance to regional states.
Mr Duncan said these partnerships will strengthen the technical and legal capacity of the national competent authorities in ratifying and implementing the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol.
South Africa has signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Trans-National Organised Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Person, especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol, which came into operation on 29 September 2003 and 25 December 2003, respectively.
The Palermo Protocol obliges member states to criminalise trafficking in persons, investigate and prosecute traffickers, as well as undertake border control measures.
In addition, each country which accedes to the protocol has to provide measures to protect and assist victims, train law enforcement and border officials, inform and educate victims, potential victims and the general public.
The National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit has been mandated with the responsibility to implement South Africa's National Strategy on the emerging crime of Human Trafficking.
In August last year, the NPA said the unit, together with partners in government and civil society, had spearheaded the establishment of an inter-sectoral task team to commence a process of co-ordination and refinement of activities towards the development of a multi-sectoral and comprehensive strategy to counter human trafficking.
This strategy is expected to lead to the adoption of a National Action Plan as required by the Palermo Protocol.
The Task Team developed a strategy which aims to deepen knowledge and understanding of trafficking in South Africa, establish a co-operation and coordination structure and develop a prevention strategy and public education and awareness programmes.
South Africa has also been working closely with the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) to beef up measures against human trafficking.
The 2008 Report on Trafficking in Persons by SALRC revealed that South Africa was regarded as a destination, transit and country of origin of victims of human trafficking operations between developing and developed countries.
The SALRC embarked on various initiatives such as the establishment of a Human Trafficking Desk which is responsible for coordinating all human trafficking issues received from the provinces and also advice head of the Organised Crime Unit on matters relating to the crime.
There are various factors which lead to human trafficking, these include poverty, war, lack of economic opportunities, natural disasters and political instability.
Human trafficking involves the trading of persons as a commodity by various means and is often connected to organized crime, sexual exploitation and forced labour.
According to UNODC's report worldwide almost 20 percent of all trafficking victims are children. Children are targeted because of their innocence and used for begging, prostitution, paedophilia, or child pornography. Others are sold as child brides or camel jockeys.