The home affairs department has distanced itself from the trafficking of 57 Malawian children and young adults, labelling the deed “smuggling, not trafficking”, which frees it from liability.
Spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete said the department would have been liable if the children had crossed the border without documents, “but they were smuggled, meaning they were carried in trucks as goods”.
Tshwete said the incidents were not a failure of the new visa regulations meant to curb child trafficking. He said the documentation of children “plays a critical role in giving them an identity and the rights that come with it”.
“Those who are privy to the modus operandi in modern slavery and human trafficking know documentation, or the lack thereof, is where exploitation begins,” Tshwete said.
Police had nabbed three people in Rustenburg, North West, on charges of human trafficking at the weekend, after discovering the 57 Malawians in the back of a poorly ventilated truck. The suspects, confirmed by the home affairs department as undocumented, were arrested after being pulled over by two police officers on routine patrol duty.
Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane said the victims were lured to South Africa with promises of money.
“They had received cash between R2 000 and R2 500,” Phahlane said, “and were to receive more money once they are in the country.” Phahlane said the perpetrators targeted vulnerable children.
“Our initial investigation suggests the children come from a very poor area in Malawi, and so it was easier for them to be lured by promises of money.”
Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund CEO Sibongile Mkhabela described trafficking as a betrayal of African children.
“These acts of cowardice and brutality must be condemned,” Mkhabela said. “We need to recommit ourselves to changing the way society treats its children and youth.”
Earlier this month, police rescued 16 girls from a sex-trafficking ring in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. The girls were believed to be South Africans, and were found in a house with used condoms strewn around the bedrooms, according to news reports.
In 2015, The Inquisitor reported that at least 30 000 children were trafficked every year for two main reasons: prostitution and child labour.