Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - South Africa


South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. South Africans constitute the largest number of victims within the country. South African children are recruited from poor rural areas to urban centers, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Bloemfontein, where girls are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude and boys are forced to work in street vending, food service, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. Many children, including those with disabilities, are exploited in forced begging. Non-consensual and illegal ukuthwala, the forced marriage of girls as young as 12 to adult men, is practiced in some remote villages in Eastern Cape province, exposing some of these girls to forced labor and sex slavery. Local criminal rings organize child sex trafficking, Russian and Bulgarian crime syndicates operate in the Cape Town sex trade, and Chinese nationals organize the sex trafficking of Asian men and women. Nigerian syndicates dominate the commercial sex trade in several provinces. To a lesser extent, syndicates recruit South African women to Europe and Asia, where some are forced into prostitution, domestic service, or drug smuggling. Law enforcement reported traffickers employ forced drug use to coerce sex trafficking victims.

Thai women remained the largest identified foreign victim group, but officials reported an increased number of Chinese victims. Women and girls from Brazil, Eastern Europe, Asia, and neighboring African countries are recruited for legitimate work in South Africa, where some are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in the service sector, or taken to Europe for similar purposes. NGOs in Western Cape have reported an increased number of Nigerian sex trafficking victims, many coerced through voodoo rituals, and more Nigerians in domestic servitude. NGOs reported a new trend of Central African women in forced labor in hair salons. Foreign and South African LGBTI persons are subjected to sex trafficking. Foreign male forced labor victims were discovered aboard fishing vessels in South Africa’s territorial waters; NGOs estimated 10 to 15 victims of labor trafficking each month disembarked in Cape Town. Young men and boys from neighboring countries migrate to South Africa for farm work; some are subjected to forced labor and subsequently arrested and deported as illegal immigrants. Forced labor is reportedly used in fruit and vegetable farms across South Africa and vineyards in Western Cape province. Government and NGOs report an increase in Pakistanis and Bangladeshis subjected to bonded labor in businesses owned by their co-nationals. Official complicity—including among police—in trafficking crimes remained a serious concern. Some well-known brothels previously identified as locations of sex trafficking continued to operate with officials’ tacit acknowledgment.

The Government of South Africa does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In August 2015, the government promulgated the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act (PACOTIP), which criminalizes all forms of human trafficking, mandates a coordinated government program to prevent and combat trafficking, requires consolidated reporting of trafficking statistics, and outlines victim assistance measures. The government developed implementing regulations for PACOTIP, including on victim identification and referral, and began training officials on the law. The government increased law enforcement efforts—convicting 11 traffickers and initiating prosecution of five sex traffickers in 2015 in comparison to three convictions and 19 prosecutions in 2014. The Department of Social Development (DSD) continued its oversight of victim shelters, which assisted 103 victims—a significant increase compared to 41 during the previous reporting year. Officials did not implement procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including illegal migrants and women in prostitution. The government did not address labor trafficking offenses systematically. A serious lack of capacity and widespread corruption among the police force hindered anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government did not systematically prosecute or convict individuals involved in major international syndicates responsible for much of the sex trafficking in the country.


Amend the anti-trafficking law to ensure penalties are sufficiently stringent and restrict the ability of judges to impose fines in lieu of prison time when sentencing convicted traffickers; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, especially labor traffickers, under PACOTIP; continue to train law enforcement and social service officials to implement PACOTIP and related regulations and hold officials accountable for implementing the training they receive; investigate and prosecute officials suspected of trafficking complicity; verify law enforcement and social service providers use a victim-centered approach when interacting with potential victims and recognize initial consent is irrelevant; prosecute employers who use forced labor; screen vulnerable groups, including potential deportees and women in prostitution, for trafficking indicators; replicate the coordinated anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim referral mechanisms of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Western Cape in all provinces; provide interpreters to assist victims in obtaining care, cooperating with law enforcement, and testifying in court; extend the availability of drug rehabilitation services for trafficking victims; certify or establish additional shelters for male victims; provide anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel and troops deployed abroad; and institute formal procedures to compile national statistics on traffickers prosecuted and victims assisted.


The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. In August 2015, the government promulgated the PACOTIP. PACOTIP prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes punishments ranging from fines to a maximum of five years’ to life imprisonment. Articles 4-11 provide a range of penalties for the offence of trafficking in persons depending on the severity of the offence. Article 4(1) establishes the criminal offence of trafficking in persons and sets forth the “acts,” “means,” and “purpose” according to the general framework for the criminal offense. The most severe penalty prescribed for trafficking is life imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding R100 million. The penalties for the trafficking offenses are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, but not sufficiently stringent as the law provides a fine may be imposed in lieu of a prison sentence. The implementing regulations for PACOTIP’s immigration provisions covered in Sections 15, 16, and 31(2)(b)(ii) have not been promulgated. The Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) prohibits the sex trafficking of children and adults and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (BCEA), amended in 2014, prohibits forced labor and prescribes maximum penalties for forced labor for both children and adults from three to six years imprisonment. 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. Authorities sometimes used the Prevention of Organized Crime Act of 1998 in combination with SOA to add additional charges—including money laundering, racketeering, and criminal gang activity—and stiffer penalties against offenders.

The government convicted 11 sex traffickers and initiated prosecutions of five suspected sex traffickers—compared with three convictions and 19 prosecutions in 2014. In 2015, the government sentenced two sex traffickers convicted under section 71 of the SOA to 25 years in prison and a 10,000 rand ($660) fine for one and 16 years for the second. Prosecution of 19 alleged sex traffickers remained ongoing from previous reporting periods. Officials investigated cases involving Nigerian, Thai, and Chinese traffickers, but the government has rarely convicted traffickers connected to international syndicates involving these or Russian or Bulgarian traffickers, who dominate the sex trade in several South African cities. The government did not prosecute or convict any officials allegedly complicit in trafficking offenses.

While the majority of trafficking victims in South Africa are labor trafficking victims, the government did not prosecute or convict any labor traffickers in 2015. The government did not comprehensively monitor or investigate forced child labor or the labor trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors. Department of Labor (DOL) inspectors continued to use BCEA as their core enforcement mechanism and rarely referred cases for criminal investigation. Stakeholders reported the failure of police to proactively identify sex trafficking victims or pursue investigations and noted prosecutors were often unwilling to take difficult cases. NGOs reported some police officers solicited commercial sex acts from victims.

In collaboration with an international organization, the government hosted 15 workshops on human trafficking and PACOTIP and trained 376 law enforcement and social services officials, including from the South African National Defense Force, South African Police Service (SAPS), South African Revenue Services, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Airport Company South Africa. Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and DOL continued to include trainings developed by an international organization within their academy trainings for new staff.


The government increased efforts to protect victims. DSD continued oversight of and funding to 13 accredited multipurpose shelters, which hosted 103 victims—a significant increase compared with 41 in 2014. DSD continued to oversee 17 NGO-run safe houses designed to temporarily shelter victims before transfer to an accredited shelter, providing a stipend on a per person, per night bases to the safe houses. There was only one shelter, in Gauteng Province, available for male trafficking victims. Some shelters declined to accept trafficking victims because of concerns about the government’s ability to provide security. DSD ran a nine-week rehabilitation program to address the psycho-social well-being of victims and paid for victims to receive residential treatment at rehabilitation centers for overcoming drug addiction; however, not all provinces had such centers. The government operated a network of Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCCs)—full service crisis centers to assist victims of rape and sexual violence, including potential trafficking victims; it reported the 53 TCCs assisted five victims of trafficking. Staff prevented both adults and children from leaving shelters unaccompanied, reportedly for security reasons. Rapid-response teams comprised of government agencies and NGOs in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, and KZN Provinces continued to coordinate protective services, including shelter, for victims. DSD, which is responsible for designating and certifying trafficking victim status, continued to accept victims from law enforcement and coordinate their placement in a registered shelter.

SAPS, DSD, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), DHA, and Department of Justice (DOJ) developed uniform formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to care, in accordance with PACOTIP. Implementation of these procedures varied by department and province; not all officials were aware of referral procedures. The KZN and Western Cape provincial task teams used an interagency protocol to guide law enforcement interactions with women in prostitution. Law enforcement generally did not screen women and LGBTI persons in prostitution for trafficking indicators, and instead sometimes charged them with prostitution and other violations. Male labor trafficking victims remained largely unidentified and were frequently detained, deported, jailed or fined.

Systemic hurdles inhibited progress in providing justice and protection for victims. A lack of language interpretation impeded the investigation of trafficking cases, prosecution of suspected offenders, and screening of victims. Officials encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and, at times, provided security and long-term care to foreign victims who did so. PACOTIP provides trafficking victims relief from deportation; however, regulations to implement this provision had not been promulgated. Law enforcement may petition DHA on behalf of foreign victims to prevent their deportation. Law enforcement reported difficulty placing suspected victims in shelters if they failed to provide evidence of force, fraud, or coercion immediately after their rescue; leaving DSD unable to immediately classify persons as victims of trafficking and delaying victims’ placement in facilities. Suspected criminals could only be held for 48 hours without evidence, and many traumatized victims were unable or unwilling to provide statements within that time frame, leading to the release of suspected offenders.


The government sustained efforts to prevent trafficking. The DOJ/victim support directorate supported awareness-raising efforts, including an information kiosk at Johannesburg’s international airport for passengers and airport staff on identifying trafficking victims. The government allocated 2.7 million rand ($180,000) to anti-trafficking training and awareness raising during the 2014-2015 fiscal years. NPA and DOJ oversaw six provincial task teams coordinated through the national task team. Various task teams undertook awareness raising; for example, the provincial task teams, led by its Department of Education members, conducted 17 awareness raising sessions in 51 schools, reaching approximately 34,410 primary school students, 1,100 teachers, and 1,200 parents during child protection week. In October, DHA set up roadblocks near border crossing points during human trafficking week where it conducted vehicle spot inspections and distributed anti-trafficking brochures.

Amendments to the 2012 Employment Services Bill, passed in 2013, were enacted on August 9, 2015. Though the bill does not ban labor brokers, it requires DOL to license and regulate private employment agencies and prohibits those agencies from charging fees for their services unless explicitly authorized by the labor minister. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex but did not make any efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its peacekeepers prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions or for its diplomatic personnel.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1043967 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Macau: Annual report on trafficking in persons (covering March 2015 to February 2016)

    Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Macau (Periodical Report, English)