Each year, human traffickers in southern Africa lure young children and adolescent women from their home countries into the sex industry, while others are forced into child labor. From Lusaka, Zambia, Voice of America reporter Kaunda Danstan tells us that according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) southern Africa's political and economic instability make it fertile ground for illegal human and child trafficking.
Adding to the problem are porous and poorly policed international borders between countries as well as weak institutional structures for enforcing the law.
The agency estimates that over one thousand adolescents each year are enticed from their homes under the pretext of better lives, including marriage, education and jobs in the regions' most prosperous countries like South Africa and Botswana.
Once the victims are lured away, they are sold to so-called 'sex' homes and to restaurant owners where they are forced to work long-hours with no-pay.
Other victims are trafficked to Europe and Asia via South Africa.
Kafukanya is the IOM counter trafficking coordinator in Zambia. He says human trafficking is "a well netted network. Some recruiters are outside the country others are within. So it is a network, they work together. Human trafficking is a 'good' business, they make a lot of profit, and it is easy because we do not have punishable laws against human trafficking."
Kafukanya said the victims are often lured abroad by some of their family members living in other countries, or by night club owners and truck drivers who help transport victims across international borders.
Zambia - due to its central location in the region -- is used as a traffic transit country where victims are carried from refugee-prone nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kafukanya says Zambia is also one of the most vulnerable countries to human and child trafficking: "What they do in this recruitment, they use deception, they entice somebody. And when they go there [the destination country] the ball changes. They are forced into hard labor jobs. And for the girl Childs is forced into prostitution while the boys into criminal activities."
Last year, the agency assisted over 1,600 people trafficked from southern Africa. They also trained law enforcement officials and NGOs in the region on how to identify victims and assist them.
Mavis Banda works for the MAPODE center -- a local agency that offers shelter and rehabilitation to women and children who are recovered.
She says: "Those that have been returned some of them are HIV positive, others are traumatized and we try to counsel them and also attach them to other organizations like IOM that can take-up the responsibility of training them in skills and helping them out."
The region's children and young women are often vulnerable to the recruitment tactics of human traffickers because of civil unrest and economic deprivation in their home countries.
Most SADC countries are yet to ratify the regional protocol on human and child trafficking. The absence of domestic anti-trafficking legislation weakens legal efforts to pursue the criminal syndicates.
According to an Institute for Security Studies (ISS) report, there are as many as 500 organized criminal groups operating in southern Africa.
There are no profit estimates from human trafficking in the region, but the ISS says the global estimate is as high as $7 billion per year, making the trade one of the largest sources of profit for organized crime worldwide.