Accessibility links

Breaking News

IOM: Human Trafficking Widespread in Southern Africa - 2003-03-28


The International Organization for Migration says that there is widespread human trafficking in southern Africa, much of it women and children intended for the sex trade. The trade flows both into and out of the region.

The International Organization for Migration says the trade of human beings in southern Africa is diverse and widespread. The organization's Program Officer for Trafficking Jonathan Mertens says researchers were surprised at the result of a recent study.

"I suppose that one of our main surprises was just how diverse the phenomenon appears to be in southern Africa," said Mr. Mertens. "We have a lot of extra-regional trafficking, into the region from places like Thailand and China and Eastern Europe. But maybe more significantly we've also found that there seems to be a significant amount of trafficking within the region - trafficking of African people by Africans through southern Africa."

The six-month study revealed that much of the trafficking involves women and children from southern African countries destined for the sex trade industry in South Africa or Europe. Some women are brought to South Africa as so-called "wives" by African refugees who use them as a source of labor, sex and income through prostitution. The sex industry in South Africa also imports women from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

Much of the traffic is linked to international crime syndicates, including some based in Russia and China.

Mr. Mertens said the trade in humans is made easier because borders in southern Africa are notoriously porous. He said the trafficking problem is particularly acute in South Africa because it has become a major destination for illegal migration of all types.

"Because its so tightly wrapped up with the massive amounts of undocumented migrants that come in to South Africa annually," said Mr. Mertens, "it's very difficult for them to distinguish when someone might be a victim of trafficking, whether this person is a victim of trafficking, or whether its just another undocumented migrant. So I think for South African authorities the challenge is immense."

Mr. Mertens said no countries in the region have laws that specifically outlaw human trade and, with some exceptions, border officials are not given specific directives or training to deal with the issue.

Mr. Mertens said researchers were particularly shocked by evidence that Africans, including African women, are engaged in trafficking children. In addition he said researchers found that street children from Lesotho are being brought to parts of South Africa by groups of white men. Once in this country, he said, they are held captive for days and sexually assaulted in a sadistic manner researchers described as "a feeding frenzy for fantasies of hatred, humiliation and revenge."

"Effectively, we spoke with people at a child support shelter in Maseru and found that this doesn't seem to be an uncommon thing," said Mr. Mertens. "We did interview some victims as well, who had been subject to this. And there are case studies that the social workers there at the shelter are keeping on this issue, I think there were 12 in the past year that they've recorded."

Mr. Mertens said that countries in southern Africa must address the issue of trade in humans regionally. He says no single country will succeed in trying to solve the problem alone and the International Organization for Migration will work with governments in the region to find ways to fight human trafficking in southern Africa.