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Human Trafficking Becoming Major Problem for South Africa - 2004-06-24

Experts at a conference on human trafficking say South Africa has become a major center for the problem - simultaneously a destination, a trading point and a source of humans for sale.

With the end of apartheid in South Africa 10 years ago the once pariah state became an alluring destination for people from across the globe. They came for the wildlife, they came for diverse and beautiful scenery and glorious weather, they came for refuge, and some came for sex in the newly liberalized and burgeoning sex industry.

And with them came the crime syndicates: drug syndicates, organized crime syndicates and those who buy and sell human beings. Conference organizer Linda Smith of the War Against Trafficking Alliance, says South Africa soon became a major hub for human trafficking.

"South Africa is the center of trafficking for the mafias and syndicates of the world. We are finding just about all of the major syndicates and mafias and organized crime units that operate anywhere in the world - they're operating here," she said.

According to experts at the conference, human trafficking in South Africa is diverse. Young girls from countries such as Thailand are brought to South Africa for its sex industry. Others from Cambodia or Russia are brought here to get travel documents before being sent on to countries in Europe. South African girls are taken to Macau, on the South China Coast. Young women from other African countries are brought to South African mines. And, young boys from in and around Cape Town are sold to pedophiles, local and foreign, in that city.

Human trafficking in South Africa is currently dealt with under a variety of laws such as those against kidnapping and prostitution, which government agencies say have proved inadequate in dealing with the crime. A new law to specifically criminalize trafficking for sexual purposes is currently being prepared for consideration by legislators. Linda Smith of the War Against Trafficking Alliance says this is essential because now trafficking in humans in South Africa is too easy.

"Many crimes you can pay a fine - you can pay a fine or go to jail. Well that's great for a syndicate because they are billionaires," she said. "And so they can have people do their dirty work, never touch it, manage it and then pay fines to get the trafficking mules, the ones who move girls around or recruit them, they can then pay their fines then they will move them quickly back to the country that that person came from."

The two-day conference in Johannesburg was organized by the War Against Trafficking Alliance and the South African National Prosecuting Authority to highlight the extent of human trafficking in this country.