Right from the start, we must ask ourselves what organized crime and human trafficking are? In order to answer the first question, we might look at the hundreds of definitions which have different levels of support, internationally.

The Netherlands rely on the one provided by Bovenkerk (Fijnaut et al., 1998: 26-7), which defines organized crime as it follows ‘when a group looks only for economic gain, does systematic crimes that have serious consequences over the society and are able to shield their activities from the government, especially with violence and corruption’. Furthermore, when it comes to human trafficking, for the purposes of this article the definition in the UN Transnational Organized Crime Protocol to Prevent and Suppress Trafficking in Persons (UN, 2000) will be used.   

The present article will focus on the problem of organized crime groups which are involved in human trafficking and the political and economical incentives that they may have to become involved in such activities. It will also discuss the main forms of human trafficking in South Africa, including the increasing use of child-soldiers during times of conflict and how the victims of such forms of trafficking have been affected by the political and economic instability.

For organized crime groups, South Africa can be considered a country of low risk and high profit (Fitzgibbon, 2003). On an international level, Bulgarian, Russian, Chinese and Nigerian syndicates appear to have utilized South Africa’s geographical position as a transit route and are sometimes involved in the trafficking of South African residents to other countries (Songolo, 2000). According to Bermudez (IOM, 2008), Nigerian organized crime groups operating in Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein are involved in the trafficking of local black South African females into commercial sexual exploitation and the recruitment of men and boys for exploitive labor use. Within the country, smaller, less well-organized crime groups have established themselves as facilitators of these larger international groups and are also involved in the trafficking of human beings within South Africa and from South Africa to other African countries (Allais, 2010).

The confidence with which international organized crime groups use South Africa as a transit route is evidence of how political instability has led to corrupt governments: officials are either involved or have turned a blind eye to the events. 

The two main forms of human trafficking in South Africa: trafficking for sexual exploitation and trafficking for forced labor – can be seen as key examples of how political and economical instability have contributed to the problem of human trafficking.

Although sexual exploitation can and does involve the trafficking of males, it is mainly women who are trafficked for such purposes. There is a large market for under-age girls. In their 2005 Report, UNICEF gave examples of how cultural norms can contribute to the spread of trafficking. It evidenced that early marriage contributes to this because it often leads to limited education, abuse and poverty as a result of divorce and abandonment (UNICEF, 2005).  Within South Africa, the cultural norm of having sexual intercourse with young girls as a cure of HIV/AIDS appears to have contributed to the growth of trafficking of young females for sexual exploitation (Lang, 2012).

Although the Constitution of South Africa states, in Section 13, that ‘no-one may be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labor’, the high rate of unemployment and lack of social protection has led to the recruitment of people into these trades often with the use of force, or deceit (ILO, 2011). The International Labor Organization reveals (ILO, 2012) that 21 million people worldwide are trapped in jobs by means of coercion or deceit and UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are enslaved in forced labor, bonded labor, forced recruitment for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, at any given time around the world (UNICEF, 2007). 

Given the poor state of the economy in South Africa, the economic incentives to become involved in such a lucrative business are obvious; an African child trafficked to the US might net a trafficker $10,000 to $20,000, according to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (O’Neill, 2000). The economic state of the country also provides the traffickers with a high level of compliance, both from the victims themselves and the victim’s families, who are increasingly involved with the traffickers (Allais, 2010:22).

A lack of evidence and research makes it difficult to estimate the level of trafficking taking place in South Africa; however, in 2011, the government convicted two sex trafficking offenders and began five prosecutions (US, 2012). The US department of State 2012 Trafficking in persons report indicated that, despite considerable financial resources being available, anti-trafficking law enforcement and protective services lacked adequate funds (US, 2012). Victims are often afraid of retaliation from traffickers or recrimination within their families and villages: ‘Fear and mistrust of police, the lack of documentation and fear of complicity also play a part in maintaining the victim’s silence’ (UN, 2003).

Political instability and apartheid policy (Nigel, 2001), known as the racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against black South Africans, until 1994, has contributed to near constant violence and the eruption of civil wars. This has led to the use of children in armed conflicts. Seen as a technical military innovation on the part of combatants, child soldiers were used by both government and rebel groups (Tyner, 2007), indicating the unstable political situation and highlighting the corruption within the government and the armed forces (Singer, 2006: 95). The economic instability developed a cult in which children are perceived as cheap labor and expendable (Silva, 2008: 125). Driven by a false impression of stepping forward to a better life, parents and sometimes even children would often give their consent to being recruited. In this particular situation, the consent is not valid, being an inconceivable infringement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

The government of South Africa is fully complying with the minimum international standards for the elimination of trafficking. In the U.S Department of State 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report South Africa was listed as a Tier 2 country; however, it is making significant efforts to comply. (US, 2012) 

Research has indicated that cultural traditions continue to play a large role in human trafficking in South Africa (UNICEF, 2005): the sexual exploitation of young girls based on cultural beliefs and the trafficking of young people from rural to urban areas based on cultural traditions (UNICEF, 2005). It would, therefore, be of interest to see further research on the topic of human trafficking for the purposes of organ removal, as investigations have revealed the trafficking of body parts for multi-murders and religious rituals in South Africa. 

All in all, despite evidence that the country is struggling to be on the path towards greater stability (US, 2012), it remains placed on the lists of concerns by the international agencies. 


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