Government hugely overstating child trafficking numbers?
THE child trafficking figures on which the Department of Home Affairs has based controversial new visa regulations appear to have been grossly exaggerated as the department admitted that only 23 cases of child trafficking had been uncovered in the past three years.
The department has quoted a figure of 30 000 children being trafficked in or through South African annually to justify the draconian new visa regulations which have the tourism industry up in arms.
Most recently, Home Affairs directorgeneral Mkuseli Apleni told a parliamentary portfolio committee that “it is estimated that 30 000 minors are trafficked through RSA borders every year and 50% of these minors are under 14 years”.
The department claims that the visa regulations for those travelling with children, introduced on June 1, are in response to this growing threat. The regulations require the consent of both parents for children to travel, as well as the presentation of an unabridged birth certificate.
But a parliamentary reply to a question by the DA’s Dianne Kohler Barnard indicates that:
ý In 2012-13, three Mozambican children were trafficked via Lebombo border post and detected at Amazing Grace shelter in Mpumalanga in April 2012;
ý In 2013-14, 18 instances of child trafficking were recorded, including 16 Zimbabwean children who were trafficked through Beit Bridge border post and held hostage at a house in Orange farm, as well as two children (one from Mozambique and one from China) who were detected in Mpumalanga;
ý In 2014-15, one Mozambican child was detected in KwaZulu Natal; and
ý Since April 1 this year, one girl from Zambia was detected in Gauteng.
The figures do not appear to include any cases of South African children trafficked abroad or internal trafficking practices such as ukutwala in which young girls are transported across the country to be married, or young boys and girls are transported from rural to urban areas as labourers.
South Africa is often identified by international organisations as both a source, transit and destination country for trafficked persons, but it is unclear where the figure of 30 000 emanates from.
Africa Check – a non-profit organisation promoting media accuracy – researched the statistics in 2013 and found little data to substantiate the claims.
The figure first emerged in media reports in 2013, but Africa Check could not source the documents on which the claims were apparently based.
Lawyers for Human Rights national director Jacob van Garderen said “human trafficking is a serious human rights violation where and when it occurs, but there is no credible data or research that shows that it is a serious concern in South Africa”.
He believed the Department of Home Affairs had used the threat of trafficking to push policy where it should not be doing so.
Van Garderen pointed to a judgment handed down in the Pretoria High Court last week around the granting of asylum permits to children who were dependent on relatives after being abandoned or orphaned.
Lawyers for Human Rights argued that these children should be given refugee status with their caregivers in South Africa even if official guardianship had not been granted.
Home Affairs argued that the Department of Social Development would first need to carry out an investigation to ensure that the children were not being trafficked.
But Judge Tati Makgoka ruled that the undocumented children faced a bigger risk of being trafficked or abducted if they were undocumented as they were “invisible and untraceable within the Home Affairs database”.
A number of respected sources show no reference to as many as 30 000 cases, while Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffrey said in April that South Africa had prosecuted several trafficking cases, and a further 19 remained on the court role at the time.
Attempts to get official comment were unsuccessful.