The government increased prosecution efforts. PACOTIP criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment, a fine of up to 100 million South African rand ($7.1 million), or both. The penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, with regard to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the prescribed punishment was not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The implementing regulations for PACOTIP’s immigration provisions found in Sections 15, 16, and 31(2)(b)(ii) have not been promulgated; therefore, critical sections of the act remained inactive. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and related matters) Amendment Act of 2007 (CLAA) also criminalized the sex trafficking of children and adults and prescribed penalties of up to life in prison; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (BCEA), amended in 2014, criminalized forced labor and prescribed maximum penalties of three to six years’ imprisonment. In addition, the Children’s Amendment Act of 2005 prescribed penalties of five years’ to life imprisonment or fines for the use, procurement, or offer of a child for slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, or to commit crimes. Prosecutors sometimes relied on the Prevention of Organized Crime Act of 1998 in combination with CLAA, which added additional charges—such as money laundering, racketeering, or criminal gang activity—and increased penalties of convicted defendants.
South African law enforcement agencies increased efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including within organized criminal syndicates that facilitated the crime. In operations across at least five of the country’s nine provinces, law enforcement officials engaged on anti-trafficking, coordinating and executing raids on more than a dozen brothels, factories, and syndicates that facilitated the creation and distribution of pornography. The Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) reported that it investigated 24 potential trafficking cases, 13 for potential sex trafficking, six for potential labor trafficking and five determined later not to be trafficking cases, compared with 36 investigations of potential cases during the previous reporting period. The Hawks collaborated closely with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to compile evidence and build cases. One of the investigations was a joint operation by the DOEL and SAPS, in which authorities arrested seven Chinese nationals, four men and three women, for alleged forced labor of 91 Malawian nationals, 37 of whom were children. The government prosecuted 71 alleged traffickers, compared to 77 traffickers during the previous reporting period. Of those prosecuted, 44 were men and 27 were women; prosecutors tried 62 alleged traffickers under provisions in the anti-trafficking law, five under the Immigration Act of 2002, and four under other statutes. The government convicted eight traffickers, three men and five women, the same number as the previous year. Judges sentenced one trafficker to 19 life sentences, one to three life sentences plus 129 years, two to six life sentences, one to life imprisonment plus 10 years, one to life imprisonment, and one to 10 years’ imprisonment; one trafficker awaited sentencing at the close of the reporting period. In addition, judges utilized the solicitation of sex trafficking victims section of the anti-trafficking act and convicted 13 people for sexual exploitation, nine people for grooming for sexual exploitation, 10 for solicitation, and two for keeping a brothel. The government did not comprehensively monitor or investigate forced child labor or the labor trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors.
The government took action during the reporting period to hold complicit government officials accountable. Authorities prosecuted a former Johannesburg Metro Police Department superintendent and an accomplice in the high court for allegedly exploiting several children in sex trafficking; the case was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. Law enforcement officers arrested four police officers in Pretoria for human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion related to 10 Bangladeshi nationals who were smuggled into South Africa. Despite these actions, NGOs continued to allege official complicity was common, including officials requesting sex acts or bribes in exchange for visas or residence permits, in order to not prosecute sex trafficking crimes, and to facilitate deportation of migrants so farm or factory managers would not have to pay their workers. NGOs reported that some police and border control officers received bribes from criminal syndicates; some police did not pursue traffickers out of fear of reprisals. Observers reported that some police accepted kickbacks from organized criminal syndicates, which often facilitated trafficking. During the reporting period, the government began to negotiate memoranda of understanding with four NGOs that outlined a procedure for the NGOs to submit sensitive information, including on corruption and official complicity, to ensure protection of civil society whistleblowers who were previously vulnerable to retaliation.
During the reporting period, SAPS conducted compliance assessments of 54 police stations to address non-compliance with government directives, including their responses to potential trafficking cases. The government conducted 43 trainings during the reporting period, reaching more than 2,000 front-line officials. The NPA, the national Department for Social Development (DSD) and all of its regional offices, the Department for International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), and SAPS led the majority of training for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, social workers, medical professionals, and immigration officers. For law enforcement officers, trainings covered promising practices, including investigation, proactive identification of victims, victim-centered interview techniques, and evidence gathering. For prosecutors and judges, training focused on application of the anti-trafficking law and coordination with law enforcement. For social workers, medical professionals, and immigration officers, training focused on applying victim-centered approaches. In addition, the government led 24 interdisciplinary trainings that reached 359 front-line officials. In collaboration with NGOs and an international organization, the government conducted another 16 trainings, which reached at least 680 participants.