The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2009 People Trafficking and People Smuggling (Prohibition) Act criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and up to 25 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 100,000 emalangeni ($6,300), or both for the commercial sexual exploitation of an adult and up to 25 years’ imprisonment with no option of a fine if the offense involved a child.
The government initiated two human trafficking investigations and continued at least one investigation from the previous reporting period, compared with three investigations initiated in the previous reporting period. The government reported initiating three prosecutions, two for sex trafficking and one for labor trafficking, and continuing at least one prosecution from the previous reporting period, compared with two prosecutions initiated in the previous reporting period. Reportedly, the government convicted five traffickers, compared with one conviction in the previous reporting period. One conviction was brought under the anti-trafficking law; charges were not reported for the other convictions. The government did not provide any information on sentencing. Both the pandemic and civil unrest diverted law enforcement and judicial resources away from efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the reporting period. Court closures due to the pandemic and civil unrest caused significant delays in the judicial process. The government imposed a pandemic-related curfew for most of the reporting period, which negatively impacted efforts of government officials.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. In recent years, senior government officials were investigated, prosecuted, and convicted for trafficking crimes or the abuse of trafficking victims under the care of the government; however, these cases faced significant delays due to a backlog of court cases. For the third consecutive year, a criminal prosecution remained pending against the government’s senior protection officer employed in the Secretariat, who allegedly threatened and assaulted three foreign trafficking victims residing in the government’s temporary shelter in 2019. For the second consecutive year, criminal prosecution remained pending against the Director of the National Children’s Coordination Unit in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office for allegedly kidnapping, trafficking, and sexually assaulting a child from 2017 through 2019. Both officials remained employed but suspended with full pay at the end of the reporting period. Additionally, there were reports from prior reporting periods of immigration officials soliciting bribes to issue government documents, such as visas.
Systemic judicial issues, including a weak case management and coordination system; a shortage of judges, magistrates, prosecutors, and courtrooms; and a lack of access to legal representation for crime victims contributed to delays in all cases, including trafficking. The sole magistrate, responsible for issuing victim protection orders required for victim identification under the NRM and for hearing cases against traffickers, retired during the reporting period without completing active prosecutions, which were placed on hold. Observers commented that the lengthy appointment process for a new magistrate may cause significant delays and inhibit victim protection. Rural women often faced substantial obstacles obtaining relief for various crimes because communities pursued family intervention first and then used traditional courts, which viewed female victims of crime as “unruly” and “disobedient.” In previous reporting periods, observers reported that the lack of collaboration of leadership at the Secretariat impeded anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, resulting in some officials circumventing the Secretariat to facilitate initiatives and communication between members of the Task Force. It was not reported if this changed during the reporting period. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training for law enforcement or criminal justice professionals during the reporting period.