The government made uneven protection efforts. The government identified and referred 74 trafficking victims to care, including 42 labor trafficking victims, 23 sex trafficking victims, and nine victims of unspecified forms of trafficking, compared with identifying 83 victims and referring 74 victims to care in the previous reporting period. Of the sex and labor trafficking victims identified, there were 31 women, 25 men, 14 children, and nine were unspecified; 43 were foreign victims. NGOs identified and referred to care an additional 52 trafficking victims and identified 383 potential victims through transit monitoring. Observers reported official statistics did not reflect the scope of trafficking, since institutional problems and lack of proactive screening resulted in some victims remaining unidentified by the government. Conflation between GBV and human trafficking also led to the misidentification of victims.
In partnership with international organizations, the government trained social workers on victim identification, reporting, and referrals, particularly focused on combating online abuse and exploitation. Most agencies, including SAPS, DSD, NPA, and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD), used SOPs adapted for each agency to identify and refer trafficking victims to care, developed in accordance with PACOTIP and support from an international organization; however, agencies and provinces implemented the SOPs inconsistently. Authorities inappropriately penalized victims of trafficking for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including for immigration offenses. As reported by multiple sources, trafficking victims were detained and deported after identification as trafficking victims and the government did not screen detained migrants for trafficking. During the reporting period, the government deported more than 800 Basotho, which included some trafficking victims. The government reportedly arrested and charged 52 undocumented migrants working in a single factory, including Malawians, Zimbabweans, and PRC nationals, including some potential trafficking victims, for immigration violations; allegedly, these potential victims were charged and faced deportation after declining to participate with investigations, despite expressing fears of retaliation. The government arrested and charged 19 Bangladeshi potential trafficking victims with immigration violations after officials could not provide interpretation services and the potential victims declined to cooperate with investigations.
The government reported providing trafficking victims with temporary emergency shelter, food assistance, interpreters, specialized medical care, psycho-social support, and transportation. Observers reported the lack of training, awareness of agency responsibilities, and coordination by government officials resulted in victims facing delays in receiving care and increased the potential for victims returning to or being located by their traffickers. By law, trafficking victims were not required to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, in practice, to access services, many victims had to report to law enforcement. For certification as a trafficking victim – the process that permitted victims to access government services and benefits – victims must report their case to SAPS; SAPS was then required to confirm the trafficking allegations, file human trafficking charges within 48 hours, and coordinate with the provincial DSD representative. DSD was responsible for certifying trafficking victim status by issuing a letter of recognition, authorizing and monitoring the provision of protective services, preparing victim-witnesses for court, and accompanying victims through trial and repatriation, if applicable. Observers reported DSD and SAPS lacked coordination and were often unreachable to certify victims’ status, resulting in victims sometimes unable to access timely emergency shelter and services, hindering overall protection efforts. DSD and SAPS disputed this characterization, claiming officials were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Observers reported instances of SAPS officers leaving trafficking victims at shelters without coordinating with DSD and, when this occurred in Gauteng and Western Cape, DSD refused assistance to victims until confirmation from SAPS was obtained. As reported by observers, in numerous instances, SAPS, DPCI, and DSD left victims at police stations overnight if their case was opened at the end of or after business hours. After reporting to SAPS, within the same 48-hour time period, victims had to decide whether to participate in criminal justice proceedings. Reportedly, victims willing to participate in investigations and prosecutions received certification and services faster than those unwilling to cooperate. To circumvent the existing process in Western Cape, DSD and the Department of Health (DOH) had SOPs that permitted medical and psychological assessments for victims before certification to access immediate care.
The government continued oversight of 18 NGO-run multipurpose shelters, operated one government multipurpose shelter that could assist trafficking victims, and accredited two new shelters; however, the accreditation of nine shelters to serve trafficking victims expired during the reporting period. These shelters continued providing services to trafficking victims. Each province had at least one accredited multipurpose shelter. Standards of care determined the accreditation status of shelters and accreditation lasted either two or four years before reevaluation. Victims were not permitted to leave shelters without police escort but could discontinue shelter services at any time. Few shelters accepted victims with their children. Additionally, the government oversaw 88 NGO and government-operated semi-accredited shelters in compliance with DSD’s minimum standards of care for trafficking victims that could provide emergency care for up to 72 hours. The government also operated a network of 61 Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCCs) – full-service crisis centers to assist victims of GBV, including trafficking victims – adding six new TCCs during the reporting period. The government could provide shelter for unaccompanied child trafficking victims in Child and Youth Care Centers. Additional NGO-operated shelters, unaccredited by the government, also provided care specifically to trafficking victims. The government provided NGO-operated multi-purpose shelters a stipend on a per-person, per-night basis; however, these shelters reported funds were generally inaccessible after business hours, due to unresponsiveness by SAPS and DSD. Due to decreases in both government and private funding for NGO-operated shelters, numerous chronically underfunded shelters serving trafficking victims faced closure. The government maintained accreditation for one shelter serving male trafficking victims in Gauteng. Vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQI+ persons, particularly transgender persons and LGBTQI+ migrants, were especially at high risk for trafficking due to social stigmatization. Reportedly, two one-stop centers could provide shelter to LGBTQI+ victims, but available space was limited. Shelters accessible to persons with disabilities provided limited services; it was unknown if trafficking victims received these services during the reporting period. In Gauteng, trafficking victims could receive substance abuse treatment through five accredited treatment centers; treatment was provided for 12 weeks. The shelters in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and Western Cape generally offered adequate standards of care in both rural and urban areas, but quality of care in other provinces varied. Observers reported government shelter staff sometimes neglected to inform victims of the status of criminal cases against traffickers. Foreign victims, including both undocumented and with legal authorization, were fearful of accessing services at government facilities. Undocumented victims could not legally seek employment, even when cooperating with law enforcement, and their trials extended several years.
Through the NPA’s Court Preparation Program, the government could provide victims with the option to testify via video conference both while in the country and after repatriation for foreign victims; and enhanced shelter and witness protection if the victim faced danger due to participation in the case. The government could provide interpretation for victims’ oral testimony and translation for written statements. The government reported that all victim identified participated in criminal justice proceedings. NGOs emphasized the critical need for SAPS to issue Police Inquiry Numbers and CAS numbers to victims to facilitate follow-up on victim referrals and enable victims to track their cases. PACOTIP allowed judges to order victim restitution in trafficking cases, but the government did not report any orders during the reporting period.
Foreign victims faced additional barriers to access care and justice. PACOTIP authorized trafficking victims to receive relief from deportation. During the reporting period, the government finalized and approved regulations guiding the implementation of this provision and handling of trafficking cases; however, the regulations awaited final adoption by Parliament and were not yet in effect. As proscribed under PACOTIP, foreign trafficking victims were entitled to a visitor’s visa for 30 days, which could be extended if cooperating in an investigation or prosecution or if danger to the victim exists in their home country; however, the government did not report issuing these visas. DHA had a policy to issue temporary identification documentation for foreign trafficking victims, requiring renewal every two weeks and continued cooperation with SAPS; however, DHA did not report providing such documentation to any trafficking victims. The Mpumalanga PTT coordinated with the Governments of Mozambique and Eswatini to repatriate trafficking victims, sometimes in partnership with an international organization.