Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Child Trafficking in the Mother City (Published previously in the Weekend Argus)
Photo by Alexia Webster
Lured with promises of work and a new life in the big city, children as young as 13 are being poached from rural towns and brought to Cape Town to work on fruit and flower stalls. When they are not working, these children are virtual prisoners in a Wendy House in the back garden of their “employer”. Occasionally they are fed bread – if they are lucky - and are rarely paid. Most of them run away and, alone in a strange city, take to the streets like so many other poverty-stricken and uneducated youth. It sounds Dickensian at best, cruel and criminal at worst, yet the man accused of abducting them walked out of court a free man earlier this month after charges against him were dismissed.
Although the Children’s Bill signed by the President in 2006, is a progressive legislative tool that deals specifically with child labour and child trafficking, it will only come into effect next year, or possibly as late as 2009, leaving many children like these vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the interim. A man known only to the children in question, as, “Boere” has, allegedly, been trafficking children from places like Upington and Mossel Bay to work at his fruit and flower since 2006. According to Sandra Morreira, Director of The Homestead and Chairperson of the Western Cape Street Children's Forum, a number of boys from upcountry have been released into their care claiming that “Boere” had promised them work but that they had run away because he did not pay them. One of the boys aged 14, from Mossel Bay, claimed that he ran away because he was being kept in the city against his will by “Boere” who had invited him for a weekend in Cape Town. Fortunately, his parents had reported him missing and the social worker at The Homestead managed to re-unite him with his family. “It’s because of us that those boys are now safely back with their parents”, says Morreira.
Earlier this month, “Boere” was arrested by Woodstock police and appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate Court for charges of abduction. In some instances, parents had given “Boere” their consent to bring the youth to Cape Town, so the charges were withdrawn and the case dismissed. Sandra Morreira is dismayed at the outcome and says, “He is now free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street”. At the time of going press, the South African Police Services (SAPS) had not responded to questions regarding the case, despite a number of emails requesting them to do so. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) could not comment directly on the case or respond to the issue of why “Boere” was not charged with child labour. However, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Bronwyn Pithey indicated that the matter is being investigated and that the police docket will be re-opened.
To date, prosecutors at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have been unable to identify any cases prosecuted for trafficking specifically, and practical measures to address human trafficking have been limited despite research showing that it is occurring regularly in South Africa. According to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), part of the problem is that the concept of trafficking is not widely understood or even regarded as an urgent problem. The absence of a specific trafficking offence within the legal system has also made it difficult to identify or track cases that may have included an element of trafficking, but were prosecuted under other laws. An IOM report suggests that due to a lack of statistics, some law enforcement officials have even gone so far as to deny that there is any human trafficking in South Africa. Patrick Solomons, Director of Molo Shongololo, an organisation that actively campaigns for children rights, says that because the current legislative framework does not deal with trafficking specifically, offenders can only be brought to book through legal action related to common law and statutory offences that are often committed in the course of trafficking. Solomon says, “There is very little protection against child trafficking besides charging [perpetrators] for offences such as kidnapping, sexual assault and child labour.”
According to the IOM, one of the main problems with relying on existing laws to prosecute offenders is that they do not adequately address the various elements that make up the distinct crime of trafficking such as sexual exploitation, fraudulent employment recruitment and the exploitation of migrant labour. What is equally problematic is that current legislation does not account for the all the individuals who participate, directly or indirectly, in the crime. For example, in the case of parents who consented to “Boere” taking their children to Cape Town, with the explicit purpose of working for him.
According to the Department of Labour, some of the worst instances of child labour occur where children are taken from rural households to work in urban areas. In many instances, as in the case of “Boere”, the children are offered no payment in return other than board and lodging. Some children are held captive by their employer and there have been reports of psychological and physical abuse. According to Sandra Morreira, although there is no evidence indicating that “Boere” had sexually or physical abused the boys, they had told her that “Boere” had kept them locked up in a Wendy-house in his garden in the evenings when they were not working and hardly provided much in the way of food except for some bread. She says, “These boys are extremely traumatised by the experience. It’s straight, disgusting exploitation.”
Although commercial sexual exploitation of children is being addressed in the Sexual Offences Bill, child slavery, forced labour and debt bondage, are not specifically designated as criminal offences with South Africa’s current legislation. Morreira welcomes the Children’s Bill and is confident that it will plug this loophole but she is concerned about what will happen to children in the year, or more, it may take for it to be implemented. “It can take a while before it can actually be promulgated and now people like him [Boere] is free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street”, she says.
Article by Raffaella Delle Donne