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South Africa: No laws against child prostitution

Publish Date: 18 Dec 2003

Daily News
By Jo-Anne Smetherham

Children are increasingly being forced into prostitution in South Africa, with many girls being kidnapped in broad daylight at shopping malls, taxi ranks and schools.

Some girls are also alleged to have been taken from KwaZulu-Natal and sold in other provinces.

Girls aged 12 to 17 are the most common targets of the gangs, brothel owners and others - including their own mothers - who are forcing them to sell sex.

These are some of the findings of a report on the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, the first in South Africa.

'Taken from KwaZulu-Natal and sold in other provinces'
Children's rights lobby group Molo Songololo conducted the research.

The researchers studied media and conducted extensive interviews with, among others: 20 girls who had been abducted; adult sex workers; the parents of abducted children; members of several police departments including the Child Protection Unit; embassies and organisations providing services to sexually exploited children.

Their findings included:

  •   Girls are kidnapped in broad daylight at shopping malls, taxi ranks and schools. They are frequently gang-raped, forced into prostitution, and forced to take drugs.

  •   These girls are beaten and held captive. Escape is not easy. Sometimes the girls are killed.

  •   Once they are recruited, girls are used to bring in their sisters and friends. Gangs trade in girls, exchanging them for money and weapons.

  •   Sophisticated syndicates bring children to South Africa from South-east Asia, Eastern Europe and East Africa. Children are also brought in, by less sophisticated syndicates, from southern African countries.

  •   Most child trafficking happens close to the children's homes. Several sources said children were brought from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and sold in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

  •   Parents - typically unemployed with dysfunctional relationships and "unsuited to caregiving" - are forcing their children to sell sex from home.

  •   In some reports, communities knew of child prostitution, but justified it as a "necessary evil" given their socio-economic hardships.

    "I was walking with Arlene and Shelley on the Parade, after school," said one girl, interviewed in April 2000, who called herself Alicia. She was 14 when she was abducted.

    "We were approached by four men we didn't know. They grabbed all three of us. They put us into a white BMW. We were shouting and going on. They pulled our hair and pushed our heads down so people couldn't see what they were doing. One drove the car and the other three sat at the back holding us down, between their knees."

    Alicia became a child prostitute, locked in a house with 14 other girls. She escaped after three months.

    There are no official statistics of children involved in prostitution, although Molo Songololo cites a figure of 28 000, given by social workers and the Child Protection Unit.

    The Elsies River police station in Cape Town dealt with an average of five cases a month in 1999, and the Sex Worker Advocacy Task Force has estimated that one out of every four sex workers in Cape Town are children.

    The reasons most frequently given for child trafficking and prostitution include poverty, a lack of protection services for children and the rising demand for sex with children.

    South Africa has no laws against child prostitution and child trafficking, although it is illegal to have sex with a child under the age of 16 and to abduct or kidnap a child.

    Molo Songololo is part of a task team, which includes Lawyers for Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission, Black Sash and other groups, formed recently to increase public awareness about child trafficking and prostitution and to push for appropriate legislation.