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No new evidence that a child is kidnapped for sex trafficking every 30 seconds in South Africa

“Did you know that in South Africa a child gets stolen every 30 seconds to be kidnapped for the sex industry?” claims a message posted on Facebook on 18 September 2020. 

It lists a number of claims about human trafficking in the country, which it attributes to an unnamed “lady that is in charge of the Organisation that fight HUMAN TRAFFICKING in South Africa”. The message claims that children are kidnapped, drugged and shipped in containers to Thailand, China or Japan, where they are sold into the sex trade.

“THE MOST POPULAR TIME AND PLACES TO STEAL CHILDREN ARE IN THE MORNINGS ON THEIR WAY TO SCHOOL, IN THE AFTERNOON ON THEIR WAY BACK HOME, WEEKENDS IN JOLLS AND IN MALLS,” it warns in all caps. It then urges parents to share the message.

A slightly different version of the message, posted on 21 September, begins by claiming that the Chinese mafia is operating human trafficking syndicates in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It lists the same claims as the earlier message, including the claim that a child is kidnapped every 30 seconds to be sold into sex trafficking. This version has been shared more than 4,000 times.

If a child were kidnapped every 30 seconds in South Africa to be sold into the sex trade, that would mean 2,880 children were kidnapped a day, 84,000 a month – and more than 1 million every year.

Are these many children kidnapped for sex trafficking in South Africa? We checked.
 

377 adult and child trafficking victims in 2019


Africa Check explored the same claim in a fact-check published in January 2018, and found there was no evidence for it. In September 2020 we found there was no data or research supporting another claim that at least 1 million children were trafficked in South Africa each year.

The 2019 US State Department Trafficking in Persons report estimates that in 2018, a total of 24.9 million people were trafficked worldwide. Notably, the report finds that 77% of victims are trafficked within the borders of their country of origin. 

The report says that in 2018, South African authorities identified 260 victims of trafficking. They were made up of 244 foreign nationals, 201 men, 21 women, 34 boys, three girls and one person of unknown gender. 

According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, these numbers increased to 377 victims in 2019. These were 238 men, 79 women, 26 boys and 34 girls. Foreign nationals made up 312 of the victims, and 65 were South African. “Traffickers exploited 308 victims in forced labor and 112 in sex trafficking,” the report says. It does not say how many of the sex trafficking victims were children. 
 

‘Sensationalised, exaggerated, unsubstantiated’


The scale of human trafficking is difficult to quantify because of the hidden nature of the crime. 

ECPAT is an international nonprofit organisation that does research and advocacy work for children trafficked for sexual exploitation. Mark Kavenagh, the organisation’s head of research, previously told Africa Check there was a lack of publicly available data on child trafficking.

“There simply isn’t clear or centralised data collected or publicly available” to determine the number of children trafficked each year, he said

Dr Rebecca Walker, research associate at the African Centre for Migration and Society and author of the 2020 Child Trafficking in South Africa report, previously told Africa Check that the lack of available data meant that claims about child trafficking were often sensationalised, exaggerated and unsubstantiated. 

“In the literature reporting on the realities of children on the move, there is little substantial evidence to suggest that child trafficking is widespread,” Walker wrote.

Walker added that official statistics often conflated child trafficking with other crimes such as smuggling. This makes official data even less clear. 

There is no reliable data indicating that a child is stolen every 30 seconds in South Africa, to be sold into the sex industry. The most reliable data found in the US Trafficking in Persons report indicates that the number of children trafficked in South Africa is considerably lower. There is little substantial evidence that child sex trafficking is widespread. 

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