The government decreased the number of victims it identified, but it continued to provide protective services to victims. The government and non-government entities identified 260 victims, compared to 399 victims in 2017. Of the 260 victims identified, 201 were men, 21 were women, 34 were boys, three were girls, and one was of an unknown gender; this included 244 foreign nationals, including children from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique and adults from Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, and Thailand; 14 South Africans; and two victims of unknown nationalities. Traffickers exploited 238 victims in forced labor, 20 in sex trafficking, and two in an unknown type of trafficking. The government referred 118 victims to shelters across seven provinces; 17 victims voluntarily returned to their countries or communities; an international organization assisted in repatriating victims. Thirty-two victims absconded from care facilities, at times because the government failed to take law enforcement action against their traffickers.
SAPS, the Department of Social Development (DSD), NPA, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) had shared formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to care, in accordance with PACOTIP. Implementation of these procedures varied by department and province; not all officials were aware of referral procedures, particularly with vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims. Some officials had difficulty identifying labor trafficking victims and differentiating between trafficking and smuggling crimes. NGOs criticized SAPS for not identifying victims; some SAPS officers failed to follow referral guidelines. Furthermore, the government sometimes denied undocumented foreign nationals protective services, especially if they chose not to participate in investigations. The DHA had no formal, written procedures to guide the handling of trafficking cases. Although a range of government and non-government entities identified victims, DSD was responsible for designating and certifying trafficking victim status and authorizing the provision of protective services. In addition, DSD was responsible for monitoring the provision of protective services, preparing victim-witnesses for court, and accompanying them through trial and repatriation, if applicable. NGOs reported that front-line officials responsible for receiving referrals were often unreachable and that DSD and SAPS were sometimes not informed of their responsibilities to certify and refer victims, a necessary step before victims could receive care of any kind. NGOs reported that SAPS sometimes left victims at shelters without first contacting DSD, left limited contact details for the case officers, or failed to follow-up on cases. Observers reported there was an insufficient number of shelters; some DSD shelters occasionally refused to accept trafficking victims due to security, drug addiction, or cultural concerns. Police indicated they often struggled to find interpreters to acquire victim-witness statements within the two-day window during which charges had to be filed, even if interpreters existed in the province.
The government continued oversight and partial funding of 14 accredited NGO-run multipurpose shelters and continued to oversee 17 NGO-run safe houses designed to temporarily shelter victims before transfer to an accredited shelter, in which trafficking victims were provided care during the reporting period. The government provided a stipend on a per-person, per-night basis to the safe houses. However, NGOs reported they could not always access available funds with the urgency required after identifying victims. Only one shelter provided care exclusively for trafficking victims. Only one shelter provided care for male trafficking victims; no shelters provided care exclusively for male victims. Shelters accessible to persons with disabilities provided limited services; however, it is unclear if any victims received these services during the reporting period. Traffickers were reportedly able to occasionally locate and collect victims from some shelters. The overall quality of victim care varied dramatically by province, gender, and circumstance. Gauteng, KZN, and Western Cape provinces generally offered adequate standards of care in urban areas; trafficking victims in these provinces, even if identified in a rural area, were generally able to access care. Victim care in other provinces was sometimes inadequate. DSD ran a nine-week rehabilitation program to address the psycho-social well-being of victims; however, the government did not report how many victims participated in the rehabilitation program during the reporting period. DSD paid for victims to receive residential treatment at drug rehabilitation centers to overcome addiction, though not all provinces had such centers. The government operated a network of 55 Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCCs)—full service crisis centers to assist victims of rape and sexual violence, including potential trafficking victims; it is unknown if TCCs assisted any victims of trafficking during the reporting period. Not all TCCs screened patients for trafficking indicators. Per DSD policy, staff generally prevented both adults and children from leaving shelters unaccompanied. NGOs reported that government shelter staff sometimes failed to keep victims informed about their case status, or provide dependency counseling and adequate security. Victims could not seek employment while receiving initial assistance, but South African citizens, South African residents, and registered refugees could seek employment while a court case was pending; other foreign victims could not seek employment, even if they cooperated with law enforcement and their trials extended several years.
The government did not regularly screen foreign men, leaving male labor trafficking victims largely unidentified and resulting in their detention, deportation, or penalization. The government acknowledged that police sometimes arrested trafficking victims during raids along with perpetrators, due to a lack of training on victim identification. SAPS did not always screen women and LGBTI persons in prostitution for trafficking indicators; officials sometimes charged them with prostitution and other violations. LGBTI persons, particularly transgender persons, were especially vulnerable to trafficking due to social stigmatization; there was one shelter dedicated solely for victims from the LGBTI community, in the Western Cape.
Officials encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; during the reporting period, 108 victims assisted law enforcement officials in ongoing investigations of 19 trafficking cases; however, fear of reprisal from traffickers and lengthy cases served as a disincentive for victims to testify. One victim received witness protection during the reporting period. However, some hurdles inhibited progress in providing justice and protection for victims. A lack of language interpretation continued to impede the investigation of trafficking cases, prosecution of suspected offenders, and screening of victims. PACOTIP allowed for trafficking victims to receive relief from deportation; however, regulations to implement this provision were not promulgated. As a result, if undocumented foreign national victims did not participate in law enforcement investigations, the government sometimes deported them. DHA required foreign nationals to renew their immigration paperwork every two weeks, which placed an unnecessary financial and logistical burden on them and the NGOs providing their care. NGOs reported that in some cases DHA doubted trafficking victimization or provided a rationale of preventing trafficking as justification to deny access to immigration documentation and the asylum process. In instances in which DHA denied such access, DHA did not always coordinate with the appropriate front-line responders to identify potential trafficking victims. During the reporting period, the DHA issued standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Section 3(c) of the Refugees Act regarding procedures for petitioning for family members to join in refugee and asylum cases that further created barriers to issuing dependents, including children, asylum status with their parents. Although the SOPs addressed some gaps in the 3(c) family joining process, it limited the government’s ability to address trafficking, as it left dependents applying to join a family member’s refugee file without documentation. Furthermore, the SOPs did not require officials to provide any rationale to those who were not able to have their dependents join. In cases of children who were denied status, the SOPs did not outline further action and resulted in children who were forcibly undocumented and increased their vulnerability to trafficking.