The discovery of the 443 unaccompanied children from Zimbabwe at the Beitbridge border post is either the tip of a child trafficking iceberg or there’s a simpler and less alarming explanation. This is according to experts, who said if it was trafficking, then someone should have been arrested. Following a number of trafficking incidents reported in recent years in South Africa, including the 33 suspected victims rescued after being found stashed in a room in a house in Benoni on Sunday, “trafficking was an easy trigger”. 443 children under the age of eight, travelling without guardians or documentation According to…
The discovery of the 443 unaccompanied children from Zimbabwe at the Beitbridge border post is either the tip of a child trafficking iceberg or there’s a simpler and less alarming explanation.
This is according to experts, who said if it was trafficking, then someone should have been arrested.
Following a number of trafficking incidents reported in recent years in South Africa, including the 33 suspected victims rescued after being found stashed in a room in a house in Benoni on Sunday, “trafficking was an easy trigger”.
443 children under the age of eight, travelling without guardians or documentation
According to Border Management Authority (BMA) commissioner Dr Michael Masiapato on Sunday: “A sting operation conducted by border guards, the home affairs anti-corruption team and members of Saps [South African Police Service] stopped and searched 42 buses at the Beitbridge border post and found about 443 children under the age of eight who were travelling without parents or guardians, being trafficked into South Africa.”
The trafficking claim was soon walked back.
ALSO READ: Grim border rescue: BMA halts trafficking of more than 400 children into SA
On social media platform X, department of international relations and cooperation’s head of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela toned it down, saying the children were “possibly” being trafficked into South Africa.
BMA spokesperson Mmemme Mogotsi said yesterday the unaccompanied children did not have “proper documentation and [were] subsequently denied entry into the country”.
“At the border we require you to present yourself and if you don’t have the necessary documents and we find you in a bus, just like the children that were unaccompanied, without the necessary documents, we send you back and we deny you entry, actually we don’t process you further.”
No arrests made
Mogotsi said the children and drivers were sent back into Zimbabwe with no arrests made, despite Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi also saying a joint sting operation had led authorities to finding “about 443 children under the age of eight who were travelling without parents or guardians being trafficked into South Africa”.
When asked about the trafficking claims, Mogotsi said: “This issue is a high-level operation, there are some details we cannot say in terms of what happened with the whole process.
ALSO READ: ‘Unacceptable’ that 443 Zimbabwean children were not with their parents – Motsoaledi
“What I can say is the BMA came to deny entry.
“So, for this festive season we’ve intensified our operations and we are implementing the Immigration Act, where if you are coming to our port of entries, you need to present yourself with the passport.
“If you are a minor accompanied by a parent, you both need to have a passport or the guardian must bring a passport and a letter from one parent.”
Confusion about the definition of human trafficking
According to a study by Dr Rebecca Walker of the African Centre for Migration and Society, University of the Witwatersrand, Child trafficking in South Africa: exploring the myths and realities, failure to clearly identify and explain such cases could cause a human trafficking scare and trigger fearmongering.
While child trafficking had emerged as a major focal point of apprehension for governmental and nongovernmental entities, the confusion about the “actual definition of human trafficking means it is regularly conflated with human smuggling and other forms of irregular migration”.
ALSO READ: More than 30 human trafficking victims rescued in Boksburg
Independent intelligence analyst Anele Chiba said “it was not necessarily that the children were ever trafficked, but they did not have the necessary documents that they needed to cross the border”.
“But the issue with porous borders works both ways. The counterparty needs to also come to the party and ensure that we have a secure border,” he added.
“It’s a fact that we don’t have a secure border [because] there is no or little cooperation on strategic operations to combat border crimes and sharing of credible intelligence.”
Cooperation between two countries and sharing intelligence is vital
Chiba said cooperation between two countries and sharing intelligence was vital.
“So, with us, now we have established the authority responsible for border management, we need to ensure the new border system is effective and to ensure that we prepare to take most of responsibility to combat influx coming in both ways.
ALSO READ: Human trafficking statistics ‘in triple digits’
“We can’t wait for Zimbabwe to get that their act together – it is already too late. Government needs to do something and fast.
“There is also an unrealistic expectation that the Border Management Authority will solve all the problems without considering fundamental issues such as the authority being newly established and defects in our home affairs and immigration systems.”