The government had mixed protection efforts. The government identified 399 victims and referred them to care, compared to 220 victims in 2016. In six cases, the government’s response was cause for concern; four victims reportedly disappeared, one was reported missing from the police station and may have been returned to her traffickers, and the government incarcerated the sixth victim for holding a fraudulent visa. Of the 399 victims identified, 305 were victims of forced labor, 66 were victims of sex trafficking, 19 were exploited in domestic servitude. The overwhelming majority of victims were from South Africa; other victims were from Thailand, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, Eswatini, Bulgaria, and Tanzania. A lack of adequate funding resulted in a lack of training on victim identification, which led to unlawful arrests and detentions of trafficking victims during the reporting period. A government-wide lack of funding for anti-trafficking efforts led to front-line responders occasionally denying cases of trafficking to avoid assuming responsibility for costs of protective service provision. In some cases, victims did not receive protective services for more than two months after a referral was made. This waiting time was tripled in the case of male labor trafficking victims who waited at least six months for care and, when it was ultimately delivered, it was only as a result of an NGO assuming responsibility.
The government continued oversight of and partial funding for 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. The government provided a stipend on a per-person, per-night basis to the safe houses. There was only one shelter, in Gauteng, that could provide care for male trafficking victims. DSD trained 58 officials who comprised site verification teams responsible for formally accrediting shelters that provided protective services for victims. In coordination with an international organization, DSD conducted an assessment of all 14 DSD-accredited shelters; 12 were upgraded to the minimum standards to provide comprehensive psycho-social assistance to victims. The government provided shelters accessible to persons with disabilities that provided limited services for victims with disabilities; however, it is unclear if any victims received these services during the reporting period. Some government-run shelters refused to receive trafficking victims due to security, drug addiction, or cultural concerns.
DSD ran a nine-week rehabilitation program to address the psycho-social well-being of victims and paid for victims to receive residential treatment at rehabilitation centers for overcoming drug addiction. Not all provinces had such centers and it is unclear how many victims participated in the rehabilitation program during the reporting period. 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. Per DSD policy, staff prevented both adults and children from leaving shelters unaccompanied. Rapid-response teams comprised of government agencies and NGOs in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Western Cape, and KZN continued to coordinate protective services, including shelter, for victims. DSD, which is responsible for designating and certifying trafficking victim status, continued to accept victims from law enforcement and coordinate their placement in registered shelters.
SAPS, DSD, NPA, DHA, and 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. SAPS was criticized for not identifying victims. Furthermore, the government occasionally denied foreign nationals protective services, especially if they chose not to participate in an investigation. 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. Furthermore, some SAPS officers regularly failed to follow referral guidelines. Some officials had difficulty identifying labor trafficking victims and differentiating between trafficking and smuggling crimes. 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 transgendered persons, were especially vulnerable to trafficking due to social stigmatization; however, there was one shelter dedicated solely for victims from the LGBTI community, in the Western Cape. There were multiple reports that victims and potential victims were detained or incarcerated during the reporting period. Male labor trafficking victims remained largely unidentified and were frequently detained, deported, jailed, or fined. One Zimbabwean child trafficking victim who was exploited in forced labor was not given a court appearance for three months until he turned 18, at which point he was detained as an illegal immigrant and handed over to DHA for deportation. In another case, one NGO reported that three potential child victims were identified at a notoriously corrupt border crossing and subsequently detained; no assessment was conducted to determine whether they had endured trafficking or would qualify for asylum. One NGO continued its collaboration with DHA to screen and identify potential trafficking victims prior to deportation. Through this initiative, DHA and the NGO conducted more than 100 screenings and referred an unknown number of victims to care.
Officials encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers and the government provided security and long-term care for an unknown number of victims who did so 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 provides trafficking victims relief from deportation; however, regulations to implement this provision were not promulgated. As a result, unless foreign victims actively participated in law enforcement investigations and law enforcement petitioned DHA on their behalf, victims faced the possibility of deportation. DHA often required foreign nationals to renew their immigration paperwork every 30 days, which placed an unnecessary financial and logistical burden on the NGOs providing care for victims. NGOs reported that in some cases DHA doubted trafficking victimization and used this as justification to deny access to immigration documentation and the asylum process. In instances where DHA denied such access, it did not always carry out substantive follow-up to determine if trafficking crimes had been committed, nor did it always coordinate with the appropriate front-line responders to identify potential trafficking victims. Sometimes foreign victims lacking appropriate documentation or residency status were not allowed to study or work for the duration of an investigation or court proceeding, thus sometimes limiting foreign victims’ willingness to testify in court. Foreign national victims did not always have the same access to health care as South African victims. DSD policy required evidence of force, fraud, or coercion immediately after victims’ rescue and their classification as victims of trafficking to facilitate placement in facilities. There was an insufficient number of psychologists trained on human trafficking who could provide expert testimony in court.