December 01 2007 at 01:09PM
By Raffaella Delle Donne
Lured by promises of work and a new life in the big city, children as young as 13 are being brought to Cape Town from rural towns to work on fruit and flower stalls.
When they are not working, these children are prisoners in a Wendy house in the back garden of their employer. They are fed, but rarely paid.
Many run away and, alone in a strange city, take to the streets to join Cape Town’s brigade of street children.
Yet the man accused of abducting them walked out of court a free man after charges against him were dismissed.
Although the Children’s Bill, signed by the president in 2006, is a progressive law that deals specifically with child labour and child trafficking, it will come into effect either in 2008 or possibly 2009, leaving many children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the interim.
The man – known to the children as "Boere" – has allegedly been trafficking children from places like Upington and Mossel Bay to work at his fruit and flower stalls since 2006.
According to Sandra Morreira, director of The Homestead and chair of the Western Cape Street Children’s Forum, a number of boys released into their care claim Boere promised them work but they had run away because he did not pay them.
One of the boys, aged 14, from Mossel Bay, said he ran away because he was being kept against his will by Boere who had invited him for a weekend in Cape Town.
Fortunately, his parents reported him missing and a social worker at The Homestead was able to re-unite the family.
Earlier in November, Boere was arrested by Woodstock police and appeared in the Cape Town magistrate’s court on charges of abduction. In some instances, parents had given Boere their consent to bring the youth to Cape Town, so the charges were withdrawn.
Morreira is dismayed at the outcome and says, "He is now free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street."
The police did not respond to Weekend Argus’s questions about the case.
The National Prosecuting Authority could not comment directly on the case or respond to the issue of why Boere was not charged with child labour.
However, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Bronwyn Pithey indicated that the matter was being investigated and that the docket would be re-opened.
According to the International Organisation of Migration, part of the problem is that the concept of trafficking is not widely understood or regarded as an urgent problem.
An IOM report suggests that due to a lack of statistics, some law enforcement officials have even gone so far as to deny that there is any human trafficking in South Africa.
Patrick Solomons, director of Molo Songololo, an organisation that campaigns for children’s rights, says because the current laws do not deal with trafficking specifically, offenders can be brought to book only through legal action related to common law and statutory offences.
Solomons says: "There is very little protection against child trafficking besides charging (perpetrators) for offences such as kidnapping, sexual assault and child labour."
According to the IOM, one of the main problems with relying on existing laws is that they do not adequately address the crime of trafficking, such as sexual exploitation, fraudulent employment recruitment and the exploitation of migrant labour.
Equally problematic is that current legislation does not account for all the individuals who participate, directly or indirectly, in the crime, such as, in Boere’s case, the parents who allowed him to take their children to Cape Town.
According to the department of labour, some of the worst instances of child labour occur where children are taken from rural households to work in urban areas.
Although commercial sexual exploitation of children is addressed in the Sexual Offences Bill, child slavery, forced labour and debt bondage, are not criminal offences.
Morreira welcomes the Children’s Bill and is confident that it will plug this loophole but is concerned about what will happen to children in the time it will take to be implemented.
"In the meantime people like him (Boere) are free to keep bringing in children who then end up on the street."
o This article was originally published on page 14 of Cape Argus on December 01, 2007