Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Fears of SA World Cup trafficking

By Mpho Lakaje
BBC News, Mpumalanga

South Africa has just celebrated 500 days before it hosts the football World Cup - but as millions of people await the sporting festival, there are growing fears that it could create a market for child-trafficking.

Carlos, who was trafficked from Mozambique
This man told me that we should go, and I took my bags and we left for South Africa

Researchers say the practice is rife especially in Mpumalanga, a province near Mozambique and Swaziland.

Strangers, or sometimes relatives, illegally take children from their homes and send them to cities where they are used for prostitution, pornography or hard labour.

Amazing Grace Children Centre is home to dozens of youngsters who have been abused and neglected.

The centre is situated in a farming area, a few kilometres away from the Mozambique border post.

Among the youngsters living here is 18-year-old Carlos. His parents died when he was seven.

While in Mozambique, a stranger befriended him, promising to take him to South Africa where he said he would have a better life.

But Carlos ended up working on a farm where he says he was beaten and not paid. Life was far from what he had hoped for.

"I wanted to be like one of those who have a better future, who are living at home with their parents," he said.

"This man told me that we should go. And I took my bags and we left for South Africa."

Carlos managed to escape and he was later found on the streets and taken to the centre.

He is now aspiring to be a graphic designer and is working towards finishing his high-school studies.

'Common problem'

The children centre is in a poverty-stricken area called Inkomazi.

The authorities frequently visit farming schools here, explaining to pupils the risks of being exploited.

Professor Carol Allias
Stories are already circulating that young girls are being brought in and kept in safe houses where they are being groomed as prostitutes for the games in 2010
Professor Carol Allias

Vusi Ndukuya has worked with trafficked children for five years. He says traffickers are finding it easy to operate in this region.

"Most of the time, when these people come they come illegally," he said.

"They don't use passports to cross into the country. And it's very easy to cross from South Africa into Swaziland and vice-versa. Even with Mozambique it's the same thing."

He says Mpumalanga province has both Mozambican and Swazi cultures and many people have relatives on both sides of the border.

"We've had cases of people going to Mozambique to recruit children and bring them here," he said.

Mr Ndukuya said it takes only a few days for criminals to organise children for trafficking.

Lack of legislation

With the World Cup around the corner, there are concerns that the practice will increase.

Professor Carol Allias of the University of South Africa has recently compiled a report on child trafficking.

"There's usually an increase in demand for prostitution during international sporting events," she said.

"This was the case during the Olympic Games in Athens [and] the World Cup in Berlin in 2006.

"Stories are already circulating that young girls are being brought in and kept in safe houses where they are being groomed as prostitutes for the games in 2010."

She said some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been expressing concern for two years, but said it seemed very little was being done about it.

In South Africa there is no legislation that deals directly with child trafficking - and NGOs say this means perpetrators get away with light sentences.

The NGOs acknowledge that the government is trying to address the problem, but they warn that if there is no urgency, many more children will be left with emotional scars that will stay with them for a long time.

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