Speaking to Bhekisisa on condition of anonymity, a Cape Town teacher said that she had received threats from a trafficker who is the guardian of one of the children in her Grade 1 class.
The teacher said that she was alarmed when one of the little girls in her class came in smelling like sex.
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“As an adult, you just know,” she told Bhekisisa. “It’s that odour when you haven’t washed yourself after intercourse. A baby shouldn’t be smelling like that.”
She added that the children sitting around the girl were complaining about the odour. “When I spoke to her after class, she said everything was fine.”
However, the next day, her sister (who’s in a different class) couldn’t sit down. “When a colleague asked her why she was standing up during the lesson, she said her vagina was sore.”
“We asked who was hurting them, but we were struggling to understand them. They’re from Zimbabwe, and their English isn’t very good.”
“We called social services, but they didn’t come straight away so we had to let the girls go home with their father’s cousin, who picked them up from school each day.”
However, when the social workers didn’t show up a few days later, the teachers refused to let the children leave. “We stayed with them at school until 5pm, waiting for social services to turn up,” she added.
“We tried to phone their parents, but they were both working in Zimbabwe. We couldn’t reach them.”
“When the uncle showed up at the school, he demanded that the children be released. He went to the police station to say that the school is keeping the girls unlawfully.”
“Since he’s their legal guardian, and because social services hadn’t investigated, we had to let them go.”
According to the teacher, social services went to the address where they were staying that evening only to hear from a neighbour that the house was emptied.
“We sent out alerts, we were looking for those girls everywhere but it would be another four days until we found them, living at a different house.”
“There were more children from our school living there. Men would come to the house, and they could rent a room — and a body.”
“It turned out the father’s cousin was the mastermind behind the whole thing, but there were so many other people involved.”
“The children were taken to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. The doctors found signs of sexual abuse.”
“They were sent into protective custody and a legal case was opened against their father’s cousin, but he just ran away.”
The teacher left the school shortly after the incident.
“I just felt that nobody there cared,” she explained. “The principal just kept saying there’s nothing we can do, there’s nothing we can do.”
“It was the teachers that had to fight for the children. There was a point where I thought I’m going to take these children home with me, even if it means I go to jail.”
“The school failed, the police failed, social workers failed.”
“Nobody gave a damn that there was a house in Parklands where you could rent a room and a baby for the night.”
Sex trafficking is a global concern and notoriously difficult to prevent.
Women and children are generally targeted in areas with high unemployment or political instability, and law enforcement does not intervene unless victims themselves ask for help first, which only occurs in half of the cases.
For the fourth time in five years, in 2022, the country failed to provide evidence that it had increased its efforts to combat human trafficking, placing South Africa on an international watchlist for governments that have not yet done enough to prevent people trafficking.
Despite signing the United Nations treaty against transnational organised crime almost 20 years ago and passing the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act in 2013, the country is yet to implement its provisions to keep foreign nationals residing in South Africa safe.
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