Cape Town teenager almost trapped as sex slave

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Desperate for a job, a Cape Town teenager almost ended up trapped as a sex slave were it not for a local non-profit that yesterday prevented her from boarding a flight to Johannesburg.

The 19-year-old girl from Garden Village in Maitland suburb was convinced not to board a Kulula flight when the Activist Networking against the Exploitation of Children (Anex) talked to her at the airline’s check-in counter.

Anex director Claudia Smit said the girl’s mother phoned the organisation on Thursday night and she immediately spotted the tell-tale signs of human trafficking. The latter was only last year recognised as a crime in South Africa.

Weekend Argus yesterday interviewed the girl’s mother who remains worried for her daughter’s safety.

The mother did not want to be publicly named to protect her daughter’s identity.

“My daughter went onto some job website. She was then talking about going to Johannesburg. I thought she would go to visit our family there,” said the mother.

“But then she told me she was going to work there. But I thought how could that be possible as she has no work experience.

“I then got a call from my cousin in Johannesburg, saying that my daughter contacted them for a place to stay because she was going to work there. She didn’t give them the company’s name or anything.

“She only told my cousin’s daughter that she has been liasing with this man. I tried to ask her where she was going and where she was going to work.”

The teen’s mother said she found out from her daughter’s friend that the supposed job would entail modelling.

“Her friend told me they tried to convince her not to go. Her friend said it was going to be a modelling job. She would sell cellphones for two weeks and then start with modelling,” said the mother.

“I told my daughter it doesn’t sound right. She said she doesn’t have enough information but she would sign a contract in Johannesburg.

“I said to her you can’t sign a contact just like that. But she said this guy told her it’s really an opportunity for her. But I felt my child’s life was at risk.”

The mother then went to a local police station to get help. Police officers put her in contact with Anex.

“I went to the police station and spoke to them. They said this does not sound right and I shouldn’t leave it,” said the mother.

“I wanted to know who my child would be working for. Her safety is important to me. But I felt that I was walking into a wall and I could not see my child. I needed help.”

Smit said the teen was being trafficked, which means she was being “recruited, transported and exploited”.

“She was deceived. She made contact with the recruiter on social media, who then contacted her on WhatsApp. They asked her about her qualifications. She told them she is 19 and only has Grade nine.

“She dropped out of school four years ago as her mom, a single parent, was diagnosed with cancer. She told them she does not have work experience.

“She asked if she has to send a CV but they said she only needed to send three colour photos.”

Smit said the teen was in contact with a man who asked her if she could afford the flight to Johannesburg and she said no.

“She said in the WhatsApp message, ‘I am desperate for an income’. The man told her they would pay for her flight and a taxi to the airport (in Cape Town). He said someone would pick her up in Johannesburg,” said Smit.

Smit and the teen’s mother obtained a copy of the flight information the recruiter sent via WhatsApp, which Weekend Argus also has copy of.

Smit said: “When I got her this morning she was checking in at Kulula (airline). I asked her, ‘Can I have five minutes of your time?’ I told her that her mother phoned me in a state.

“I then got the number of the recruiter and phoned him. He said that she would be an online consultant. I said he needed to explain how he recruited someone from Cape Town with no job contract.

“I said this sounds like human trafficking. I said to him that she would come there and be indebted to them for the air ticket. I said, ‘What if she does not do what you want to do?’ He said they would put her on the next flight to Cape Town.”

Smit said the man eventually confirmed they recruited sex workers and that a reputable organisation that “would offer training” to their employees.

“He said they will get an organisation to train the girls for them. He said some of the girls come from the street and some don’t know what to do,” said Smit.

“This company hosts online webcam chats of an adult nature. They fully deceived this young woman. The naivety on her face was evident.

“The thing that got me immediately when I met the mother and daughter was that this is a family that needs money. This girl thought this was going to be a breakthrough for a better life.”

Smit said the matter had been reported to the Hawks for investigation.

Weekend Argus yesterday spoke to a Hawks official who referred the matter to a spokesperson who did not respond to queries.

The teen’s mother said her daughter was “still convinced this would have been a job for her”.

“She doesn’t believe me. She doesn’t want to listen to me,” said the mother.

“She has been looking for work because I’m a single mother and have another younger child to also take care of. I’m struggling financially.”

The mother said she was now scared the recruiter could come hunting for her daughter.

“This guy has paid for her flight and I fear for her life. I am afraid they might come for her or send people (after her). I want her to go for counselling,” said the mother.

Smit said there was currently 33 human trafficking cases in courts around the country. She said in January their toll-free hotline, the only one in the country, received five “definite calls of suspected trafficking cases”.

“Traffickers are using social media. Most of the people (recruited) are vulnerable and they are promised the moon and stars,” said Smit.

Patric Solomons, director of Cape Town-based child rights group Molo Songlolo, said most trafficking cases countrywide were for sexual exploitation. The organisation runs programmes to raise awareness about human trafficking.

“People still respond to too-good-to-be-true offers in adverts and social media. People are desperate and vulnerable because of poverty,” said Solomons.

“There are unscrupulous individuals who will play on that and exploit it.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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