EFFORTS to prosecute and punish human traffickers in Africa are hindered by the lack of specific laws dealing with the practice.
At a three-day conference attended by 14 Southern African Development Community member states in Johannesburg last week, it was revealed that only Mozambique and Zambia have specific legislation to deal with human trafficking.
Addressing the conference, African Union Commission coordinator for migration Mehari Maru said a strategic plan of action had been launched but in-depth research still needed to be done because very little was known about the practice.
"We know very little about human trafficking, especially in terms of the number of people affected and the culprits. We still have to determine the demand and supply, find the roots and figure out how much proceeds traffickers make," Maru said.
The conference was organised by the National Prosecuting Authority under the theme "The implications of implementing laws and strategies to combat human trafficking in Africa through optimising regional and international relationships".
Presentations made by the participants showed that in South Africa, traffickers are normally prosecuted under alternative laws such us the Sexual Offences Act if the victims were forced into prostitution or the Children's Act if they were minors.
Namibian state advocate Innocentia Nyoni said Namibia had recently conducted a study which showed that the country may be a destination for victims trafficked from neighbouring countries. It was also used as a transit point for people being trafficked, mainly to South Africa.
"Trafficking in humans and smuggling of persons has now been criminalised in the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which became law in May this year," Nyoni said.
"A major part of the act addresses offences related to racketeering activities, offences related to money laundering and offences related to criminal gang activities. Human trafficking is covered under the category 'other offences'."
Two months ago SADC launched a 10-year regional strategic plan of action to combat human trafficking, which will be submitted to its council of ministers for approval next month.
The plan of action seeks to adopt a protocol to prevent and suppress human trafficking, especially in women and children. It also seeks to help in the development of national policies and the enactment of legislation to combat the practice.
Member states are expected to implement the plan by 2019.
Research done in the US last year shows that there are about 30million victims of modern day slavery (human trafficking) in the world today.
It estimates that human trafficking generates at least R76billion each year, making it second only to drug trafficking in international crime.
But there are no available statistics on how many victims are trafficked in Africa.
Human trafficking is said to be a result of poverty, vulnerabilities created by war, unemployment and gender inequality, among others.