- Consulate says they were being trafficked
South Africa has intercepted 82 Malawians, including an 11- year-old boy, in what is believed to be a human trafficking case, according to the Malawi Consulate in Johannesburg.
In an interview on Tuesday evening, Malawi Consular General Fraser Nihorya confirmed the development, saying 57 of the people have been taken to safety within Rustenburg. The eldest in the group is aged 21, he said.
He said: “Yes, there are 82 Malawians intercepted as they were being trafficked to undisclosed destination within South Africa. Fifty-seven  of them are in Rustenburg and there are 18
women. Their ages range from 11 to 21 and they are from Chilipa in Mangochi.”
Nihorya said three people have been arrested as suspects of a human trafficking syndicate following the interception in Rustenburg, South Africa,.
He said a case has been opened and their repatriation back to Malawi would depend on the completion of the case and investigations by authorities in South Africa.
Nihorya also said most of the 82 were promised jobs while some women were on a mission to reunite with their husbands who left Malawi a long time ago.
He said: “We are working closely with authorities to unearth this trafficking syndicate.”
South African television channel, ENCA, reported that three people suspected of having a hand in the mission briefly appeared in the Rustenburg regional magistrate’s court on Tuesday. They were charged with 57 counts of human trafficking, according to the report.
The case has been adjourned to September 13 2016, said the report.
The television reported that the group was travelling in a delivery van before being intercepted by police on Tuesday morning.
South African media further quoted acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane as having said that the victims were “well looked after and the Department of Social Development will do justice”.
The report said they were taken for assessments or treatments soon after being found.
In recent months, cases of Malawians being trafficked to South Africa have been on the rise. On July 19 2016, The Nation reported that police in Balaka arrested five men on suspicion that they were trafficking 74 people to South Africa on the premise that they would get jobs. The 74 included 11 women and only 20 of them had valid travel documents.
Malawi has several laws, including the Penal Code, Child Care, Protection and Justice Act, Immigration Act and Employment Act, which interpret crimes such as human trafficking as misdemeanor and peg a lenient jail term of not more than three years as maximum penalty.
In the wake of the perceived light sentences, activists have called for a review of the penalties for the courts to hand stiffer sentences.
In 2015, Parliament enacted the Trafficking in Persons Act which, among others, prohibits the movement of people from one place to another without proper reasons.