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In South Africa, the extent of sexual exploitation of children has increased drastically and its nature has changed over time. On a regular basis, there are reports of cases of children rescued from human traffickers and from the clutches of sex slave rings.

While some of the stories are reported by the media, there are several other cases that go unreported due to the secretive and criminal nature of the activities. A common feature in the cases is that young children, mostly girls, are used as sex slaves and for other commercial purposes by trafficking rings. Even more shocking is the fact that several of the victims are children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The cases of sexual exploitation of children in South Africa reflect a new dimension and a growing trend in the pattern of child exploitation in the country. The more concerning aspect is the desensitisation of the society to the sexual exploitation of, and trafficking of children.


In comparison to many sub-Saharan African countries, South Africa has made significant progress in the advancement of children’s rights. The South Africa government’s political commitment to children is demonstrated in the entrenchment of children’s rights in South Africa’s Constitution, and the country’s ratification of a number of international and regional Child Rights instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Domestic legislations such as The Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007, Trafficking In Person (TIP) Act, and the Child Justice Act provide a framework for the legal protection of children in South Africa.

However, against the backdrop of inequality, unemployment, lack of education and poverty, the social and economic challenges in South Africa makes it a fertile ground for child sexual exploitation and trafficking. With an estimate of about 68% of South African children living in poor households, 20% are orphans, it leaves many families in an economically and social fragile state. As a result, families struggle for survival and children become more vulnerable to commercial exploitation. According to the International Labour Organisation in South Africa, an estimated 1.39 million people are forced into commercial sexual work and about 40-50% are children.


Sexual Exploitation of Children (SEC) creates a culture that considers children as possessions to be used, with no consideration for their well-being. As the victims are exploited through numerous means, SEC manifests in various forms. The most common manifestations and most closely linked forms of SEC in South Africa are exploitation through prostitution, pornography, child sex trafficking, online sexual exploitation of children and sex for a favour by adults.

Using psychological manipulation, the perpetrators of SEC lure victims into sex slavery through promises of a better education/ jobs, family protection and economic support. The perpetrators also recruit victims by promising their families they will be better taken care of by means of cash paid to the family through the child’s earnings.

A growing form of sexual exploitation of children in South Africa is “survival sex”. This is a situation where sex is exchanged for basic necessities such as food, shelter, education or to settle a debt owed by a family member.

Furthermore, the increasing cross-border movement of people and new technologies have enabled the sexual exploitation of children to evolve and manifest in new forms.

The internet has made it easier and less expensive to possess and disseminate images of sexual contents with children involved, both locally and across international borders. With high returns and low risk, this makes online child sexual exploitation as well as child trafficking a lucrative business. The increasing number of children crossing the borders to South Africa unaccompanied has increased the number of children vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Mozambique and Zimbabwe, followed by Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho are the major countries of origin for unaccompanied children and children on the move.


CWSA’s intervention aims to reduce SEC in South Africa through strong, sustainable and effective multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral actions. The focus is to strengthen the capacity of key stakeholders for an effective, coordinated and holistic actions to address child sexual exploitation in South Africa.

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