A casual conversation in a Pretoria, South Africa, café launched a dangerous investigation by Inácio Sebastião Mussanhane, a lawyer from Mozambique who was studying in South Africa.
It was there in 2008 that he heard that Mozambican girls were being kept as sex slaves at a nearby upscale condominium being used as a brothel. Mussanhane decided to investigate. He went to the brothel, and pretending to be a client, he was able to meet with the girls. After assuring them he was not there for sex but to help rescue them, he was able to gain the girls’ confidence.
Mussanhane then contacted the alleged trafficker, a fellow native of Mozambique, who had tricked the girls into coming to Pretoria. His aim, he said, was to dissuade her from continuing this activity and return the girls to Mozambique. Instead, the trafficker attempted to bribe him for his silence.
But Mussanhane began working with the South African police, a local trafficking shelter, the Mozambican embassy and the South African Ministry of Justice. The trafficking ring threatened to kill Mussanhane and attempted to kidnap him. But police were able to free the girls and arrested the trafficking network’s organizer. The case went to court in October 2008 and is ongoing.
Throughout the case, Mussanhane has been educating the Mozambican and South African governments, police and courts on the nature of human trafficking. He continues to work to protect trafficked girls, ensure the prosecution of traffickers and bring international attention to the issue.
Mussanhane’s bravery earned him recognition from the United States. He is being honored as a hero working to end modern-day slavery in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report. Since 2001, the U.S. State Department has published the report annually. It is the most comprehensive report on government efforts around the world to stop trafficking.
Human slavery a worldwide scourge
An estimated 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries. In Africa the problem is especially acute, but progress is being made to protect the vulnerable and crack down on the traffickers.
In Mozambique, for example, the National Assembly passed the final version of a comprehensive human trafficking law in April 2008, and it was signed into law by the president in June. The law provides penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for those recruiting or facilitating exploitation of people for the purposes of prostitution or forced labor.
The Mozambican police have created an anti-trafficking unit to enforce the new law. The police reportedly rescued more than 200 Mozambican children being trafficked to South Africa in the first half of 2008 alone. Media stories, such as those featuring Mussanhane’s efforts, have raised public awareness of the problem.
In South Africa, a significant increase in the level of anti-trafficking training for social workers, police, prosecutors and border officials has led to improved recognition of trafficking victims, the referral of more cases to authorities, and improved care for victims.