For most victims of human trafficking, they were either recruited with the promise of greener pastures at their final destination leaving their comfort zone and only to be sold into prostitution or hard labour without pay.
Other victims that one may not think about, and yet most vulnerable to trafficking, are the homeless people (street kids) – especially girls who end up as ladies of the night that prostitute themselves to make a living on the streets.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has learned of a group of 9 girls aged 16 – 21 who were taken with a promise for lucrative jobs in “Africa” from their routine self-prostitution spot in the streets of Maseru and trafficked.
These girls, the Centre has learned, were taken from their usual spot where they used to get their clients near the Manonyane bus-stop with only one of them, who for some reason did board the bus that had been arranged to smuggle them through the borders.
The girls in question could have been anyone’s daughter, sister, cousin or grand-daughter, the Centre has established their street names as; Mpho, Lisebo, ‘Maletsooana, Thabi, Tepang, Tebello, Relebohile and twin sisters Neo and Lineo.
According to the Safe Heaven Foundation—a non-profit start-up on a mission to rescue girls and boys fleeing to the streets from dysfunctional families—the girls went missing on a day the organisation’s Director Tselane Mothobi was making her regular rounds providing much needed hot-meals and clothing while these girls ply their trade on the streets in the night.
Mothobi told the Centre she recognised that some of the regular faces, which she describes with various features, were missing when making her rounds.
The Centre has established the girls could have been trafficked. One of the girls, Queen, said she escaped being trafficked as she was preoccupied with searching for a friend she wanted to join her in this quest for a luxurious life across the African continent as promised by a Nigerian man who came to them and dished out food in foam-packs.
She said she could have not left without her best friend for any luxurious life. She suspects all the other girls who left and disappeared were drugged with food by their trafficker.
Mpho, the only girl who reportedly escaped from the traffickers and managed to return back home continues to ply her trade in the streets of Maseru and continues to narrate the ordeal they went through the day they were smuggled through the borders with one local bus service provider’s bus.
She further said after crossing the borders they were told their destinations were different and said she vividly remembers some the girls were taken to a place in Limpopo suspected to be a Nigerian owned brothel.
Mothobi said her organisation a year ago, hosted about 130 homeless children and young men and women, 98 of which men between the ages of 9 and 28 and the remaining 32 were women between the ages of 13 and 21.
She said some of these homeless people her organisation characterise to be from dysfunctional families were either denied their inheritances by relatives and pushed into the streets following the death of their parents or had conflicts in their families as a result of one thing or another.
Mothobi said their lack of belonging renders them vulnerable, and for women, she said find themselves attracted into prostitution.
She, however, said news nine girls had been trafficked came as a shock and proved the reality that the women were most vulnerable to prostitution rings that want to exploit them for profit.
Mothobi said attempts to report the case to the police proofed futile it was hard for any case to be established, but swears the nine girls could have not just gone missing and corroborates the story told by Mpho, who claims she was with the nine when they were initially smuggled into South Africa but managed to escape when they were given their various destinations.
Contacted for comment, the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) head Senior Inspector Moerane said the case in question seems similar but differs to one in which the Maputsoe police are investigating.
He said the Maputsoe girls case is on in which about ten girls were trafficked through the Quthing boarder into Ceres in Cape Town.
To his knowledge, Moerane said in the case he is referring to, about 5 of the victims managed to find their way back to Lesotho. He further said there was no mention of victims being prostitutes or being trafficked into sexual exploitation.
The Centre understands the numbers of girls driven into prostitution in Lesotho are forever increasing for various reasons—poverty, peer pressure, etc. — and their safety while in the streets remains a mammoth challenge as the country’s laws criminalise prostitution, thereby allowing more to disappear if not trafficked.
*Names have been changed to protect the victims.