Child Labor and Forced Labor Reports
In 2022, South Africa made moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. South Africa hosted the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor, where delegates adopted the Durban Call to Action on Elimination of Child Labor. In addition, in August, the Department of Employment and Labor led a joint multi-departmental inspection effort that resulted in criminal child labor charges. The government also increased the benefit of the Child Support Grant by 4.3 percent and the Foster Care Grant by 1.9 percent, both of which provide direct cash transfers to reduce child vulnerability. However, children in South Africa are subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, in forced begging, and use in illicit activities. Social programs are not sufficient to address the scope of child labor, and free basic education is not guaranteed by law.
Table 1 provides key indicators on children’s work and education in South Africa.
|Working (% and population)||5 to 14||15.0 (1,559,791)|
|Attending School (%)||5 to 14||97.4|
|Combining Work and School (%)||7 to 14||17.7|
|Primary Completion Rate (%)||91.9|
Source for primary completion rate: Data from 2020, published by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2023. (1)
Source for all other data: International Labor Organization's analysis of statistics from Survey of Activities of Young People (SAYP), 2019. (2)
Based on a review of available information, Table 2 provides an overview of children's work by sector and activity.
|Agriculture||Farming, including the production of corn and fruit (3-5)|
|Industry||Factory work, including processing cotton to make blankets (6,7)|
|Services||Food service (3,8)|
|Domestic work (3,4)|
|Street work, including vending (3,4)|
|Categorical Worst Forms of Child Labor‡||Commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking (4,5,9-11)|
|Use in illicit activities, including in gang-related activity (12-14)|
|Use in the production of pornography (10,15,16)|
|Forced labor in domestic work, agriculture, street vending, cell phone repair shops, and begging (4,8,11,17,18)|
‡ Child labor understood as the worst forms of child labor per se under Article 3(a)–(c) of ILO C. 182.
South Africa is a destination for child trafficking from both Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. (9,11) Young children within South Africa, mostly girls between the ages of 10 and 14 from socioeconomically disadvantaged and rural areas, are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in major cities including Cape Town and Johannesburg. Traffickers often recruit domestic and foreign victims with promises of jobs and economic opportunity in urban areas. (9) Research suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers turned to online methods, including social media, to recruit children. (8) Government officials have indicated that child trafficking, primarily for commercial sexual exploitation, rose significantly during the pandemic. (19) South Africa is also considered a major destination for child sex tourism, though the impact of the pandemic likely reduced demand. (8,9) Children, especially boys and children with disabilities, are also subjected to forced begging. (3,4,18)
South African children are also subjected to the worst forms of child labor through recruitment and use in criminal activities. Gangs use child recruits, known as springbokkies, to watch for police, transport guns, deliver illicit drugs, and at times, commit acts of violence, including murder. (12-14) This phenomenon is particularly prevalent around Cape Town in the Western Cape. Children under the age of 10 do not have criminal responsibility under South Africa law, so gangs recruit children to reduce the risk of criminal prosecution for their activities. (14) In recent years, there has been a significant rise of murders committed by children, some as young as age 8, affiliated with gangs. (14)
Free basic education is not guaranteed by law. (4,20) While there are designated "no fee" schools and fee exemptions and subsidies for low-income students, research indicates that at some schools, parents must pay for school uniforms and other supplies. (3,4) Other barriers to education include poor school infrastructure, inadequate sanitation and toilets, lack of transportation, overcrowded classrooms, and lack of accommodations for students with disabilities. (21,22)
South Africa has ratified all key international conventions concerning child labor (Table 3).
|ILO C. 138, Minimum Age||✓|
|ILO C. 182, Worst Forms of Child Labor||✓|
|UN CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict||✓|
|UN CRC Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography||✓|
|Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons||✓|
The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor (Table 4). However, gaps exist in South Africa’s legal framework to adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labor, including a failure to guarantee by law free basic education.
|Standard||Meets International Standards||Age||Legislation|
|Minimum Age for Work||Yes||15||Article 43 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) (23)|
|Minimum Age for Hazardous Work||Yes||18||Regulations on Hazardous Work by Children in South Africa; Articles 4–10 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (23,24)|
|Identification of Hazardous Occupations or Activities Prohibited for Children||Yes||Regulations on Hazardous Work by Children in South Africa; Articles 4–10 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (23,24)|
|Prohibition of Forced Labor||Yes||Article 48 of the BCEA; Article 13 of the Constitution; Article 141 of the Children’s Amendment Act; Sections 4 and 5 of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013 (24-27)|
|Prohibition of Child Trafficking||Yes||Article 141 of the Children’s Amendment Act; Section 4 of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013 (26,27)|
|Prohibition of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children||Yes||Article 141 of the Children’s Amendment Act; Chapter 3 of Criminal Law Amendment Act 32 (26,28)|
|Prohibition of Using Children in Illicit Activities||Yes||Article 141 of the Children’s Amendment Act (26)|
|Minimum Age for Voluntary State Military Recruitment||Yes||18||Article 52 of the Defense Act (29)|
|Prohibition of Compulsory Recruitment of Children by (State) Military||N/A*||Article 52 of the Defense Act (29)|
|Prohibition of Military Recruitment by Non-state Armed Groups||No|
|Compulsory Education Age||Yes||15||Chapters 1-2, Articles 1–5 of the South African Schools Act (20)|
|Free Public Education||No||Chapter 2, Article 5 and Chapter 4, Article 39 of the South African Schools Act (20)|
* Country has no conscription (29)
The South African Constitution guarantees a right to education, but free basic education is not guaranteed by law. Article 39 of the South African Schools Act allows certain schools to be designated as "no fee" schools, but all other public schools may charge fees to ensure a sufficient operating budget if a majority of parents at that school vote to do so at the beginning of the year. (20,25,30)
The government has established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor (Table 5). However, gaps exist within the operations of enforcement agencies that may hinder adequate enforcement of their child labor laws.
|Organization/Agency||Role & Activities|
|South African Department of Employment and Labor (SADEL)||Enforces child labor laws by conducting inspections of worksites and operates labor centers throughout the country where complaints may be lodged. (17,31) Refers survivors of labor exploitation to social workers and reports violations to the South African Police Service (SAPS) for further investigation and to the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) for prosecution. (17,32,33)|
|South African Police Service (SAPS)||Enforces the legislative mandate under the Children’s Act to investigate cases involving the worst forms of child labor. (17,34,35) Through its Human Trafficking Desk, monitors and evaluates police efforts to investigate human trafficking crimes, trains investigators, and refers human trafficking cases to provincial SAPS units. (36)|
|South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ)||Responsible for enforcing criminal laws against the worst forms of child labor. (17) Through its Children's Courts, which are housed within every Magistrate's court, adjudicates non-criminal child protection cases involving child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. (37) Through the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), prosecutes criminal cases, including cases of human trafficking and other worst forms of child labor. (17,38)|
Labor Law Enforcement
In 2022, labor law enforcement agencies in South Africa took actions to address child labor (Table 6). However, gaps exist within the operations of the South African Department of Employment and Labor (SADEL) that may hinder adequate labor law enforcement, including inadequate allocation of financial resources.
|Overview of Labor Law Enforcement||2021||2022|
|Labor Inspectorate Funding||$47 million (17)||$38.28 million (5)|
|Number of Labor Inspectors||1,853 (17)||1,882 (5)|
|Mechanism to Assess Civil Penalties||No (24)||No (24)|
|Training for Labor Inspectors Provided||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Number of Labor Inspections Conducted at Worksite||Unknown (17)||134,488 (5)|
|Number of Child Labor Violations Found||Unknown (17)||20 (5)|
|Number of Child Labor Violations for Which Penalties Were Imposed||N/A||N/A|
|Number of Child Labor Penalties Imposed that Were Collected||N/A||N/A|
|Routine Inspections Conducted||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Routine Inspections Targeted||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Unannounced Inspections Permitted||Yes (24)||Yes (23)|
|Unannounced Inspections Conducted||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Complaint Mechanism Exists||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Reciprocal Referral Mechanism Exists Between Labor Authorities and Social Services||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
In August 2022, SADEL conducted a joint multi-departmental inspections blitz in Pretoria, leading to the discovery of a child working in a shop. (5,39) As the law in South Africa treats child labor as a criminal offense, labor inspectors may refer child labor cases for criminal prosecution. (17,24) This case was referred to criminal law enforcement. (5,39)
Criminal Law Enforcement
In 2022, criminal law enforcement agencies in South Africa took actions to address child labor (Table 7). However, gaps exist within the operations of the criminal enforcement agencies that may hinder adequate criminal law enforcement, including inadequate training for criminal investigators to identify and investigate child trafficking.
|Overview of Criminal Law Enforcement||2021||2022|
|Training for Criminal Investigators Provided||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
|Number of Investigations||Unknown (17)||Unknown (5)|
|Number of Prosecutions Initiated||Unknown (17)||Unknown (5)|
|Number of Convictions||Unknown (17)||Unknown (5)|
|Imposed Penalties for Violations Related to the Worst Forms of Child Labor||Yes (10)||Unknown (5)|
|Reciprocal Referral Mechanism Exists Between Criminal Authorities and Social Services||Yes (17)||Yes (5)|
South Africa's National Trafficking Hotline received 2,408 trafficking reports in 2022, 20 percent of which concerned cases of child trafficking. (5) During the reporting period, the government prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced a woman to 15 years’ imprisonment for child trafficking. The accused told the parents of two children from Zimbabwe that the children would be cared for and sent to school, and instead she forced them to beg at intersections. (40) The government also held several trainings on trafficking in persons for criminal law enforcement, including workshops for a total of 460 front line police officers in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape between September and November, and training for a total of 100 prosecutors from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). (40)
Research indicates that the South African Police Service (SAPS) lacked sufficient resources to investigate all suspected cases of child trafficking and forced child labor. In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the number of SAPS officers. (10,11,41) Despite assistance from the NGO community with the operation of call centers as part of their complaint mechanism, SAPS reportedly experienced difficulty properly following up on reported cases and identifying victims of human trafficking during law enforcement activities. (3,8,11) In addition, victim identification and referral procedures were not uniformly implemented. Research indicates that in some provinces, the Department of Social Development only coordinated victim services upon receiving confirmation from SAPS that the individual had been subjected to human trafficking, and as a result, when SAPS did not pursue investigation of a case, trafficking survivors faced obstacles to services provision. (10,11)
The government has established a key mechanism to coordinate its efforts to address child labor (Table 8). However, gaps exist that hinder the effective coordination of efforts to address child labor, including inadequate participation of all relevant agencies in the National Intersectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons.
|Coordinating Body||Role & Activities|
|Implementation Committee on the Child Labor Program of Action||Supports the implementation of the Child Labor Program of Action. Led by SADEL, and includes representatives from government agencies, organized labor, commercial agriculture, and the ILO. (5,42) In 2022, the committee reconvened for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (5)|
The National Intersectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons coordinates the government's anti-human trafficking efforts, including efforts to eliminate child trafficking. (43) Research indicates that several member agencies, including SAPS, the Department of Home Affairs, and SADEL, send representatives to meetings of the National Intersectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons or the Provincial Task Teams but engagement on key issues remains limited. (10)
The government has established policies related to child labor (Table 9). However, policy gaps exist that hinder efforts to address child labor, including mainstreaming child labor issues into relevant policies.
|Policy||Description & Activities|
|National Child Labor Program of Action for South Africa, Phase IV (2017–2024)||Serves as the primary policy instrument to prevent and eliminate child labor in South Africa. Provides a reciprocal referral mechanism through which SAPS informs SADEL of suspected child labor cases. (42) Identifies lead agencies in the program, including the Departments of Labor, Basic Education, Justice and Constitutional Development, Social Development, and Water and Sanitation; SAPS; NPA; and Statistics South Africa. The National Child Labor Program did not include a timeframe to meet identifiable benchmarks or to assess the progress and adequacy of implementation efforts. (42) During the reporting period, the South African government extended the policy from 2021 to 2024. (42)|
|Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons National Policy Framework||Created to support the implementation of the 2013 Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act. Sets a framework for interdepartmental coordination on trafficking issues. (43) Outlines the development of procedures and training programs for police and labor inspectors on human trafficking for labor exploitation, including child labor. Enhances social assistance programs to address the needs of child survivors of human trafficking, including psychological and social support, food and shelter, school and community reintegration, and placement and protection in child and youth care centers. (43) During the reporting period, the government convened two workshops to revise the National Policy Framework for planned update and adoption in 2023. (44)|
In 2022, South Africa hosted the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labor. Delegates at the Conference adopted the Durban Call to Action, which included commitments to promote decent work, end child labor in agriculture, adopt data-driven and survivor-informed policy and programmatic responses, ensure educational access, expand universal social protections, and increase financing and international cooperation for the elimination of child labor. (45)
Research shows that the government has not included child labor elimination and prevention strategies in the South African Education Action Plan or the National Development Plan. (46,47)
In 2022, the government funded and participated in programs that include the goal of eliminating or preventing child labor (Table 10). However, gaps exist in these social programs, including the inadequacy of programs to address the full scope of the problem.
|Program||Description & Activities|
|Thuthuzela Care Centers †||Government-run crisis centers mandated to provide services to survivors of gender-based violence, including survivors of child trafficking. The centers continued providing services in 2022. (11,40)|
|Direct Cash Transfer Programs†||Includes the Child Support Grant, which provides monthly unconditional direct cash transfers to help low-income parents and guardians meet the basic needs of their children, and the Foster Care Grant, which provides monthly payments of approximately $65 (R1050) to caretakers of foster children. (17,48) In 2022, the government continued both programs, increasing the Foster Care Grant benefit by 1.9 percent and the Child Support Grant by 4.3 percent. (5)|
|National School Nutrition Program†||Provides one or two meals–consisting of a protein, starch, and fruit or vegetable–every school day to about 9.5 million school children. As of 2020, 77 percent of public-school students received meals from this school feeding scheme. (49) The program was active in 2022. (5)|
For information about USDOL’s projects to address child labor around the world, visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/ilab-project-page-search
† Program is funded by the Government of South Africa.
Although South Africa has programs that target child trafficking and poverty alleviation, it does not have social programs with a mandate to address other worst forms of child labor, including forced begging and the use of children in illicit activities. (3,11)
Based on the reporting above, suggested actions are identified that would advance the elimination of child labor in South Africa (Table 11).
|Area||Suggested Action||Year(s) Suggested|
|Legal Framework||Ensure that the law criminally prohibits the recruitment of children under age 18 by non-state armed groups.||2016 – 2022|
|Establish by law free basic public education.||2018 – 2022|
|Enforcement||Publish criminal law enforcement data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and penalties imposed concerning the worst forms of child labor.||2021 – 2022|
|Ensure that criminal law enforcement officials are trained to properly identify cases of the worst forms of child labor and child trafficking.||2017 – 2022|
|Ensure that the South African Police Service has sufficient resources to investigate all suspected cases of child trafficking and forced child labor.||2021 – 2022|
|Ensure that victim identification and referral mechanisms function effectively to provide services to survivors of child trafficking.||2021 – 2022|
|Coordination||Ensure that the National Intersectoral Committee on Trafficking in Persons includes meaningful participation from relevant agencies.||2017 – 2022|
|Government Policies||Include a timeframe and benchmarks in child labor policies to properly monitor and assess the progress of efforts to eliminate child labor.||2017 – 2022|
|Integrate child labor elimination and prevention strategies into the South African Education Action Plan and the National Development Plan.||2013 – 2022|
|Social Programs||Remove barriers to education by eliminating indirect costs, improving school infrastructure and sanitation, and ensuring accessibility for students with disabilities.||2009 – 2022|
|Institute programs to address the worst forms of child labor, including in forced begging and the use of children in illicit activities.||2010 – 2022|
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Gross intake ratio to the last grade of primary education, both sexes (%). Accessed March 15, 2023. For more information, please see “Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions” in the Reference Materials section of this report.
- ILO. Analysis of Child Economic Activity and School Attendance Statistics from National Household or Child Labor Surveys. Original data from Survey of Activities of Young People (SAYP), 2019. Analysis Received March 2023. Please see "Children's Work and Education Statistics: Sources and Definitions" in the Reference Materials section of this report.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. January 27, 2021.
- ILO Committee of Experts. Direct Request concerning Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)- South Africa (ratification: 2000). 2021.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. February 10, 2023.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. January 15, 2020.
- Government of South Africa, Department of Employment and Labour. Media Statement: Employment and Labour on Chinese nationals accused of human trafficking and child labour. April 29, 2021.
- U.S. Embassy- Pretoria. Reporting. March 21, 2021.
- ECPAT International. The landscape of sexual exploitation of Children in South Africa. Bangkok, Thailand. 2019.
- U.S. Embassy- Pretoria. Reporting. March 23, 2022.
- U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report- 2022: South Africa. Washington, D.C., July 19, 2022.
- Oliver, Guy. Demobilising South Africa’s ‘child soldier’ gangs. The New Humanitarian. January 23, 2020.
- Sofianos, Catherine. Under the power of the gun. The Mail and Guardian. January 10, 2021.
- Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Op-Ed: Gangs in Kenya and South Africa target children for recruitment during lockdown. September 14, 2020.
- News24. Child porn: Man sentenced to 8 years for 'abusing his position of trust.' September 1, 2020.
- Serra, Genevieve, Oudtshoorn man sentenced to seven years behind bars for 200 images of child porn." IOL. August 20. 2021.
https://www.iol.co.za/weekend-argus/news/oudtshoorn-man-sentenced-to-seven-years-behind-bars-for-200-images-of-child-porn-10935063-8cf2-4554-85c6-50f4f3686e76#:~:text=FILE-,Oudtshoorn man sentenced to seven years behind,200 images of child porn&text=Cape Town - An Oudtshoorn man,images found in his possession
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. February 4, 2022.
- Soobramoney, Viasen. Durban child-begging syndicate rakes in R2m per month. IOL. December 10, 2020.
- Masweneng, Kgaugelo. Human trafficking incidents have spiked during pandemic: John Jeffery. Sunday Times. September 10, 2021.
- Government of South Africa. South African Schools Act, No. 84 of 1996. Enacted: November 15, 1996.
- Amnesty International. Broken and Unequal: The State of Education in South Africa. London, United Kingdom. February 11, 2020.
- Human Rights Watch. South Africa: Children with Disabilities Shortchanged. May 24, 2019.
- Government of South Africa. Basic Conditions of Employment Act, No. 75 of 1997. Enacted: December 5, 1997.
- Government of South Africa. Basic Conditions of Employment Act (75 of 1997): Regulations on Hazardous Work by Children in South Africa, No. 32862. Enacted: January 15, 2010.
- Government of South Africa. Constitution. Enacted: 1996.
- Government of South Africa. The Children's Amendment Act of 2007. Enacted: March 2008. Source on file.
- Government of South Africa. Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2013. July 29, 2013.
- Government of South Africa. Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and Related Matters) Amendment Act 2007.
- Government of South Africa. Defense Act 42 of 2002, No. 42. Enacted: February 2003.
- Republic of South Africa Department of Basic Education. Amended National Norms and Standards for School Funding. Pretoria, South Africa. August 31, 2006.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. January 30, 2019.
- Government of South Africa. Department of Labour - About Us. Accessed June 23, 2021.
- Government of South Africa, Department of Labour. Enforcement Manual for Labour Inspectors. May 17, 2011.
- Government of South Africa. South African Police Service Strategic Plan 2020–2025.
- Government of South Africa, South African Police Service. Annual Report 2017/2018. August 31, 2018.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg. Reporting. January 16, 2018.
- Government of South Africa. Children's Court Webpage Description. Accessed March 12, 2018.
- Government of South Africa. National Prosecuting Authority Mandate. Accessed December 29, 2021.
- IOL. Employment and Labour Uncovers Child Labour in Marabastad shop. August 14, 2022.
- Government of South Africa. Submission to 2023 TIP Report. 2023. Source on file.
- U.S. Consulate- Johannesburg official. E-mail communication with USDOL official. May 11, 2022.
- Government of South Africa, Department of Labour. Child Labour: Programme of Action for South Africa: Phase 4: 2017–2021. Pretoria, Accessed June 17, 2018. Source on file.
- Government of South Africa, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons National Policy Framework. Pretoria, April 10, 2019.
- Government of South Africa. Addendum to the South African's Submission to the 2023 Department of State's Trafficking in Person's Report. 2023.
- What is the Durban Call to Action? June 8, 2022.
- Government of South Africa. National Development Plan 2030. Pretoria, August 15, 2012.
- Government of South Africa, Department of Basic Education. Action Plan to 2024: Toward the Realisation of Schooling 2030. Pretoria. August 26, 2020.
https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/Sector plan 2019 15 Sep 2020.pdf?ver=2020-09-16-130709-860
- Government of South Africa. Foster Child Grant. Accessed January 5, 2023.
- May, Julian, et al. South Africa Child Gauge 2020: Food and Nutrition Security. Child Institute: University of Cape Town. 2020.