A South African High court has sentenced 30-year-old Nigerian man, Chinedu Obasi, to 18 years imprisonment for contravening the Immigration Act in the country by marrying a South African woman to obtain citizenship but not living with her.
Chinedu and one Obioma Abba, 33, were arraigned before the court for running a brothel and a human trafficking syndicate. They were arrested in August after some of the sex workers escaped and alerted the police that they were held against their wish and converted to sex workers.
The presiding judge, Justice Ronel Tolmay, sentenced Obioma to 12 years’ effective imprisonment on two charges of human trafficking while Obasi was sentenced to 18 years’ effective imprisonment on charges of human trafficking and contravening the Immigration Act for marrying a South African woman to obtain citizenship but not living with her.
Two former sex workers testified during the trial how Abba and Obasi had plied them with drugs and held them captive in the flat, only allowing them to go out at night to work as prostitutes. They had to hand all of the money they earned to the accused and were assaulted if they did not heed to their directive.
The judge found that although the women were already addicted to drugs and working in the sex industry when they willingly joined the accused, the two Nigerian men had kept them captive and exploited them in a way that constituted slavery and sexual exploitation.
Although the men’s advocate argued in favour of suspended sentences, Judge Tolmay said human trafficking was regarded in such a serious light that it carried a prescribed life sentence and a mere slap on the wrist would not be appropriate. She said the court needed to show regard for the national and international outcry against human trafficking.
She also noted that the accused’s lack of remorse and their failure to take responsibility for their actions did not bode well for the possibility of rehabilitation.
The judge found in mitigation that the accused Nigerians were first offenders who had already spent time in jail awaiting trial, that they were not the ones who had introduced the two victims to drugs and prostitution and that the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by the victims could only be partially attributed to them. She said it was clear that the victims were traumatised by their experience. Both came from deprived economic and social backgrounds and had no means other than sex work to satisfy their cravings, which made them easy prey for the accused, she added.
One of the women was still struggling with addiction to alcohol and cigarettes and suffered from drug withdrawal at the shelter she was taken to. She still had nightmares and feared rejection by her family and the community.
The other victim told a social worker she was not capable of living a normal life and re-experienced her experience continually. She was receiving counselling for the emotional trauma she suffered and her relationship with her family was negatively affected by her experience.
She sentenced Obasi to a stiffer jail term as he had played a more prominent role in the crimes, rented the flat where the women were held captive, received the money they earned and seemed to be in charge of the drugs that were provided to them.