FRANCISTOWN: A Zimbabwean man threw caution to the wind after he allegedly ‘trafficked’ seven children from Zimbabwe to South Africa (SA) amid a sharp increase of COVID-19 (Omicron variant) infections in the southerly neighbouring country.
However, the end of the year in Francistown is usually characterised by a spate of human trafficking incidents and related offences as reflected by the increasing number of cases registered with the courts. Eric Mpofu, 29, who is unemployed appeared before Magistrate Chandapiwa Molefi on Monday on a holding charge of ill-treatment of children. Mpofu was arrested by the police on December 3, 2021, at Bluetown while travelling with seven children from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
Prosecutor Sesafeleng Dijeng applied for charges to be read to Mpofu and his plea was reserved. Dijeng also made an application for Mpofu to be remanded in custody and called the Investigating Officer (IO) to advance reasons why Mpofu should be remanded in custody.
After the charges were read to the accused, Magistrate Molefi asked Dijeng to clarify the particulars of the offence since the case has elements of human trafficking. In response, Dijeng said that Mpofu was found transporting minors from Zimbabwe to SA. “The minors had no parents accompanying them when they were found in the company of Mpofu, hence we are saying that they are vulnerable to ill-treatment.
The investigators are still trying to unravel if the accused had permission from the legal guardians or parents of the children to take them to South Africa (SA) as he alleges,” Dijeng clarified.
Motivating reasons why Mpofu should be remanded in custody, the IO, assistant superintendent Meshack Mosika told the court that Mpofu was arrested at Bluetown last week Friday. “Since the accused was only arrested last week Friday, our investigations are at their initial stages. Our investigations so far show that the accused was in transit from Zimbabwe to SA through Botswana.
He has no permanent place of residence in Botswana, he does not have any gainful employment in Botswana and he is also facing a very serious offence. We are yet to ascertain charges that could be later be levelled against Mpofu since his current charge has an element of human trafficking,” Mosika said. Mosika added: “We also fear that the accused is a flight risk.
We also believe that the process of investigations will be protracted since it may involve authorities from Zimbabwe and SA. We have to establish the guardians of the children in Zimbabwe as well as their parents who are said to be in SA. "There is also the likelihood of having to carry out DNA tests to confirm if the people who will come forward to claim that they are parents of the children are indeed their parents. We are afraid that if the accused is granted bail, he is unlikely to fulfil his bail conditions.
The children are currently in the care of the police.” Asked by Molefi why the children are currently under the care of the police and not social welfare officers since the matter was urgent and involves children, Dijeng made a miscellaneous application to be given time to urgently finalise the process of handing over the custody of the children from the police to social welfare officers. Molefi then remanded Mpofu in custody as per reasons advanced by the prosecution. In the past, most human traffickers who were sentenced by the courts here attributed their plight to the deteriorating socio-economic and political factors in Zimbabwe as a push that leads them to commit the crime.