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Snatched for sex: a qualitative systematic review exploring the most prevalent beliefs and attitudes about human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation in Africa.

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Despite the growing body of literature detailing the beliefs and attitudes with regard to human trafficking stimulated by sexual exploitation, there are knowledge gaps that require a systematic review and meta-analysis of this discourse. Arguably, human trafficking poses human rights violation challenges in contemporary times and most countries worldwide are grappling with it in one way or another. Human trafficking has catastrophic consequences in most developing countries in Africa, which serve as origins, destinations, or transit for citizens being transported to distant lands where they are subjected to enslavement through labour or transactional sexual exploitation. Apparently, the topic is still shrouded in clandestineness owing to under-research and very little effort aimed at curbing the scourge. Feminist Theory was adopted as the conceptual framework. This study is typically a desk top research; hence, no human subjects participated in it. The systematic review was conducted in accordance with the protocol recommended by the Campbell Collaboration (2001), one of the most widely used and recognized protocols for systematic reviews applicable in Social Sciences. The primary sources of data for this review were studies and articles published between 2000 and 2021. Data generated from qualifying studies were meta-analysed and therefore disseminated into distinctive themes. This study systematically reviewed the most prevalent perceptions around human trafficking specifically motivated by sexual exploitation. A systematic review of the most dominant beliefs and attitudes regarding human trafficking for sexual exploitation and the meta-analysis of the findings, can potentially influence future practice and recommend areas for prospective research, and most importantly, the study findings can raise awareness regarding this human rights scourge. The findings of this study attest to the fact that the most prevalent beliefs and attitudes regarding the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation in Africa include: (1) lack of a secure socio-economic status, (2) the victims of human trafficking are to blame for their victimisation, (3) women and children are the only victims of human trafficking, (4) demand propels the trafficking of women and children, (5) the statistics depicting the victims of human trafficking for sexual reasons are understated in African countries, (6) the victims of human trafficking are not easily traceable, (7) Africa serves both as a source and destination of trafficked women and children, (8) transit countries do not play a role in human trafficking, and (9) finally, law enforcement is at its lowest ebb in African countries. The findings indicated that human trafficking for sexual exploitation is induced by poverty. The study found that women and children fall victim to human trafficking as they try to escape from poverty. Consequently, socio-political insecurity predisposes women and girls to human trafficking. In addition, the study found that human trafficking is mainly motivated by sexual exploitation; although men can also be subject to trafficking, women and girls are the main targets, as the fundamental reason underpinning human trafficking is embedded in transactional sex and prostitution. Lastly, the study concludes that most researchers misrepresent African countries as they often paint Africa ‘black’ regarding the continent’s role in human trafficking. Researchers tend to portray Africa as a ‘dark’ continent grappling with intractable trafficking challenges. The recommendations include the need for governments and international organizations to encourage and support formalized cooperation and coordination of institutions and relevant stakeholders to end human trafficking in Africa. Most importantly, the scantiness of knowledge on sex-trafficking demands that African states redirect their energies towards curtailing the trafficking of women and children. Human trafficking is a scourge that requires responses that reflect respect for human rights, including the best interests of children.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.