Grace Mashaba, 60, is the founder of the Amazing Grace Children's Home in the town of Malelane, in South Africa's northeastern province of Mpumalanga. Thirty children live in the compound – survivors of abuse, neglect, or trafficking for the purposes of labour. The Malelane region is wedged between the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique, and straddles the highway corridor linking South Africa's economic hub, Johannesburg, to the Mozambican capital, Maputo.
"I grew up on a farm, so I used to see children my age not going to school. I didn't know about trafficking, I just thought they were working because it was their own will.
"But then I started to realise about trafficking in 2001, because I had boys [coming to Amazing Grace] who were working on farms not of their own will, and girls who were forcibly married to older men. We had girls coming from as far away as Burundi, who had been trafficked by truck drivers.
"Honestly, some of the children are sold by their extended family, and some children are trafficked by local people. They now work in South Africa on farms, hotels, somewhere else.
They [traffickers] will go back to Mozambique or Swaziland to recruit these girls. And they're looking for good-looking girls aged from 10 up to 18, but most of the girls are [aged] 10, so they can grow them and teach them what they want them to do.
"There are promises: school, good work, earning good salary. Because of the poverty in their countries, children are coming out [to South Africa] to support their parents, to rescue their parents from poverty.
"In trafficking there are many people involved. Higher, higher ranks in every corner, because there is lots of money to be made. This is [an] underground thing, and this is something that is done in a very [secretive] way.
"There are doctors involved, social workers are involved, police are involved; department of justice are involved, department of home affairs are involved. It is not only one organisation. It's huge!
"What surprises me is to see people who have money abusing disadvantaged people. To me it is a painful thing – how can a person do that?
"I was raised on a farm by a white, Afrikaans farmer. He abused me starting at the age of 10. And I was sterilised at the age of 14 after being pregnant. I never knew I was pregnant, and I never knew I was sterilised until the age of 28, when I wanted a baby. I'm still having that question: 'Why was I sterilised at that age? And why could they do that? And how many children are being abused?
"I sometimes wake up at night and cry, and say, 'that is what happened to me - a 10-year-old and a 45-year-old having sex with me'. Why did he do that to me? Why? I've forgiven him, because if I carry this garbage of hatred I won't be able to care for the children.
"I'm 60 now. From 1987 to 2008 I've raised thousands of children! Some are married, some went to tertiary [education], some are working for government, and some are working for banks. I've got two now doing matric [final year of schooling]. I've raised lots of children, so that has closed the gap that I don't have biological children of my own."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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