Recent figures released by the South African authorities show that of the 2,000 illegal migrants repatriated each week, up to 20% are unaccompanied children. About 350-400 Zimbabwean children cross the border each day without passing official checkpoints, according to Save the Children Zimbabwe.
While some malaishas (taxi drivers/smugglers) operate solely as middlemen, many are part of a network who rob, sexually assault or enslave the migrants. Girls are sometimes forced to work as prostitutes, says Natalia Perez, programme director of IOM Zimbabwe. "Beitbridge and Musina are busy transit routes, many young girls work in prostitution where the risk of being exposed to HIV is high." Boys are also vulnerable and can be found begging, sleeping rough or in low-paid jobs. They are sometimes targeted by magumagumas (gangs of robbers) and face mistreatment by the police.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières, the international medical organisation, more than 75% of the 4,000-5,000 migrants they treat each month have been raped while crossing the border, with nearly 60% violated by more than one perpetrator.