The practice of forcing young girls into marriage with older men, known as "ukuthwala" in South Africa's Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces is now a criminal offence.

It has now been incorporated into the Trafficking in Persons Actm it was disclosed at a human trafficking awareness campaign conducted by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Ngcobo in Eastern Cape on Tuesday.

The Hawks say the practice of forced marriages or "ukuthwala" is rife in the areas of Lusikisiki, Bizana and Flagstaff in Eastern Cape. It is now a crime to force girls into marriage without their consent.

"Basically, why we came here (for the campaign) was to concentrate more on the issue of ukuthwala, which occurs in these areas and then basically, we wanted to explain to people that it has now been incorporated into the trafficking in Persons Act. So, it is actually a crime to conduct such," said Hawks Spokesperson Anelisa Feni.

Human trafficking also remains a big problem. The victims most often end up as sex slaves like a 26-year-old woman who spent three years of her life working in a brothel in East London in Eastern Cape while forced to use drugs.

"He told me that he is going to give me everything I want, and then he took me to his house. When I got there in the house I saw a lot of ladies there. He asked those ladies to teach me how to smoke," she said.

"I thought that he was my boyfriend so he is going to do anything for me, but he wanted me to smoke. Then the lady told me to go outside and sell your body. In that time, I was already into that thing because I had already smoked it, sometimes people don't want to pay you, they beat you."

The Hawks have asked communities to be vigilant, especially now that many young people who have finished school will be looking for jobs. People have also been asked go to the police immediately if they suspect somebody has been abducted.