Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has enacted the prevention and combating of trafficking in persons bill, the presidency said on Monday.
"The signing of this bill into law is significant. For the first time South Africa will have a single statute, which addresses the scourge of trafficking in persons holistically and comprehensively," it said in a statement.
The offence carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, a R100m fine, or both.
"Compensation is, furthermore, payable by the perpetrators to their victims."
The presidency said the new legislation also created offences regarding debt bondage, tampering with or destroying travel documents, and using the services of victims of trafficking, among others.
"[These]... facilitate innocent persons becoming victims of this modern day form of slavery."
"...The legislation also focuses on the plight of the victims, providing them with protection and assistance to overcome their traumatic and life threatening experiences."
Previously, the legislative framework dealing with the issue had been fragmented.
"For instance, the legislation dealing with sexual offences addresses the trafficking of persons for purposes of sexual exploitation only, while the Children's Act addresses the trafficking of children specifically."
The bill also gave effect to the country's international obligations in terms of United Nations Protocols.
"While the legislation has been signed into law, its operationalisation is dependent on regulations that are required to be made by a number of role-playing departments, such as home affairs.
"This is receiving urgent attention and the plan is to have the act put into operation as soon as possible."