The social services department has repatriated 16 children born to women held in foreign jails, it said on Sunday.
Nine of the 16 babies, were born in Brazil, said social development minister Bathabile Dlamini.
She recently repatriated two children whose mothers were serving sentences in Rio and Sao Paolo, Brazil.
“The babies, aged 10 months and one year respectively, are currently in temporary care while awaiting foster care placement,” she told reporters in Pretoria.
Four more babies, in Bolivia, Hong Kong, Mozambique and Tanzania, were awaiting repatriation.
Dlamini said women imprisoned at advanced stages of pregnancy, gave birth to their children while in prison.
Three women serving sentences were pregnant.
They were among 337 South African women, aged 29 to 62, imprisoned in foreign countries for illicit drug trafficking.
“A large number of these women, 92, are incarcerated in some of the nine female prisons in Brazil…, 71 South African females are serving their sentences in Sao Paolo alone,” she said.
Dlamini said some drug cartels used routes that included countries which were part of the Southern African Development Community, and she appealed for stricter drug regulations in the region.
The department expressed concern about an “unprecedented increase” in the number of South African drug mules arrested in Brazil.
“Twenty eight South Africans were arrested in Brazil alone since the beginning of this year …. This can be attributed to the recent Confederations Cup hosted in Brazil,” Dlamini said.
She predicted that the number would rise during the build-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup if the necessary measures were not implemented.
Hawks organised crime investigator Brigadier Ebrahim Kadwa said drug mules at the country’s border posts were a growing problem.
“Since the beginning of January 2012, there have 281 arrests at OR Tambo [International Airport] of couriers, South African and other nationalities.”
Kadwa described drug traffickers as unscrupulous people who preyed on the poor. He urged people who had been approached to go to the authorities.
“They’ve even gone to shelters where they’ve recruited persons to act as human couriers. We have intensified efforts to prevent drug trafficking,” he said.