The Central African Republic (CAR) is a source and destination country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and possibly for women subjected to forced prostitution. While the scope of the CAR’s trafficking problem is unknown, NGO programs launched during the reporting period to survey the problem have contributed to an increased understanding of the nature of trafficking in the country. Observers report that most victims appear to be Central African citizens exploited within the country, and that a smaller number are transported back and forth between the CAR and Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and South Sudan. Trafficking offenders—likely including members of expatriate communities from Nigeria, South Sudan, and Chad as well as transient merchants and herders—subject children to domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mines, shops, and street vending. Within the country, children are at risk of becoming victims of forced labor, Ba’aka (Pygmy) minorities are at risk of becoming victims of forced agricultural work—especially in the region around the Lobaye rainforest—and girls are at risk of being exploited in the sex trade in urban centers. Girls forced into marriages are often subjected to domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and possibly commercial sexual exploitation. Women in prostitution, some of whom report being subjected to gang rapes and beatings perpetrated by peacekeeping troops from other Central African countries, may be vulnerable to sex trafficking.
Armed groups operating in the CAR continued to recruit and use children, at times through force, for military activities. Human rights observers reported that opposition militia groups in the north of the country continued to recruit and unlawfully use children in armed conflict. Despite having previously signed action plans with the UN to end the recruitment and use of children, both the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) continued to recruit and use children during the year. Some children formerly associated with the CPJP were threatened for having “deserted,” and children released from both groups were at risk of being re-recruited. The rebel group Popular Front for Recovery (FPR) reportedly used children during the year; in September 2012, this group surrendered, and its members, including 18 children, were subsequently repatriated to Chad. Observers indicate the Democratic Front of the Central African Republic (FDPC) and the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ) continued to harbor children. The People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), known to recruit and use children, disbanded in May 2012. In February 2012, the Central African army (FACA) reportedly captured a 14-year-old boy fighting with the FPR and allegedly used him to identify FPR hideouts, and local observers reported the presence of children manning FACA checkpoints during the current reporting year. Village self-defense units, which were established by towns to combat armed groups and bandits in areas where the national army or gendarmes are not present, used children as combatants, lookouts, and porters. UNICEF estimated that children comprise one-third of these self-defense units. The government reportedly provides occasional in-kind support to some of these groups; in one December 2012 incident, government officials and members of the ruling political party distributed machetes to children in self-defense neighborhood groups in Bangui. The recruitment of children for use in armed groups increased in December 2012 when the Seleka coalition—an alliance comprised of members of the CPJP, UFDR, FDPC, and others—launched a rebellion against the government. Both Seleka rebels and pro-government militias are reported to have recruited and used children during the conflict.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operates in eastern regions of the CAR, continued to abduct and enslave South Sudanese, Congolese, Central African, and Ugandan boys and girls for use as cooks, porters, concubines, and combatants. The LRA also forced girls into marriages and forced children to commit atrocities such as looting and burning villages, killing village residents, and abducting or killing other children. Some of these children may have been taken back and forth across borders into South Sudan or the DRC. In May 2012, during the capture in the CAR of senior LRA commander Ceaser Achellam, who is accused of recruiting and using children as soldiers and sex slaves, the Ugandan military identified a 12-year-old trafficking victim and referred her to an international organization for protection.
The Government of the Central African Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected cases of human trafficking, and it did not identify, provide protection to, or refer to service providers any trafficking victims. Furthermore, it took actions during the year which caused further harm to victims of trafficking. In collaboration with an NGO, the government began convening a working group to develop a database for collecting and sharing information on cases of human trafficking as well as a national action plan for combating human trafficking in the CAR.
Recommendations for Central African Republic: Increase efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers serving in armed groups and self-defense units, and institute a zero tolerance policy for the use of children within the government’s armed forces; in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, train law enforcement officials and magistrates to use the penal code’s anti-trafficking provisions to investigate and prosecute these offenses; increase efforts to educate and encourage the public and relevant governmental authorities to identify and report trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women and girls in prostitution, street children, children associated with armed groups, and Ba’aka; and, in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, provide care to demobilized child soldiers and children in commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor.
The Government of the Central African Republic made no discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Article 151 of the CAR’s penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. If the offense involves a child victim, Article 151 prescribes the additional penalty of hard labor. If the offense involves a child victim of sex trafficking or forced labor similar to slavery, the prescribed penalty is life imprisonment with hard labor. Articles 7 and 8 of the January 2009 Labor Code prohibit forced and bonded labor and prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Victims can file civil suits to seek damages from their traffickers. These provisions, however, are not enforced, and no cases of suspected human trafficking offenses were investigated or prosecuted during the reporting period. NGOs engaged in anti-trafficking work reported that local officials were generally disinterested in prosecuting human trafficking cases. Judges and prosecutors failed to prosecute trafficking cases brought to their attention, which may have contributed to an environment that allowed traffickers to operate with impunity. Traditional dispute resolution methods are widely practiced throughout the country, often to the exclusion of formal legal proceedings to punish criminal acts. Furthermore, the Criminal Court in Bangui has not held a session since 2010, apparently due to lack of financial resources. The CAR government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for their alleged complicity in trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period. The government did not investigate the use of child soldiers in self-defense militias that may in fact be supported by the government. In addition, it took no punitive measures against the government security forces that forcibly removed and threatened 66 demobilized child soldiers in protective custody in Bangui. Law enforcement officials were not provided adequate technical training and resources to identify and investigate trafficking cases, and officials outside the capital may not have access to copies of the legal codes.
The Government of the CAR did not make significant efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to protective services during the reporting period. It neither developed measures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups nor enacted a system for referring identified victims to NGOs to receive care. The government did not identify any trafficking victims during the year, but an NGO reported identifying 40 suspected victims of sex and labor trafficking. The government maintained its partnership with UNICEF and NGOs for the protection and reintegration of demobilized child soldiers. During the reporting period, UNICEF, in partnership with local NGOs, worked to reintegrate an unknown number of identified child soldiers; the government’s role in this process was minimal and, at times, its actions inflicted further harm on children released from armed groups, who were sometimes detained by the government. In one December 2012 incident, the government raided a shelter serving former child soldiers, and arrested and jailed 66 children rescued from fighting among the ranks of the Seleka coalition; the children were eventually released to an NGO, but with threats that they would be shot if they tried to leave the shelter. These children were believed to have been re-recruited by the Seleka coalition, and as of the close of the reporting period, the government has not investigated or punished the officers involved. The government, which has very limited resources, did not directly provide reintegration programs for child soldiers, which left victims susceptible to further exploitation or re-trafficking by armed groups or other traffickers. Reports indicated that the government arrested and jailed individuals involved in the sex trade, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, without verifying their ages or attempting to identify indicators of trafficking. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, and no such victims were identified.
The government undertook moderate anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. In November 2012, during a working group meeting convened by an NGO, government representatives and other stakeholders committed to the drafting of a national plan to combat trafficking. In December, this group constructed a rudimentary database in an attempt to increase efforts to collect and share data across agencies. The working group has continued to meet twice weekly to develop the national plan, which was not finalized by the close of the reporting period. The government took no action to establish a policy against child soldiering or raise awareness about the country’s laws prohibiting the use of children in armed forces. The government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year.