The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a source, destination, and possibly a transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of this trafficking is internal, and while much of it is perpetrated by armed groups and rogue elements of government forces outside government control in the country’s unstable eastern provinces, incidents of trafficking likely occurred throughout all 11 provinces. A significant number of men and boys working as unlicensed Congolese artisanal miners are reported to be exploited in situations of debt bondage by businesspeople and supply dealers from whom they acquire cash advances, tools, food, and other provisions at inflated prices and to whom they must sell mined minerals at prices below the market value. The miners are forced to continue working to pay off constantly accumulating debts that are virtually impossible to repay. Throughout the year, in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Katanga provinces, armed groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) as well as elements of the Congolese national army (FARDC) routinely used threats and coercion to force men and children to mine for minerals, turn over their mineral production, pay illegal “taxes,” or carry looted goods from mining villages.
Some Congolese girls are forcibly prostituted in brothels or informal camps, including in markets and mining areas, by loosely organized networks, gangs, and brothel operators. Some girls in Bas-Congo province are reportedly coerced into prostitution by family members or transported to Angola and placed into the sex trade. Congolese women and children have been exploited within the country in conditions of domestic servitude, and some migrate to Angola, South Africa, Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan, as well as East Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, where they are exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in agriculture and diamond mines. There were reports that some Congolese youth in Bandundu and Bas-Congo provinces were lured to Angola by the promise of employment; however, they were subjected upon arrival to forced labor in diamond mines or forced into prostitution. Children from the Republic of the Congo may transit through the DRC en route to Angola or South Africa, where they are subjected to domestic servitude. Local observers suspect that some homeless children known as chegués who act as beggars and thieves on the streets of Kinshasa are controlled by a third party. Children working in the informal sector—particularly in agriculture, street vending, water selling, mines, stone quarries, bars, and restaurants—were vulnerable to trafficking, and girls living on the streets were vulnerable to sex trafficking. In previous years, Chinese women and girls in Kinshasa were reportedly subjected to sex trafficking in Chinese-owned massage facilities. Some members of Batwa, or pygmy groups, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture, mining, mechanics, and domestic service in remote areas of the DRC. A representative from a local NGO reported that Batwa are exploited in Equateur province in a form of hereditary slavery through which a non-Batwa family maintains control over a Batwa family for generations; the victims are forced to work in timber or agriculture or to hunt for the family for little or no compensation.
The UN reported that indigenous and foreign armed groups, notably the FDLR, Coalition of Patriots in the Congolese Resistance, various local self-defense militias (Mai-Mai), Nyatura, the Patriotic Force of Resistance in Ituri/Popular Front for Justice in Congo, the Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continued to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese men, women, and children to bolster their ranks and serve as bodyguards, laborers, porters, domestic workers, combatants, and sex slaves. Some children were also forced to commit crimes for their captors, such as looting. In one case, members of a rebel group forced a child to kill another child. The LRA continued to abduct Congolese citizens, including children, in and near Orientale province; some of these abductees were later taken to Sudan, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Likewise, abducted South Sudanese, Ugandan, and Central African Republic citizens experienced conditions of forced labor and sexual servitude at the hands of the LRA after being forcibly taken to the DRC. Some FARDC commanders recruited, at times through force, men and child soldiers as young as nine years old for use as combatants, escorts, and porters. During the year, the UN noted the continued presence of some children in FARDC training centers. In April 2012, the security situation in eastern DRC deteriorated rapidly when several hundred former members of the militia group National Congress for the Defense of the People who had been loosely integrated into the FARDC mutinied and formed the M23, an armed group backed by Rwanda. Among the mutineers were some of the worst offenders of trafficking crimes within the FARDC, including Bosco Ntaganda. The government’s re-allocation of security personnel and resources toward fighting M23 rebels in North and South Kivu created a security vacuum in the areas from which the FARDC was forced to withdraw; the resulting increase in activity of other armed groups—such as the LRA and the FDLR—increased the vulnerability of men, women, and children to trafficking in the regions where these groups operated. The M23 forcibly recruited adults and children in North Kivu province and in Rwanda. Due to the heightened conflict, an additional 500,000 people were displaced in eastern DRC, and displaced persons in North Kivu were particularly vulnerable to abduction, forced conscription, sexual violence, and illegal taxation by armed groups and government forces. The FARDC launched a recruitment campaign during the year targeting those aged 18 to 25. The low rates of birth registration throughout the country posed challenges for standardized screening mechanisms in identifying children among applicants. Children may have been coerced by their parents to join the military.
The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) documented 587 cases of children who were both recruited and separated from armed groups in 2012; 21 of these children were from the FARDC, 66 were from M23, and the remainder—including 228 from various Mai-Mai groups—were from other Congolese and foreign armed groups. FARDC elements reportedly pressed men, women, and children, including internally displaced persons and prisoners, into forced labor to carry ammunition, supplies, and looted goods, fetch water and firewood, serve as guides and domestic laborers, mine for minerals, or construct military facilities and temporary huts. There were reports that police, Congolese military officers, and members of armed groups in eastern DRC arrested people arbitrarily to extort money from them; those who could not pay were forced to work until they had “earned” their freedom.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government signed a UN-backed action plan to end abuses against children by its armed forces, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers. It established a working group to oversee implementation of the action plan. It did not, however, apply legal sanctions against those who recruit and use child soldiers and did not report any law enforcement efforts to combat any other forms of trafficking. It continued to cooperate with international organizations in the demobilization of children from armed forces and improved access to military units for international monitors and child protection officers, but at times it detained and interrogated children apprehended from armed groups. Despite evidence of a multifaceted human trafficking problem throughout the country’s 11 provinces, the government did not identify victims of other forms of trafficking, and it did not provide protective services or referrals to NGO-operated facilities to victims of other forms of forced labor or sex trafficking.
Recommendations for the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Investigate and prosecute military and law enforcement personnel—to the extent possible using existing legislation and irrespective of their rank—accused of unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, as called for in the UN-sponsored action plan on child soldiers, or of using local populations to perform forced labor, including in the mining of minerals, and punish convicted offenders; in partnership with local or international NGOs, provide training to law enforcement and judicial officials on the laws available to prosecute trafficking cases; increase efforts to prosecute and punish non-military trafficking offenders who utilize forced labor or control women and children in prostitution; end the FARDC’s unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, and demobilize all children from its ranks; adopt the implementing regulations to effectively apply the previously passed Child Protection Code; continue to ensure any armed groups integrated into the FARDC are vetted for the presence of child soldiers and all associated children are removed and demobilized; ensure perpetrators of trafficking crimes within armed groups are not integrated into government forces and are held accountable; continue allowing unfettered access to military installations for all UN observers and child protection officers; develop a legislative proposal to comprehensively address all forms of human trafficking, including labor trafficking; ensure the provision of short-term protective services in partnership with civil society to victims of forced labor and sex trafficking; and take steps to raise awareness about all forms of human trafficking among the general population.
While legal structures were largely adequate, the government made no discernible progress in undertaking law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking during the reporting period. The government’s ability to enforce its laws does not extend to many areas of the country in which human trafficking occurs, and its civilian and military justice institutions experienced a critical shortage of judges and prosecutors. Judges, prosecutors, and investigators often lacked adequate training and resources for conducting investigations, and some did not have access to the country’s legal codes. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of labor trafficking. The July 2006 sexual violence statute (Law 6/018) specifically prohibits sexual slavery, sex trafficking, child and forced prostitution, and pimping, prescribing penalties for these offenses ranging from three months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government has not reported applying this law to suspected trafficking cases. The Child Protection Code (Law 09/001) also prohibits and prescribes penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for sexual slavery, child trafficking, child commercial sexual exploitation, and the enlistment of children into the armed forces; however, it cannot be fully implemented, because necessary decrees from several ministries reportedly continue to be lacking.
The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any trafficking cases during the year or convicting any offenders of trafficking on related crimes. Bedi Mubuli Engangela (also known as Colonel 106), a former Mai-Mai commander suspected of insurrection and war crimes including the conscription of children, remained in detention for a fifth year; a date for his trial was not set before the close of the reporting period. Impunity for the commission of trafficking crimes by the security forces remained acute; the government did not report taking disciplinary action against members of the security forces suspected of exploiting civilians in forced labor or unlawfully recruiting and using child soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, formerly of the Mudundu-40 armed group and the first person convicted by Congolese courts of conscripting children, escaped from prison in 2006 and was not re-incarcerated by the close of the reporting period. “Captain Gaston,” an armed group commander allegedly responsible for the 2006 murder of an NGO child protection advocate attempting to identify and remove child soldiers, remained at large during the reporting period; his 2007 arrest warrant has not been executed and, after being promoted by the FARDC to the rank of major, he is leading a FARDC battalion. In April 2012, the government called for the arrest and domestic prosecution of Bosco Ntaganda, a military commander who is the subject of two arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 and sexual slavery. Prior to his defection from the FARDC earlier in the same month, he had been a commander in the government’s armed forces, where he operated for years with impunity. In March 2013, Ntaganda surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Rwanda without involvement of the Congolese government and was transferred to the International Criminal Court. During the year, the government trained approximately 700 police and FARDC officers on civilian-military operations including preventing sexual violence and child soldiering, but it did not provide specialized training to officials on combating other forms of trafficking.
Elements of the governmental security forces continued to victimize, rather than protect, local populations during the reporting period. Although the government assisted in the identification and demobilization of some child soldiers, it did not offer specific protections to other types of trafficking victims; besides child soldiers, it did not report identifying any other victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. NGOs continued to provide the vast majority of the limited shelter, legal, medical, and psychological services available to trafficking victims. The government lacked procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups and for referring victims to protective services, and there were reports that victims traveling within the country without proper documentation were sometimes detained. The FARDC detained and sometimes mistreated children formerly associated with armed groups in order to gain intelligence. Security forces reportedly performed regular sweeps to round up chegués in Kinshasa and expel them outside the city center. The government did not show evidence of encouraging victims to assist in investigations against their traffickers. While trafficking victims could file cases against their traffickers in civil courts, there is no evidence that any have done so; the public widely viewed civil courts as corrupt and believed outcomes were determined based on the relative financial means of the parties to the lawsuit. The government offered no legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution; however, there were few foreign trafficking victims identified within the DRC in 2012, and the government has consistently allowed for the safe repatriation of foreign child soldiers in cooperation with MONUSCO.
Under the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Plan, all ex-combatants, including child soldiers, pass through a common process during which they disarm and receive information about military and civilian reintegration options. During this process, the National Demobilization Agency, in cooperation with MONUSCO and UNICEF, continued to separate and transport any identified children to NGO-run centers for temporary housing and vocational training. In October 2012, elements of the armed group Nyatura were integrated into the FARDC; the government and the UN jointly screened Nyatura elements prior to assimilation, resulting in the identification and separation of 49 children. Reintegrated child soldiers remain vulnerable to re-recruitment, as adequate rehabilitation services do not exist for children suffering the most severe psychological trauma. While the FARDC high command remained supportive of MONUSCO’s efforts to remove children from its forces during the reporting period, it lacked sufficient command and control to compel some FARDC commanders to comply with standing orders to release their child soldiers or to prevent ground troops from recruiting additional children or subjecting local populations to forced labor. UN monitors and civil society partners reported child protection workers were granted improved, if imperfect, access to military installations. The significant decrease in the number of children identified among FARDC ranks is likely the result of the mutiny of the most egregious violators of laws prohibiting child soldiering.
The government made modest efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. While the country has inter-ministerial bodies focused on human rights and child protection, no similar coordinating mechanism existed to address human trafficking. A government coordinating body existed for the identification, verification, and release of child soldiers, but in practice these efforts were led by non-governmental partners. In October 2012, the government signed a UN-backed action plan to end recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual violence, and other grave child rights violations in the armed forces. The plan commits the government to the following tasks, inter alia: to establish an inter-ministerial committee to monitor implementation, to end underage recruitment and sexual violence against children and ensure reintegration of victims, to provide unimpeded access to UN personnel for verification, to combat impunity of perpetrators of child rights violations, and to regularly report on progress in implementing the plan. The Ministry of Defense, which in previous years did not publicly recognize the existence of child soldiers within the FARDC, demonstrated significant progress by signing and taking initial steps to implement the action plan. The vice prime minister and the minister of defense issued a letter in November 2012 asking relevant ministries to designate a focal point for the technical working group for the implementation of the plan; subsequently, the group was formally established and began meeting regularly. Prior to launching its national military recruitment campaign, the government did not have adequate systems in place to ensure children were not registered, though it sought assistance from the UN and other child protection actors to screen for children. As a result of this collaboration, more than 240 underage applicants were identified and prevented from joining the FARDC.
The government did not increase efforts to establish the identity of local populations, and low rates of birth registration continued to contribute to individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. Although the National Ministry of Labor remained responsible for inspecting worksites for child labor, the ministry did not identify any cases of forced child labor in 2012. Inspectors had limited presence outside Kinshasa and often lacked means of transportation or resources to carry out their work. The government took no discernible measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.