The Republic of the Congo is a source and destination country for children, men, and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of children trafficked within the country migrate from rural to urban areas to serve as domestic workers for relatives or family friends. Some child trafficking victims are also subjected to forced labor in stone quarries, bakeries, and the fishing and agricultural sectors, including in cocoa fields in the Sangha Department. According to a study released by IOM in 2013, most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), Senegal, Cameroon, and Gabon, and are subjected to forced domestic service and market vending by other nationals of the West African community, as well as by Congolese nationals. Source countries for adult victims include the DRC, CAR, Cameroon, Benin, and Mali. During the year, the government identified Beninese, Togolese, Nigerian, and Malian trafficking victims, including 23 Beninese adults. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with the majority of victims originating from the DRC and exploited in Brazzaville. Nationals of the Congo are among both traffickers and victims, with 43 percent of traffickers, 28 percent of adult victims, and 14 percent of child victims reported as Congolese. Internal trafficking involves recruitment from rural areas for exploitation in cities. The Congo’s indigenous population is especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector.
The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Over the last year, the government made substantial anti-trafficking progress and demonstrated increased political will at the highest levels, including from the president, to combat trafficking. Specifically, the government addressed systemic weaknesses by beginning to draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, developing institutional trainings at its gendarme and police academies, and removing an official for alleged complicity in trafficking crimes. The government continued strong victim protection efforts, identifying 50 victims and providing support to NGOs and foster families that offered care to trafficked children. In addition, the minister of social affairs instructed officials to seek the criminal prosecution of offenders and the minister of justice designated two prosecutors to oversee trafficking cases. Still, the government has not yet convicted a trafficking offender, which remains a critical concern. The lack of a national coordinating body hindered country-wide progress to address internal trafficking and sex trafficking from the DRC, which is significant in Brazzaville.
Recommendations for the Republic of the Congo: Finalize and enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, including provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; greatly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and punish trafficking offenders under the 2010 Child Protection Code; file ratification documents for the 2000 UN TIP Protocol with the United Nations; increase outreach, victim identification, and law enforcement efforts on sex trafficking and internal trafficking, including the trafficking of adults; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among child laborers, illegal immigrants, and women and girls in prostitution; continue care to trafficking victims via government-funded programs, including medical, psychological, and legal services; conduct government-led training for social workers and law enforcement officials on the use of identification and referral procedures; consider establishment of a national body that includes all relevant ministries to increase coordination of country-wide anti-trafficking efforts; increase anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and the DRC; and continue anti-trafficking awareness campaigns.
The Government of the Republic of the Congo increased its law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. It drafted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, trained gendarme officers, and removed an official for alleged complicity. Nevertheless, despite its arrest of several suspected traffickers, the government failed to convict any offenders during the year. Article 60, Chapter 2, of the 2010 Child Protection Code prohibits the trafficking, sale, trading, and exploitation of children, for which Article 115 prescribes penalties of hard labor for an undefined period and fines. Article 68 prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the forced labor and prostitution of children, for which Article 122 prescribes penalties of three months’ to one year’s imprisonment or fines of between the equivalent of approximately $110 and $1,080. Article 4 of the country’s labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, imposing fines the equivalent of approximately $1,300 to $1,900. None of these penalties are sufficiently stringent and the penalties prescribed for sex trafficking are not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The penal code, which prohibits forced prostitution, may be used to prosecute sex trafficking offenses involving adults. Although Congolese law prohibits some forms of trafficking of adults, currently the country does not outlaw bonded labor or the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. In January 2013, the government formed a legislative drafting committee and, in partnership with UNODC, reviewed its draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation prepared during the year—which when enacted should be a significant improvement over current law, which inadequately defines, prohibits, and penalizes trafficking crimes. In addition, in September 2012, the Ministry of Justice appointed two special prosecutors—one each in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire—to oversee the prosecution of suspected traffickers.
In January 2013, the government apprehended 10 alleged trafficking offenders, charged with “trafficking and exploitation” under the Child Protection Code by the local office of the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA). The offenders remain in jail awaiting prosecution for the alleged labor trafficking of 14 children. In December 2012, the Juvenile Court of Pointe-Noire suspended its hearing of a civil case against eight alleged labor trafficking offenders. In February 2013, the magistrate of the juvenile court sent the case to the prosecutor overseeing trafficking cases, with the expectation that the government will file criminal charges in this case. These efforts follow the minister of social affairs’ instruction to officials in January 2013 to file criminal charges in all potential trafficking cases, replacing the former modus operandi of addressing these offenses as civil cases, with mediation to negotiate restitution to the victim. Nonetheless, the government failed to complete prosecutions of 13 trafficking offenders, which remained pending from the previous reporting period. One of these suspects—arrested during a July 2011 operation and conditionally released pending trial—reportedly is again harboring children in domestic servitude. The ministry of labor did not report investigating or otherwise addressing any cases of forced child labor in 2012.
Limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors hindered the prosecution of trafficking crimes. During the reporting period, the police and gendarme academies instituted new training modules on trafficking; 56 senior gendarmerie officers received this training in 2012. This was an improvement from the government’s failure to independently train officials in 2011. The chiefs of immigration at Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire airports developed an anti-trafficking training and trained more than 40 officials during the year. The government also reassigned an official following allegations of his complicity in trafficking crimes, although it failed to carry out criminal investigations into, or prosecutions of, this and other alleged cases of complicity reported during the year, including by a national intelligence service lieutenant and a prosecutor suspected of attempting to interfere with trafficking investigations and intimidate anti-trafficking activists. During the reporting period, the minister of social affairs and her judicial advisor intervened to protect anti-trafficking activists from harassment by some government officials.
The Congolese government continued to ensure that trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire received access to care during the reporting period, primarily through partnerships with NGOs and foster families. The government, in partnership with an NGO, identified 50 foreign trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire in 2012, a slight decrease from 57 identified in 2011. Of these 50 victims, 11 were repatriated to their countries of origin and 22 remain in the Congo pending repatriation. Adult victims or victims who had reached the age of 18 while in the custody of the government were given the option of repatriation at the government’s expense or local reinsertion. For foreign victims choosing local reinsertion, the government paid for three months’ rent and provided assistance in finding an apprenticeship or job. At the end of 2012, eight victims received, and nine awaited, such assistance. Social workers temporarily placed 18 child trafficking victims with foster families during the year until they could be repatriated or reinserted. The MSA supported additional victim care through NGOs and foster families and coordinated with other government agencies to repatriate victims. The government allocated foster families the equivalent of approximately $10 per child per day to ensure the victims’ basic needs were met. It also provided medical care on a case-by-case basis by partnering with local hospitals to subsidize these costs. Although the government offered foreign trafficking victims the same access to accommodation in foster homes offered to Congolese victims, and it did not deport rescued foreign victims, it did not provide temporary or permanent residency status to foreign victims during the year.
The government continued to fail to identify and assist victims outside of Pointe-Noire. In addition, though the DRC and the Republic of the Congo are the source of many child and adult victims, the government did not identify nationals from either country as victims—evidence of its failure to increase efforts to address the trafficking of adults, sex trafficking, or internal trafficking. Law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel did not employ systematic procedures proactively to identify victims among vulnerable groups, relying instead on NGOs and UNICEF to identify victims; however, the government began to train its staff on victim identification in 2012. The government claimed that it encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, though it presented no evidence of having done so during the year. Although the Congolese government repatriated at least 10 Beninese trafficking victims as part of its bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin, it failed in 2012 to carry out joint investigations or extraditions of charged trafficking offenders—a critical part of this agreement.
The government made increased efforts to prevent trafficking during the year. In April 2012, the president urged his cabinet to end trafficking in the country. In 2012, the government launched trafficking awareness campaigns. In December 2012, for example, the local coordination committee— overseeing anti-trafficking efforts in Pointe-Noire as part of its project to combat child trafficking—held a three-day public information session on the identification and protection of trafficked children, with a follow-up session in January, which reached 60 participants and received national press coverage. In support of these campaigns, the MSA—the de facto lead entity overseeing national anti-trafficking efforts—produced awareness materials, including a video that was shown at the sessions and leaflets that were distributed as part of a door-to-door campaign in Pointe-Noire. The MSA continued its oversight of the implementation of the 2011-2013 Action Plan to Fight Child Trafficking and began drafting a plan covering 2013 to 2015. The government more than doubled its anti-trafficking budget from the approximate equivalent of $180,000 in 2011-2012 to $428,000 in 2012-2013; a portion of this funding was allocated to implement the 2011-2013 action plan. The government failed to establish a national coordinating body to guide its efforts to combat trafficking, which hindered its progress in addressing trafficking outside of Pointe-Noire. In 2012, the MSA and Ministry of the Interior, in partnership with IOM, conducted a study of trafficking in the Republic of the Congo covering nine of its 12 regions. The government did not take measures to reduce the domestic and transnational demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. The parliament ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol in May 2012, although the Congolese mission to the United Nations has not yet submitted the ratification papers.