The Republic of the Congo is a source and destination country for children, men, and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. According to a study released by IOM in 2013, most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to a lesser extent from the Central African Republic (CAR), Senegal, Cameroon, and Gabon. Trafficking victims are subjected to forced domestic service and market vending by other nationals of the West African community living in the Congo, as well as by Congolese nationals in the city of Pointe-Noire. Source countries for adult victims include the DRC, CAR, Cameroon, Benin, and Mali. During the year, the government identified 23 Beninese, and two Nigerian labor trafficking victims, including six Beninese adults. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with the majority of such victims originating from the DRC and exploited in Brazzaville. 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. IOM reports 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. During the reporting period, the government continued to demonstrate political will to address trafficking in persons, such as by addressing official complicity and interference in trafficking cases in the city of Pointe-Noire—long-standing concerns which have inhibited the government from holding traffickers accountable. The government finalized draft anti-trafficking legislation and trained an estimated 1,000 police officers—a substantial increase from 56 trained in 2012. The government continued strong victim protection efforts in Pointe-Noire, providing support to NGOs and foster families that offered care to 25 identified victims—a decrease from 50 identified and assisted in 2012; some government and civil society advocates believe this reflects a decreased incidence of the crime, following amplified government attention and public awareness raising activities related to child trafficking. The government failed to take adequate law enforcement action to hold traffickers accountable by failing to charge suspected offenders in cases discovered during the year or convicting any of the 23 additional offenders currently involved in trafficking prosecutions. The government’s lack of a national coordinating body hindered country-wide progress to address internal trafficking and sex trafficking from the DRC and other countries.
Recommendations for the Republic of the Congo:
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; fund and hold a special session of the high court to hear the trafficking case backlog; increase outreach, victim identification, and law enforcement efforts on sex trafficking and internal trafficking beyond Pointe-Noire, with specific attention to trafficking of adults and indigenous populations; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among child laborers, illegal immigrants, and women and girls in prostitution; provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families; conduct government-led training for social workers and law enforcement officials on the use of identification and referral procedures; establish 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 file ratification documents for the 2000 UN TIP Protocol with the United Nations.
The Government of the Republic of the Congo increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by addressing official complicity and completing draft anti-trafficking legislation; however, it made insufficient law enforcement efforts to address trafficking crimes—failing to charge, prosecute, or convict suspected offenders during the reporting period. 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 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, it does not outlaw bonded labor or the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. Following its completion of draft anti-trafficking legislation in July 2013, the government’s legislative drafting committee, in partnership with UNODC, held sessions to review and finalize the draft in July and August 2013; the legislation remained under review by parliamentary committee at the end of the reporting period.
Despite issuing January 2013 instructions directing officials to file criminal charges in all potential trafficking cases, the government failed to charge any suspected offenders with trafficking crimes during the reporting period. In May 2013, authorities arrested four suspected offenders in connection with the trafficking and subsequent kidnapping of four previously identified trafficking victims; however, officials later released the offenders without charge and failed to arrest or press charges against a prominent Beninese business man and court official who worked in collusion with him. Prosecutions involving at least 23 offenders, some charged nearly three years ago, remained pending at the end of the reporting period. For example, ten alleged trafficking offenders, arrested and charged with “trafficking and exploitation” under the Child Protection Code in January 2013, remained pending trial 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 and failed to open a criminal investigation in this case in 2013. The Ministry of Labor did not report investigating any cases of forced child labor in 2013. Local social affairs officials in Pointe-Noire filed civil cases against five suspected trafficking offenders as a means to acquire funding for victim repatriation.
During the year, the government took important steps to address official complicity. It replaced the leadership of the gendarmerie and several magistrates in Pointe-Noire—aiming to reduce the influence of traffickers on officials, who were often bribed or persuaded to interfere in the arrest and prosecution of trafficking offenders or rescue of victims. In an example of official interference in trafficking crimes in 2013, a court official issued a fraudulent custody order to substantiate the kidnapping of four trafficking victims from their place of safety; once informed of this, the Ministry of Justice recalled the official and forced him to retire. However, the government failed to carry out criminal prosecutions of this and other complicit officials. During the reporting period, the police and gendarme academies continued anti-trafficking trainings for their staff, reaching an estimated 1,000 police officers and an unknown number of gendarmerie officials in 2013.
Nonetheless, limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors continued to hinder the prosecution of trafficking crimes. As serious crimes, trafficking cases are to be heard at the high court, which did not meet in regular session during the reporting period; accordingly, cases continue to languish and a significant backlog persists.
The Congolese government maintained efforts to protect trafficking victims, including partnerships with NGOs and foster families to enable trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire to receive access to care. The government, in partnership with an NGO, identified 25 foreign trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire in 2012. Ten minor female victims were repatriated to their countries of origin. The government gave adult foreign victims or victims who had reached the age of 18 while in the custody of the government the option of repatriation at the government’s expense or local reintegration in the Congo. In 2013, the government paid three months’ rent and provided assistance in finding an apprenticeship or job for 15 men as part of their local reintegration. Social workers temporarily placed 10 child trafficking victims with foster families during the year until they could be repatriated or reinserted. The government allocated foster families the equivalent of approximately $10 per child per day to ensure the victims’ basic needs were met. Due to inadequate precautions, in May 2013, four children placed with a foster family were kidnapped while out without a guardian present and returned to their traffickers; a week later an NGO identified them in forced labor in the market in Pointe-Noire. The Ministers of Interior and Social Affairs intervened to facilitate the subsequent rescue of three of the four children, with the fourth reportedly sent back to Benin by her traffickers.
As in 2012, the government again failed to identify and assist victims—including Congolese and DRC child victims—outside of Pointe-Noire in 2013. 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. During the year, there were no reports of victims jailed or prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of their trafficking; however, inadequate identification efforts may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Although officials interviewed victims after their rescue—encouraging their assistance in the prosecution of their traffickers—child victims were not expected to testify in court. The government did not deport rescued foreign victims, instead providing temporary or permanent residency status to foreign victims during the year. The Congolese government repatriated at least eight Beninese trafficking victims as part of its bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin; however, in 2013 as in 2012, the government failed to carry out joint investigations or extraditions of charged trafficking offenders—a critical part of this agreement.
The government continued its efforts to prevent trafficking in 2013. Trafficking awareness campaigns organized by the government involved placement of public billboards and television programming, reaching an estimated one million people during the reporting period. In November 2013, the local coordinating committee—overseeing anti-trafficking efforts in Pointe-Noire—held a public information session on the identification and protection of trafficked children, which reached several dozen community members. Although the Ministry of Social Affairs continued to lead anti-trafficking efforts and provide oversight in the implementation of the 2011-2013 Action Plan to Fight Child Trafficking, the government failed to establish a national coordinating body to guide its efforts. The government continued efforts to draft a 2014-2016 action plan based on the draft anti-trafficking legislation. 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, but the United Nations has not registered the Protocol as being in effect in the Congo because the government has not ratified the umbrella convention—the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.