Tunisia is a source, destination, and possible transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. According to a 2013 baseline study conducted by the Government of Tunisia in partnership with an international organization, Tunisian youth are subjected to various forms of trafficking, which appear to be consistent with previously reported patterns. Over the last several years, Tunisian girls, mainly from the northwest part of the country, are sent to work as domestic servants for wealthy families in Tunis and major coastal cities. Some child domestic workers experience restrictions on movement, physical and psychological violence, and sexual abuse. International organizations report an increased presence of street children and more rural children working to support their families in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution; according to the baseline study, these children are vulnerable to both forced labor and sex trafficking. Tunisian women have reportedly been forced into prostitution under false promises of work both within the country and elsewhere in the region, such as Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Jordan, while Tunisian girls, primarily 15 to 18 years old, are exploited in prostitution in the coastal cities of Sousse and Sfax. Women from west and east Africa may be subjected to forced labor as domestic workers. Migrants who flee unrest in neighboring countries to Tunisia continue to be vulnerable to trafficking in Tunisia. Security officials report that organized gangs recruit street children to serve as thieves and beggars and to transport drugs.
The Government of Tunisia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Although prior commitments to enact draft anti-trafficking legislation remained unfulfilled, the government prosecuted and convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders using existing trafficking-related laws. It instituted formal victim identification procedures and developed a victim referral mechanism, although this mechanism was not utilized during the reporting period. The government also conducted a baseline study of trafficking in Tunisia in coordination with an international organization and continued implementing public awareness campaigns. Nonetheless, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including women in prostitution, vulnerable children, foreign migrants, and repatriated Tunisian nationals, nor did it provide specialized protection services for trafficking victims, as distinct from other vulnerable groups.
Recommendations for Tunisia:
Urgently pass and enact the draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that prohibits and adequately punishes all forms of human trafficking consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; continue to use existing criminal statutes on forced labor and forced prostitution to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders with time in prison; implement and utilize formal procedures for government officials’ proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as street children, undocumented migrants, girls and women in domestic service, and persons in prostitution; implement the national victim referral mechanism to identify a greater number of victims of trafficking and refer them to protection services appropriate for trafficking victims; provide adequate protection services, including shelter, specifically for victims of all forms of trafficking, distinct from other vulnerable groups; ensure that all victims of trafficking are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or immigration violations; continue to conduct anti-trafficking trainings for all government officials; and continue to implement awareness campaigns about trafficking in persons.
The government made some progress in law enforcement efforts to address human trafficking. It did not enact its draft anti-trafficking legislation. The absence of an anti-trafficking law hindered law enforcement efforts and contributed to the government’s difficulty in differentiating between human trafficking and human smuggling. In various disparate statutes, Tunisia’s penal code prohibits some forms of human trafficking, but prescribes penalties that are not sufficiently stringent or commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. For example, the penal code prescribes only one to two years’ imprisonment for forced child begging. The penal code prescribes five years’ imprisonment for forced prostitution of women and children and 10 years’ imprisonment for capturing, detaining, or sequestering a person for forced labor, whereas the penalties prescribed for rape range from five years’ imprisonment to the death penalty. The Ministry of Justice’s three-person anti-trafficking office, which was established in August 2012, drafted anti-trafficking legislation in November 2012; the office also collaborated on anti-trafficking efforts with the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee and international organizations.
The government does not distinguish between human trafficking and migrant smuggling in its law enforcement data; however, Tunisian authorities prosecuted and convicted one sex trafficking offender in 2013 through existing laws that prohibit trafficking-related activities. This is a slight increase from the zero prosecutions and convictions reported in 2012. In September 2013, the government charged a Lebanese national with pimping under Article 232 of the criminal code for trafficking 85 Tunisian women to the Gulf via Lebanon for exploitation in brothels and nightclubs; the offender was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, which was not sufficiently stringent and did not reflect the seriousness of the offense. Tunisian border patrol and coast guard officials continued to cooperate with the Italian government and an international organization to conduct operations and arrest individuals involved in migrant smuggling and potential human trafficking; however, it is unclear if any trafficking offenders were investigated and prosecuted or whether any victims were identified during these operations. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. It incorporated human trafficking into the curriculum at police academies and other government training institutes for judicial officials and law enforcement officers. The government continued to participate in multiple anti-trafficking trainings conducted by an international organization for police and border security officials, law enforcement and military officials responsible for security at refugee camps, and Ministry of Interior officials.
The government made some progress in victim protection; however, it did not identify any victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups and it failed to provide protection services to victims. In cooperation with international organizations, it developed written procedures to alert law enforcement officers to identify trafficking and also provided victim identification training to law enforcement, labor inspectors, and Ministry of Education officials. The government did not, however, report identifying any trafficking victims in 2013, despite international organizations having identified victims in the country. A committee composed of government entities and international organizations developed, approved, and finalized a national referral mechanism to strengthen inter-governmental cooperation on identifying and assisting trafficking victims. The government did not have policies to protect victims from punishment as a direct result of being trafficked, such as women in prostitution or illegal immigrants, nor did the government provide protection services specifically for victims of trafficking, a chief concern of international organizations. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, continued to offer temporary shelter and social services to Libyans, Syrians, and other third-country nationals fleeing political instability; however, the government did not make efforts to identify trafficking victims among this vulnerable group. Under the auspices of the Ministries of Social Affairs (MSA) and Women’s Affairs, the government operated several shelters for marginalized and vulnerable groups, including unwed mothers, at-risk youth, the sick and elderly, and substance abusers, but there were no centers dedicated specifically to the care of trafficking victims. The MSA continued to provide shelter, counseling, and reintegration services to repatriated Tunisians; however, it did not make a distinction between Tunisian trafficking victims and other Tunisian migrants, thus it did not provide specialized care to Tunisian victims. Between July and September 2013, the Ministry of Social Services provided shelter and counseling to African women rescued at sea by the Tunisian Coast Guard. The government worked with international organizations to repatriate or resettle these women in Tunisia or in a third country. However, it did not make efforts to identify trafficking victims among this vulnerable group of women. The government did not have any policies in place to encourage trafficking victims to participate in the prosecution of trafficking offenders, nor did it offer foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution.
The government continued to make efforts to prevent trafficking. It worked in partnership with an international organization to conduct a baseline study of trafficking in Tunisia, which demonstrated a new willingness on the part of the government to openly assess its trafficking situation. For example, the baseline study documented information about domestic servitude, including that girls are forced to quit school under pressure from parents to work as domestic servants for wealthy families; the girls are expected to perform household chores and care for children, elderly, or the sick. The Tunisian Ministries of Social Affairs, Education, and Employment and Vocational Training continued to implement an anti-trafficking public awareness campaign aimed at teenagers and young adults traveling abroad to prevent them from becoming victims of trafficking; the government also supported an awareness campaign implemented by an international organization. The government continued to conduct investigations and background checks of all recruitment agencies operating in Tunisia; agencies were required to sign contracts with the Ministry of Employment before recruiting workers for placement outside the country. The inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee, composed of representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs, Health, Finance, and Women’s Affairs, as well as members of civil society, met a total of four times in this reporting period, and was responsible for coordinating capacity-building and prevention efforts, as well as following up on the approval of the anti-trafficking law. The government reported efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, but it did not make similar efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.