Central African Republic
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Tier 3
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, women subjected to forced prostitution, and adults subjected to forced labor. The scope of the CAR’s trafficking problem is unknown; however, despite violence and insecurity during the year, NGOs surveyed the problem. Observers report most victims appear to be CAR citizens exploited within the country, and 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, and Ba’aka (pygmy) minorities are at risk of becoming victims of forced agricultural work—especially in the region around the Lobaye rainforest. 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. Reports indicate the incidence of forced marriages, often perpetrated by members of armed groups, increased during the year. Women in prostitution, some of whom reported in previous years being subjected to gang rapes and beatings perpetrated by peacekeeping troops from other Central African countries, are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
Surges in violent conflict in recent years resulted in the displacement of nearly one million people, increasing the vulnerability of men, women, and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. In March 2015, approximately 436,000 people remained internally displaced and over 420,000 sought refuge in neighboring countries. There is limited information about the forms of exploitation believed to have increased as a result of the crisis. Until the president’s resignation in January 2014, the Seleka coalition was comprised largely of former members of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, and the Democratic Front of the Central African Republic—all groups known to recruit and use children as soldiers and porters. The recruitment of children for use in armed groups, at times through force, particularly among armed groups aligned with the former Seleka government and the organized village self-defense units fighting against it known as the anti-Balaka, have been widely documented. Ex-Seleka groups reportedly recruited and used children from neighboring countries, including Sudan and Chad, and groups on all sides of the conflict have coerced children into participation in direct hostilities. Despite having signed an action plan with the UN to end the recruitment and use of children, the CPJP continued to recruit and use children during the year. The anti-Balaka evolved from a network of self-defense units previously established by towns and villages to combat armed groups and bandits in areas where the national army or gendarmerie were not present. The UN estimated in previous years children
comprised one-third of these civilian self-defense units. There were 3,416 children, including 719 girls, involved in the conflict between ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka during the reporting period, with 91.6 percent used by the anti-Balaka, eight percent by the ex-Seleka, and 0.4 percent by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Revolution et Justice (RJ). UNICEF estimated 10,000 children remain associated with the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka. Children formerly associated with armed groups are at risk of re-recruitment.
The LRA, a Ugandan rebel group that operates in eastern regions of the CAR, continued to enslave Central African, South Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandan boys and girls for use as cooks, porters, concubines, and combatants. The LRA also committed abductions, 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. During the reporting period, UNICEF reported the LRA abducted 15 children, including seven girls, in eastern CAR. Some of these children may have been taken back and forth across borders into South Sudan or the DRC.
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. In March 2015, the Minister of Public Security signed a decree creating an inter-ministerial committee to combat human trafficking that will report to the Ministry of Public Security. The government conducted a limited number of investigations and prosecutions of suspected cases of human trafficking, but did not identify, provide protection to, or refer to service providers any trafficking victims. A transitional government assumed power in January 2014 and, before that time, armed groups aligned with the former Seleka government recruited and used children in the commission of atrocities and re-victimized children previously rescued and separated from armed groups. A working group established by an NGO, in partnership with the government, began drafting a national action plan against trafficking during the reporting period for presentation to the Transitional National Council during 2015.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:
Make efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers in armed groups and self-defense units, and institute a zero tolerance policy for the use of children within the government’s armed forces; thoroughly vet incoming members of the reconstituted Central African army (FACA) to ensure soldiers who have committed abuses against children are not reintegrated; investigate allegations of child recruitment into armed groups and punish public officials or civilians who perpetrate this crime; in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, provide care to demobilized child soldiers and children in commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; 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; and 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.
The government made limited 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, 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 were not enforced. Approximately 58 complaints were lodged against 27 defendants in the Mbaiki court and 51 of those cases of suspected human trafficking offenses were investigated. Nine cases were prosecuted, three of which resulted in convictions during the reporting period. A couple convicted of trafficking a man from the CAR to the Republic of the Congo to perform farm labor was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay five million Central African CFA francs ($13,000). Traditional dispute resolution methods are widely practiced throughout the country to punish criminal acts, often to the exclusion of formal legal proceedings. The government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for their alleged complicity in trafficking crimes during the reporting period. NGOs reported low political will to prosecute traffickers. NGOs provided law enforcement officials technical training to identify and investigate trafficking cases, but officials outside the capital may not have had access to copies of the law.
The government made minimal efforts to protect victims. It did not develop measures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups or enact a standardized system for referring identified victims to NGOs to receive care. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the year. An NGO identified 104 victims of trafficking, including 51 in Mbaiki and 54 in Bangui. It assisted many of the victims in Mbaiki by sourcing appropriate shelter, obtaining health care services, mental health services, vocational training, and legal assistance, and by resettling them within the country. In cooperation with UNICEF, the government engaged in discussion with anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka commanders to demobilize child soldiers they recruited. As a result, in the reporting period, 2,589 child soldiers were demobilized, including 1,986 from anti-Balaka groups, 585 from ex-Seleka, 15 children freed from the LRA, and one from RJ. The remaining children remained awaiting certification and release operations planned for May 2015.
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, including those affiliated with the government, or other traffickers. In previous years, reports indicated 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. It is unknown whether the government punished any individuals for involvement in the sex trade during this reporting period. 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 did not report any anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. The government’s working group carried out limited activities due to continued violence that pervaded the country during the reporting period. In March 2015, a working group established by an NGO, in partnership with the government, began drafting a national action plan against trafficking during the reporting period for presentation to the Transitional National Council during 2015. The government did not report any efforts 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 report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year or provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.