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. Observers report most victims appear to be CAR citizens exploited within the country, and a smaller number are transported back and forth between CAR and Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and South Sudan. Traffickers—likely including people 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 commercial sex in urban centers. Girls forced into marriages are often subjected to domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and possibly sex trafficking. Reports indicate the incidence of forced marriages, often perpetrated by members of armed groups, increased during the year.
Surges in violent conflict in recent years resulted in chronic instability and the displacement of nearly one million people, increasing the vulnerability of men, women, and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. In March 2016, more than 420,000 people remained internally displaced and approximately 470,000 sought refuge in neighboring countries. There is limited information about the forms of exploitation believed to have increased as a result of years of conflict. The recruitment and use of children by 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, has been widely documented. The UN reported between 6,000 and 10,000 children remained under the control of these armed groups during the reporting period. On May 5, 2015, as part of the Bangui Forum for National Reconciliation, 10 armed groups operating in the country agreed to release all children under their control and cease recruitment of child soldiers. Since the beginning of 2015, 1,990 children have been separated from armed groups. The government remained without an effective disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. However, all children received reintegration support from an international organization and most were reunited with their families, while others received care from substitute families pending family tracing and reunification. There were 1,015 verified child soldiers amongst the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including 12 girls, at the end of the reporting period, a significant decrease following the demobilization agreement and subsequent demobilization programs. Children formerly associated with armed groups remained at risk of re-recruitment. For example, one armed group re-recruited approximately 150 children in January 2016.
Allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers within the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) persisted during the reporting period. MINUSCA peacekeepers raped or sexually abused at least eight women and girls between October and December 2015, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. More than 100 cases have been reported since MINUSCA’s inception in September, 2014, and 38 of these cases were reported during the reporting period. Peacekeepers from DRC and Republic of the Congo allegedly perpetrated the majority of these 38 reported cases; however, soldiers from Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Cameroon, and Egypt were also reportedly involved.
The LRA, a Ugandan rebel group that operates in CAR’s eastern regions, continued to enslave Central African, South Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandan boys and girls for use as cooks, porters, concubines, and combatants. Some of these children may have been taken back and forth across borders into South Sudan or DRC. Between January and March 2016, the LRA abducted 217 people, nearly double the number abducted in 2015. One quarter of the abductions were children, 41 of whom are still missing or in captivity. 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 at least 12 children, who were used as porters and combatants.
The Government of the Central African Republic does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The transitional government, which assumed power in January 2014, continued to govern during the reporting period and was not aligned with any armed groups currently operating in CAR. In May 2015, as part of the Bangui Forum for National Reconciliation, 10 armed groups operating in the country agreed to release all children under their control and cease recruitment of child soldiers. An international organization, in partnership with the government, provided medical care and psychological services for demobilized child soldiers. Although criminal cases were heard during the reporting period for the first time since 2011, the government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking cases or convict any traffickers. The government did not independently identify, provide protection to, or refer to service providers any trafficking victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:
Continue 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 these crimes; train law enforcement officials and magistrates to use the penal code’s anti-trafficking provisions to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses; in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, provide care to demobilized child soldiers and children in commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; 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 minorities.
The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Article 151 of the 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. Although Central African courts heard criminal cases during the reporting period for the first time since 2011, the government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking cases or convict any traffickers and has not done so since 2008. Traditional dispute resolution methods are widely practiced throughout the country to punish criminal acts, often to the exclusion of formal legal proceedings. In previous reporting periods, NGOs reported low political will to prosecute traffickers. The government did not provide technical training to law enforcement, prosecutors, or judges.
The government made minimal efforts to identify and protect victims. It did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the year. The government 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. In previous years, reports indicated the government arrested and jailed individuals involved in commercial sex, 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 commercial sex 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. However, an international organization, in partnership with the government, provided medical care and psychological services for demobilized child soldiers. No other specialized care was available for child or adult trafficking victims in the country. Diplomatic personnel in CAR’s embassy in Kuwait provided assistance to some Cameroonian trafficking victims pending repatriation from Kuwait.
The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. In May 2015, as part of the Bangui Forum for National Reconciliation, 10 armed groups operating in the country agreed to release all children under their control and cease recruitment of child soldiers. The UN reported the release of 520 children between May and August 2015. The government’s working group carried out limited activities due to continued instability throughout the country. 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 or forced labor or provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.