Republic of the Congo
CONGO, REPUBLIC OF THE: Tier 3
The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, the Republic of the Congo was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government investigated and prosecuted five suspected traffickers during the reporting period. However, the government did not fund or take any steps to implement the 2014-2017 national action plan, nor did it provide funding to the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire. The government has never convicted any traffickers; several cases in prosecution have been pending for up to six years. Harassment of anti-trafficking activists, reportedly including police, inhibited their work. The lack of an inter-ministerial coordinating body and low understanding of anti-trafficking laws among government officials continued to hinder countrywide efforts to address internal trafficking and sex trafficking from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that prohibits adult trafficking; fund the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee, the national action plan, and protective services such as the foster care system; expedite hearings to address the trafficking case backlog or consider prosecuting trafficking cases in the low court in the interim; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and punish traffickers, including complicit government officials; increase outreach, victim identification, and law enforcement efforts on sex trafficking and internal trafficking beyond Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville, with specific attention to the trafficking of adults and indigenous persons; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among child laborers, illegal immigrants, and women and girls in prostitution, and train social workers and law enforcement officials on these procedures; provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families and anti-trafficking activists and partners; establish a national body that includes all relevant ministries to increase coordination of countrywide anti-trafficking efforts; bolster anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and DRC; and accede to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and still has not secured any trafficking convictions. 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 of time and a fine. Article 68 prohibits the worst forms of child labor, for which article 121 prescribes penalties between three and five years of imprisonment or fines of 1 million to 10 million African Financial Community (CFA) francs ($1,608 to $16,084) for child sexual exploitation, and article 122 prescribes penalties between three months and one year of imprisonment or fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($80 to $804) for forced child labor. Article 4 of the country’s labor code prohibits and penalizes forced or compulsory labor, but there are no penalties defined in the law. None of these penalties are sufficiently stringent, and the penalties prescribed for sex trafficking are not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 131 of the penal code prohibits forced prostitution and carried penalties between two and five years of imprisonment and fines between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000 CFA francs ($1,608 to $16,084). 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. Draft anti-trafficking legislation, completed in partnership with an international organization in 2014, remained in draft for the third consecutive year; after adoption of a new constitution in 2015, officials returned the draft legislation to the Ministry of Justice to facilitate a second review by government stakeholders.
The government initiated the investigation and prosecution of one case involving five suspects during the reporting period, compared to four investigations and no prosecutions in 2015. The government has never convicted any traffickers. Officials charged one of the suspects for kidnapping, one for falsifying documents for the purpose of trafficking of a minor; and the other three for rape of a minor; Officials referred the falsification of documents case to the high court, where it remained awaiting trial. Many cases continued to languish, some without progress for up to six years, partly because of a significant backlog in the high court, which has never convened to hear a trafficking case.
The government did not provide any anti-trafficking training for law enforcement during the reporting period due to a lack of funding. Limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors continued to hinder the anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. There was a widespread perception of corruption throughout the government, but the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. Human trafficking activists reportedly faced harassment and threats from government officials, including police, which discouraged some civil society members and government officials from reporting trafficking cases.
The government maintained minimal protection efforts. The government did not employ systematic procedures to identify victims among vulnerable groups or refer victims for assistance, relying instead on NGOs and international organizations to identify victims. During the reporting period, an NGO identified 16 foreign trafficking victims ranging in age from seven to 23, including 14 in Pointe-Noire and two in Brazzaville, compared to 15 identified in the previous reporting period. The NGO reported all of those identified were victims of forced labor in either domestic service or market vending and two were also sex trafficking victims. Fourteen victims originated from Benin, one from Togo, and one from Senegal. The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire, which aids in assigning identified child trafficking victims to foster homes and conducts family tracing, referred no children to foster families; however, a local NGO referred an unknown number of child victims to such homes. The government did not provide an operating budget for the Coordinating Committee during the reporting period. The government did not provide care to any victims during the reporting period, but relied on partnerships with NGOs and foster families to enable victims in Pointe-Noire to receive access to care; however, it did not fund these entities or any victim assistance programs during the reporting period. Five foster care families were available, but only one reported receiving victims during the reporting period due to a lack of government funding. The government did not facilitate NGO partnerships to provide protective services elsewhere in the country. During the reporting period, the government facilitated, but did not fund, the repatriation of 13 victims to their countries of origin and the local reintegration of one victim. Congolese officials cooperated with Beninese officials on these repatriations and in three cases, the Committee in Pointe-Noire facilitated payment from the traffickers for the victims’ return flight to Benin.
During the reporting period, there were no reports of victims jailed or prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of their having been subjected to trafficking; however, inadequate identification efforts may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Officials encouraged victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, but child victims were not expected to testify in court. The government did not deport foreign victims, but it did not issue temporary or permanent residency status to victims and had no legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not carry out joint investigations or extraditions of charged traffickers under its bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin.
The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee met three times during the reporting period, primarily to facilitate repatriation of foreign victims. However, it did not conduct awareness-raising campaigns as it had done during the previous reporting year. The government-funded neither the implementation of the 2014-2017 action plan, which remained behind schedule, nor the efforts of the Committee. It did not establish an inter-ministerial coordinating body to guide national anti-trafficking efforts. The government did not take discernible measures to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government has signed but has not acceded to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. With support from a foreign donor, the government provided its troops with anti-trafficking training, prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.
As reported over the past five years, 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 an international organization in 2013, most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin and the DRC, and to a lesser extent from other neighboring countries. Most foreign victims are subjected to forced labor in domestic service and market vending. Women and girls from Benin, ages 7 to 19, constituted the majority of identified trafficking victims in 2016, all of which endured forced labor. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with most between the ages of 9 and 11. Girls and women from both the Republic of the Congo and the DRC are subjected to sex trafficking, with clients from among Chinese and Malaysian construction workers building a highway near the cities of Nkayi and Pointe-Noire.
Internal trafficking involves recruitment from rural areas for exploitation in cities. The indigenous population is especially vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture. NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority population, called Bantus, often forced adult indigenous people to harvest manioc and other crops without pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Most children subjected to trafficking 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 bakeries, and the fishing and agricultural sectors, including in cocoa fields in Sangha department, sugar cane fields in the Bouenza department, and, among indigenous populations, harvesting manioc in the Lekoumou department.