Guinea-Bissau

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 3

GUINEA-BISSAU: Tier 3

The Government of Guinea-Bissau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, Guinea-Bissau remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking. The Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Trafficking reconvened and drafted two action plans to assist Bissau-Guinean students—known as talibes—exploited by Quranic school teachers—called marabouts—in Senegal, and it partnered with an NGO and an international organization to repatriate some of those victims. The government continued to allocate modest funding to an NGO that provided shelter and repatriation assistance to trafficking victims. While working-level officials made some efforts to address trafficking in persons, however, a lack of dedicated resources and high-level engagement stymied anti-trafficking action for the fifth consecutive year. The president’s dismissal of two governments during the reporting period created a near vacuum of governance and a steady turnover of top officials in law enforcement and social service ministries. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any traffickers; identify any trafficking victims; or investigate reports of child sex tourism. Guinea-Bissau has never prosecuted or convicted a trafficker.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GUINEA-BISSAU

Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, including marabouts who subject boys to forced begging and hotels that facilitate child sex tourism in the Bijagos; increase funding for NGOs to ensure all identified victims—especially talibes—are repatriated and receive services, minimizing the potential for re-trafficking, and increase efforts to coordinate repatriations of such victims with the Government of Senegal; train judicial personnel on the 2011 anti-trafficking law; develop an effective national anti-trafficking program through regular meetings of the anti-trafficking committee and allocation of funding for its activities; develop formal written procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to services, and train law enforcement on such procedures; significantly increase efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking, especially forced begging and child sex trafficking; hold government officials accountable for trafficking-related complicity, including the failure to investigate alleged trafficking offenses and efforts to interfere with ongoing investigations; and in collaboration with NGOs, allocate adequate space and facilities for a victim shelter in Bissau.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained minimal law enforcement efforts. Public Law 12/2011 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of three to 15 years imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. The 2009 child code prohibits all forms of child forced labor and sex trafficking and prescribes penalties of three to 10 years imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government did not use these or other laws to prosecute trafficking cases during the reporting period. For the second consecutive year, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for trafficking offenses; the government has never prosecuted or convicted a trafficker.

The government did not provide specialized training to law enforcement on investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes. The Judicial Police provided general child protection training to new members of its Women and Children Brigade, a 10-person unit charged with investigating crimes against women and children, including trafficking. The unit possessed only one vehicle and did not receive an operating budget, so it remained highly concentrated in Bissau; this impeded its investigation of child forced begging cases in eastern regions and reports of child sex trafficking in the Bijagos. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the reporting period. Observers reported some police and border guards might have accepted bribes from traffickers.

PROTECTION

The government made minimal efforts to identify and protect victims. It did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the reporting period and relied on NGOs to provide all victim services; such assistance was available to both domestic and foreign victims. The government continued to contribute five million West African CFA francs ($7,998) annually to an NGO that cared for at least 155 trafficking victims during the reporting period. The NGO’s two facilities were still so severely overcrowded and underfunded, however, that some shelter volunteers used their own homes to house victims temporarily. Shelter was only available for child victims, and there were no trafficking-specific services. In Bissau, NGOs reported both law enforcement officials and their own staff left identified forced begging victims with their exploitative marabouts because there were no shelters available.

The government did not provide protective services to the more than 310 Bissau-Guinean boys forced to beg in Quranic schools in Dakar whom Senegalese authorities and NGOs identified in 2016. Despite a dearth of resources, the inter-ministerial committee partnered with an international organization to develop a short-term proposal to assist some of these victims. The Institute of Women and Children (IMC), an NGO, and an international organization implemented the plans—which an international organization funded—and repatriated 34 talibes during the reporting period. A Bissau-Guinean NGO provided repatriation, emergency services, and family reunification to an additional 121of the 310 victims. Because it lacked the finances and staff to provide extended rehabilitation and family monitoring, the NGO returned all exploited talibes to their families, even if the parents were complicit in their child’s exploitation.

There were no means by which victims could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against their traffickers. There were no legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face hardship or retribution. There was no evidence the government detained, fined, or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; due to the absence of written procedures to identify trafficking victims, however, it was possible some were inadvertently penalized.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. In contrast with previous years, the inter-ministerial committee—which is headed by IMC and includes government agencies, NGOs, and religious groups—met several times during the reporting period, primarily to draft short-term and long-term proposals to repatriate and sustainably reintegrate exploited Bissau-Guinean talibes identified in Senegal. While the government worked in partnership with donors to implement the short-term proposal, the long-term proposal was not funded, and weaknesses remained in the government’s overall response to addressing transnational trafficking of Bissau-Guineans and development of an effective national anti-trafficking program. IMC, the Ministry of Justice, and an NGO began drafting a plan to provide free birth registration to all trafficking victims repatriated from Senegal in 2016; however, the plan was not completed during the reporting period. The government had a 2015-2018 national action plan to address trafficking, led by IMC, and made some efforts to implement it during the reporting period. Individual ministries worked with NGOs and civil society groups to raise awareness of trafficking among ministry officials, regional governors, and religious leaders, and to strengthen partnerships on anti-trafficking efforts across the region. The government provided some basic funding for the plan on an ad hoc basis.

IMC and the Ministry of Tourism developed a code of conduct against sexual exploitation in the tourism sector to increase public awareness of child sexual exploitation in Bissau and the Bijagos and encourage hotels to combat these crimes. The government approved the code in August 2016 but did not take tangible steps to implement it. The national assembly provided office space and technical support to the National Children’s Parliament, a youth organization that conducted an awareness-raising campaign on child sex tourism during the height of the tourist season in the Bijagos. The labor inspectorate, housed within the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service and Public Administration, did not receive regular funding from the government and lacked resources to investigate violations nationwide. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Guinea-Bissau is a source country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and a destination for West African boys exploited in forced labor, including forced begging. The extent to which adults are subjected to forced labor or forced prostitution is unclear. Many Bissau-Guinean boys attend Quranic schools led by marabouts. Some corrupt marabouts force their students to beg and do not provide an education. Unscrupulous marabouts force rural Bissau-Guinean boys to beg in cities, including Bissau’s Afia neighborhood. The traffickers are principally men from the Bafata and Gabu regions—often former talibes or men who claim to be working for a marabout—and are generally well-known within the communities in which they operate. Marabouts increasingly force Guinean, Gambian, and Sierra Leonean boys to beg in Bissau. Corrupt marabouts exploit Guinea-Bissau’s weak institutions and porous borders to transport large numbers of Bissau-Guinean boys to Senegal—and to a lesser extent Mali, Guinea, and The Gambia—for forced begging in Quranic schools. Bissau-Guineans, primarily from Bafata and Gabu, made up at least 310 of the 838 trafficking victims identified in Dakar, Senegal, between July and November 2016. NGOs in Guinea Bissau report many repatriated talibes are extremely vulnerable to re-trafficking.

Bissau-Guinean boys are forced into street vending in Guinea-Bissau and forced to labor in the agricultural, mining, and street vending sectors in Senegal, especially in the southern cities of Kolda and Ziguinchor. West African boys are forced to harvest cashews during Guinea-Bissau’s annual harvest, and some are recruited for work in the harvest but instead forced to beg. Bissau-Guinean girls are forced into street vending and domestic work in Guinea and Senegal. During the reporting period, a Bissau-Guinean woman living in Luxembourg transported her niece to Luxembourg with false documents and forced her to work in a restaurant. Bissau-Guinean girls are recruited by female Senegalese trafficking networks for modeling jobs or traveling football clubs but then subjected to sex trafficking in Senegal. Bissau-Guinean girls are exploited in sex trafficking in bars, nightclubs, and hotels in Bissau.

Bissau-Guinean girls from the Bijagos—and to a lesser extent mainland girls and boys—are exploited in child sex tourism in the Bijagos, an archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau that is far from the mainland and largely devoid of government and law enforcement presence. Although the extent of the problem is unknown, it is widely acknowledged among civil society, NGOs, and mid-level government officials. In most cases, French-nationals own hotels on the islands and use Bissau-Guinean middlemen to exploit island girls aged 13-17 years old for European child sex tourists, including French and Belgians. International sources report these same hotel owners provide jobs and significant support to the island community, wielding influence that can deter victims from notifying law enforcement. Poor families may encourage their children to endure such exploitation for financial gain. Bissau-Guinean men from the mainland fuel local demand for commercial sex on the islands. There were reports of official complicity in human trafficking among island officials and in the judiciary. Guinea-Bissau’s judicial system lacked sufficient human and physical capital to function properly, and corruption remained pervasive.