BENIN: Tier 2
The Government of Benin does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Benin was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by prosecuting and convicting more child traffickers, identifying more child trafficking victims, and establishing formal procedures for the identification and referral of children vulnerable to abuse, including trafficking. The government introduced screening procedures at airports to identify adult victims traveling abroad and increased coordination with neighboring countries to prevent transnational trafficking of adults, resulting in the identification of 16 potential adult victims. The government established a formal inter-ministerial committee and developed a national action plan to address all types of trafficking—including adults—in collaboration with NGOs and international organizations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Current laws do not explicitly criminalize the trafficking of adults and provisions in the revised draft penal code, which would have addressed this omission, remained pending in the National Assembly. Deficiencies in the legal framework resulted in judges dismissing cases or reducing charges in adult trafficking cases. The government made limited efforts to identify adult victims or refer them to services.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BENIN
Enact legislation to criminalize all forms of trafficking consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and adequately sentence offenders of sex and labor trafficking of adults and children, including illegal labor recruiters; develop systematic procedures for proactive victim identification—particularly of adults and victims of forced labor—and their subsequent referral to care; train law enforcement officials on identification and referral procedures; increase funding to the Central Office for the Protection of Minors (OCPM) to provide adequate support to victims, including adults; improve efforts to collect law enforcement data on trafficking offenses and victim identifications, including adults; finalize the pending bilateral agreement with Gabon and multilateral agreements with Togo, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to increase information sharing and cooperation on international trafficking investigations; use the 2011 bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with the Republic of The Congo to increase law enforcement coordination; and expand the OCPM’s child trafficking database to include adult trafficking victims.
The government increased its law enforcement efforts to address child trafficking, but demonstrated lesser efforts to combat the trafficking of adults. Existing laws criminalized some forms of labor and sex trafficking. The 2006 Act Relating to the Transportation of Minors and the Suppression of Child Trafficking (Act 2006-04) criminalized child labor and sex trafficking. Article 21 of Act 2006-04 prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years for sex trafficking of children, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 22 of Act 2006-04 prescribed penalties of six months to two years imprisonment and a fine for forced child labor, which were not sufficiently stringent. Article 3 of the labor code criminalized forced labor of adults and prescribed punishments of two months to one year imprisonment or a fine, which were not sufficiently stringent. Article 334 of the penal code did not explicitly criminalize adult sex trafficking; however, it criminalized procuring or offering a person for prostitution and the facilitation of prostitution with penalties of six months to two years imprisonment. The National Assembly did not review anti-trafficking legislation that had been pending for five years; however, the inter-ministerial committee began work with the National Assembly to incorporate anti-trafficking provisions into the draft penal code, which remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
In 2017, OCPM—a specialized unit responsible for anti-trafficking enforcement—investigated 30 suspected child traffickers—compared with 48 child abuse cases that may have included trafficking—involving 66 suspects in 2016. Six of the 14 First Instance Courts reported prosecuting and convicting 13 child traffickers in 2017, compared with prosecuting six suspected child traffickers and zero convictions in 2016. The courts convicted three offenders for child sex trafficking, four for illegal transport of children, and six for child trafficking under Act 2006-04 on the displacement of minors and prevention of child trafficking. The government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking cases involving adult victims or take action against potential illegal recruitment agencies. Judges reported dismissing adult trafficking cases or reducing the charges given the lack of a specific law criminalizing adult trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
In April 2017, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance (MSAM), in partnership with an international organization, trained 23 prosecutors and judges, 17 border officials, eight police officers, and two ministry officials on migrant smuggling, human trafficking, and victim identification and protection. In October, a prosecutor provided anti-trafficking training to an unknown number of unit chiefs from the Port of Cotonou’s Joint Unit for Container Control, Maritime Gendarmerie, Gendarmerie Investigative Bureau, Benin Drug Investigative Unit, Customs units, Water and Forest Police, and the airport’s anti-trafficking unit.
The government increased efforts to protect child trafficking victims and made limited efforts to identify and assist adult victims. During the reporting period, the government identified and referred 370 potential child trafficking victims to OCPM for initial care, compared with 223 in the previous reporting period. OCPM officers and the police proactively identified potential child victims through patrols of high-risk areas such as borders, bus stations, and large markets. In February 2018, the Ministry of Interior, in partnership with an international organization, sought to harmonize OCPM, civil society, and police efforts by establishing formal standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the referral of vulnerable children, including potential victims of trafficking, to protective services. Prior to adoption of the formal SOPs, MSAM, OCPM, the ministries of justice and foreign affairs, international organizations, and NGOs developed a system to assist, repatriate, and reintegrate victims of child trafficking. As part of this process, OCPM assumed initial custody of child trafficking victims in Benin and provided temporary shelter in its Cotonou facility that could house up to 160 children (80 boys and 80 girls).
The OCPM shelter offered child victims legal, medical, and psychological assistance, and served as a transit facility for potential child trafficking victims while their cases were processed prior to placement in long-term shelters. After an OCPM interview and assessment, victims were referred to a network of NGO shelters throughout the country. Trafficking-specific services were not available for adult victims, although they received care under the auspices of programs to assist victims of other forms of abuse. In January 2018, government officials at Cotonou airport identified two Ghanaian women traveling to potentially exploitative conditions, interviewed them, and worked with the Ghanaian embassy to ensure safe repatriation.
OCPM assisted foreign trafficking victims, predominantly minors, before repatriating them to their home countries. The government conducted repatriations of foreign victims in conjunction with an international NGO and the assistance of embassies or consulates of victims’ countries of origin. During the reporting period, the government maintained support for OCPM’s anti-trafficking work by contributing 19.2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($34,140). This support included services for all children received in its shelter, including trafficking victims. The bilateral anti-trafficking cooperation agreement to facilitate law enforcement data sharing and repatriation coordination between Benin and Gabon remained pending, and no actions were taken under the 2011 Cooperation Agreement between Benin and the Republic of the Congo. Multilateral anti-trafficking cooperation agreements to increase law enforcement coordination on child trafficking cases between Benin, Togo, and Nigeria remained pending as well. Beninese law did not provide legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, although cases involving foreign child trafficking victims were considered on an ad hoc basis.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. In September 2017, the government established an inter-ministerial committee to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts, chaired by the chief of staff of the minister of planning and development and composed of directors of offices from across the Beninese government and partners from key NGOs and international organizations. The committee met twice during the reporting period; worked with the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly to incorporate anti-trafficking provisions into the draft penal code; developed a national action plan to combat trafficking that explicitly included adults; and in November 2017, convened a summit involving law enforcement, NGOs, representatives from all 21 government ministries and international organizations. In July 2017, MSAM launched a public awareness campaign, in partnership with an international organization, which highlighted potential exploitation within Benin’s main open-air markets (Dantokpa in Cotonou, Ouando in Porto-Novo, and Arzeke in Parakou). This campaign incorporated an inspection program conducted at the markets and along roads connecting major cities, which resulted in the identification of more than 800 potential child trafficking victims. The government made no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.
The government increased coordination with neighboring countries on airport screening procedures for adults and, in 2017, assisted in the interception of 14 Beninese women en route to the Middle East for potentially exploitative work, facilitating reunifications with their families in Benin.
In November 2017, the government started the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population, an effort to collect data on all Beninese citizens from birth, in order to create a national digital database and issue national biometric identification cards. A lack of identity documentation continued to be a contributing factor to increased vulnerability to trafficking across West Africa, and in Benin. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a code of conduct for diplomats that prohibited Beninese nationals deployed abroad from engaging in or facilitating trafficking in persons; however, the government did not report providing anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
Benin is a country of origin, transit, and destination for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, primarily for forced labor and sex trafficking. Trafficking victims most often come from low-income families, and frequently lack formal education or basic identity documents including birth certificates and national identification. Internal trafficking primarily draws children from rural areas in the north to the urban south of Benin in search of economic opportunity. International organizations and NGOs reported that marabouts continue to exploit children (talibes), especially in the northern regions of the country. Rising unemployment leads young girls to seek work abroad where they are at risk of sexual exploitation. Children from Benin who are subjected to trafficking externally are transported to West and Central African countries. Some parents send children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities; a practice called vidomegon. Some of these children are subjected to domestic servitude. Children from neighboring countries are forced to labor on farms, in commercial agriculture (particularly in the cotton sector), in artisanal mines, at construction sites, or as street or market vendors in Benin. The department of Oueme in southeast Benin was reportedly a primary area of recruitment for child trafficking victims subsequently exploited in the Republic of the Congo. Benin is the largest source country for trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo.
Traffickers exploit West African women in domestic servitude and forced commercial sex in Benin. There are increasing reports that young Beninese women are subjected to trafficking in Middle Eastern countries where they work as domestic help and are often forced into commercial sex. Traffickers and their accomplices continue to send child victims to their destinations alone and then meet the victims upon arrival, which makes investigations more challenging. International organizations report that potentially vulnerable adults now use airports in neighboring countries in order to circumnavigate anti-trafficking screening procedures put in place by the government at the International Airport of Cotonou.