GUINEA-BISSAU: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of Guinea-Bissau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore Guinea-Bissau was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included launching its first trafficking investigations since 2015, identifying its first trafficking victims in 10 years, and referring the identified victims to NGOs for care. The government also partnered with an NGO to raise awareness of child forced begging among border communities and child sex trafficking in the tourism industry. Despite these achievements, however, a lack of dedicated resources and high-level engagement continued to stymie working-level anti-trafficking action. The government did not allocate a budget to the Judicial Police, which prevented it from investigating trafficking cases outside of Bissau, including reports of child sex tourism in the Bijagos. The inter-ministerial committee remained without sufficient funding to implement prevention activities, and credible reports of complicity in trafficking investigations continued to go uninvestigated. 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; allocate an operating budget to the Judicial Police, and approve the opening of a second office in the Bijagos; develop and train law enforcement on formal written procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to services; increase communication between law enforcement bodies, and train officials on the 2011 anti-trafficking law and how to refer trafficking cases to the Judicial Police; increase funding for NGOs to ensure all identified victims—especially child forced beggars—are repatriated and receive services, minimizing the potential for re-trafficking; increase efforts to coordinate repatriations of trafficking victims with the Government of Senegal; develop an effective national anti-trafficking program through regular meetings of the anti-trafficking committee and allocation of funding for its activities; 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.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. Public Law 12/2011 criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 15 years imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government investigated 22 cases of child trafficking but did not prosecute or convict any suspects for trafficking offenses, an increase from no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions the previous reporting period. Of the 22 cases, 20 cases involved child domestic servitude and two involved transporting children to Senegal for forced begging. Notably, in one case the National Guard arrested two marabouts for transporting children to Senegal, allegedly for exploitation in forced begging. Law enforcement sent all investigations to the judiciary for prosecution at the end of the reporting period; however, victims often dropped their cases because they did not want to pursue charges against their traffickers, who were often family members. The government has never prosecuted or convicted a trafficker. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any 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, and officials have reportedly closed investigations into child sex tourism.
The government did not provide specialized training to law enforcement on investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes, and some law enforcement and judicial officials remained unaware of the 2011 anti-trafficking law. 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, largely limiting its efforts to Bissau. The Judicial Police continued efforts to open a second office in the Bijagos and awaited a decision from the Ministry of Justice at the close of the reporting period. The National Guard and local police in rural areas had neither the training nor the capacity to investigate trafficking crimes and did not always refer such cases to the Judicial Police, which impeded investigations into child forced begging in eastern regions and child sex trafficking in the Bijagos. In addition, police and judges preferred to resolve intra-familial labor and abuse cases—which could include forced child labor and child sex trafficking by family members—through non-judicial means. When parents broke such agreements and police transferred the cases to court, officials noted community leaders often pressured courts to drop the cases.
The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 22 trafficking victims and 53 potential victims in 2017 and referred all victims for care, compared with not identifying any trafficking victims the previous reporting period. The National Guard took an increasingly active role intercepting Bissau-Guinean children destined for forced labor and forced begging in Senegal; it intercepted 53 such children, and referred them to an NGO for care. The Judicial Police identified 22 child trafficking victims and referred all to NGOs for services; the Judicial Police then reunited the children with their families. In cases when an NGO could not respond immediately, police officers used personal funds to house and feed victims. The government relied on NGOs to provide nearly all victim services. NGOs assisted both domestic and foreign victims. The government did not have formal procedures to identify trafficking victims or refer them to care. The government contributed 5 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($8,890) annually to an NGO that cared for at least 156 additional child forced begging victims returned from Senegal during the reporting period. The NGO’s two facilities were severely overcrowded and underfunded; 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. While NGOs led victim protection efforts, police accompanied NGOs on family reintegration missions. While all trafficking victims returned from Senegal received some care, NGOs in Bissau reported that both law enforcement officials and NGO staff sometimes left forced begging victims identified in Guinea-Bissau with their exploiters because there were no shelters available. The government did not have formal policies to encourage victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions against their traffickers. Victims could not 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 were no reports 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.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The inter-ministerial committee—which was headed by the Institute of Women and Children (IMC) and included government agencies, NGOs, and religious groups—met semi-regularly during the reporting period but lacked funding for anti-trafficking activities, which weakened its response to trafficking and development of an effective national anti-trafficking program. The government had a 2015-2018 national action plan to address trafficking but did not have resources 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. In a new effort to educate the public on trafficking, the National Guard and an international organization traveled to 75 villages in source regions for children exploited in forced begging to raise awareness of trafficking and how to report suspected cases to police. IMC and the Ministry of Tourism began implementing a code of conduct against sexual exploitation in the tourism sector by increasing public awareness of child sexual exploitation in Bissau and the Bijagos, encouraging hotels to combat these crimes, and building the capacity of tourism inspectors. Through a plan drafted the previous reporting period, IMC, the Ministry of Justice, and an NGO provided birth registration to 190 child forced begging victims returned from Senegal and their siblings. 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. In addition, the government did not have the means to inspect local Quranic schools to ensure they did not force children to beg. The Judicial Police operated a hotline to report crimes, although it was not free and did not report receiving any trafficking cases during the reporting period. 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.
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, called talibes, to beg and do not provide an education, including at some schools in 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 and 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-Guinean boys are forced into street vending and forced labor in the agricultural and mining 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 are forced to beg. Some Guinean boys are victims of forced labor in shoe shining in Guinea Bissau. Bissau-Guinean girls are victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in street vending and domestic work in Guinea, The Gambia, and Senegal. Senegalese trafficking networks recruit Bissau-Guinean girls for modeling jobs or traveling football clubs but subject them to sex trafficking. Bissau-Guinean girls are exploited in domestic servitude and 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 intermediaries to exploit island girls aged 13-17-years-old for French and Belgian child sex tourists. 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.