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Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic. In November the Constitutional Court certified President Alpha Conde’s reelection (despite disputed results) with 59.5 percent of the vote, following a controversial March referendum amending the constitution and allowing him to run for a third term. International and domestic observers raised concerns about widespread electoral violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, lack of transparency in vote tabulation, and polling station vote tally discrepancies. Major opposition parties boycotted March legislative elections, resulting in the ruling Rally for the Guinean People winning a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers raised concerns regarding widespread violence and voting irregularities in the legislative elections, including closed and ransacked polling stations. Numerous opposition parties rejected the results of the March legislative and October presidential elections.

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses, particularly during the elections and resulting protests.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by or on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults, although not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for government officials remained a problem. The government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were multiple reports of government efforts to intimidate the press and restrict press freedom.

In July the National Assembly passed legislation revising the composition and organization of the High Authority of Communication (HAC). Under the old law, the HAC president was elected by a group of peer commissioners, while under the new law the HAC president is appointed by presidential decree. Media criticized the new law and feared the HAC would be subservient to the office of the president.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the government or ruling party could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by government officials.

On March 6, police arrested and assaulted French journalist Thomas Dietrich while he filmed a police crackdown on an opposition demonstration in Conakry. Police took him immediately to the airport and deported him. The HAC accused him of interfering in domestic political activities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the office of the director of judicial police (DPJ) where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was earlier sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the water supply company Societe des Eaux de Guinee (Guinea Water Company–SEG). Kamara had criticized the appointments of SEG executives, which included the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

On June 29, the DPJ summoned the chairmen of three private radio stations and directed them to stop broadcasting a radio advertisement supporting the FNDC’s opposition to the proposed new constitution and a third term for President Alpha Conde. The DPJ also directed the chairmen to provide information concerning who within FNDC approved the advertisement. The chairmen complied with the decision of the HAC and halted broadcast of the advertisement. According to media sources, a decision by the HAC to ban the advertisements allegedly originated from the Inter-Ministerial Council and the National Assembly president, who claimed that the advertisement would disturb public order.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government. In October 2019 authorities detained for several hours two al-Jazeera journalists, Nicolas Haque, al-Jazeera chief of bureau in Dakar, Senegal, and cameraman Hugo Bogaeert, accusing them of spying, endangering state security, and producing ethnocentric reports. Upon their release police forced them to leave the country.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It did not censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government did, however, monitor social media platforms and exploited the law to punish journalists for posting or sharing information critical of the government. In March widespread internet disruptions occurred starting the day before the polls opened for the legislative election and constitutional referendum until the day after the polls closed. The director of internet service provider GUILAB SA, who is appointed by the minister of posts, telecommunications and digital economy, announced the disruption was due to maintenance. The government owned 52.55 percent of GUILAB.

On October 23, authorities suspended all cell phone data and international calling, and blocked various social media platforms. The government stated it suspended these services in response to postelectoral violence. Cell phone data and international calling services were restored several days later. Full social media access was restored in December.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government routinely barred public protests.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits prohibition of demonstrations or meetings if local authorities believe the events pose a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

Authorities demonstrated a lack of impartiality following the March state of emergency ban on large gatherings to counter the spread of COVID-19. Organizations affiliated with the governing party gathered and organized meetings to support the government, while authorities banned opposition protests, particularly in the postelectoral period from October to December.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country continued to host refugees from Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

UNHCR provided protection and limited assistance, including medical care and educational support for refugee children, to refugees considered extremely vulnerable in Conakry, Macenta, and the Kouankan Camp. UNHCR and its partners provided sanitation and educational materials as part of its efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

g. Stateless Persons

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, most of whom came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for citizenship. According to UNHCR, these refugees requested neither repatriation nor local integration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Starting in December 2019 and continuing to December 2020, opposition parties led protests nationwide concerning elections. Legislative elections held in March were coupled with a constitutional referendum that principally sought to extend presidential term limits. Major opposition parties boycotted the election in protest of the referendum’s proposed constitutional changes and problematic voter rolls. According to media sources, the international association of French-speaking countries cast doubt on the credibility of the voter rolls, stating that there were more than 2.4 million “problematic” names, including dead persons, minors, and duplicate names. Due to the significant concerns surrounding the integrity of the election, international observers from ECOWAS, the African Union, and European Union abstained from observing the March elections.

After several delays the legislative election and referendum were held on March 22. Significant violence occurred in multiple locations on election day and after the results were announced. The minister of security stated six persons were killed, four by security forces. Civil society leaders in the FNDC, however, reported 10 persons killed in Conakry and four in N’Zerekore. These leaders also alleged that three elite units of the army were the perpetrators (see section 1.a.).

The election resulted in the ruling party, the Rally for the Guinean People, gaining a supermajority in the National Assembly that allowed for the swift passage of the new constitution granting President Alpha Conde the ability to run for a third term. The results of the election and referendum were rejected by the opposition parties.

For the presidential election in October, ECOWAS determined that voter rolls met legal requirements despite opposition complaints. Opposition parties, however, continued to question the legitimacy of the voter rolls.

Following the October presidential election, and an unsuccessful legal challenge from principal opponent and UFDG candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, in November the Constitutional Court certified that President Conde won re-election (despite disputed results) with 59.5 percent of the vote. Diallo claimed victory and called on his supporters to protest the election results. Government security forces violently dispersed protesters and surrounded Diallo’s home. Although election day had proceeded relatively smoothly, international and domestic observers raised concerns about unresolved voter roll problems, widespread electoral violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, the lack of transparency in vote tabulation, insecure ballot transportation, and inconsistencies between the announced results and tally sheet results from polling stations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements. Parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity. The government in some cases delayed opposition party registration. The Liberal Democratic Movement’s (MoDeL) request was pending with the government since the summer of 2018. As of December MoDeL had not received a formal response from the government. According to sources, the application and certification process normally takes three months. Without accreditation, the party was unable to participate in elections.

Authorities threatened to cut the payments of allowances of some opposition National Assembly members if they did not support the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Observers noted, however, there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation, evidenced by the low rate of women occupying influential political or government positions.

As of June, eight women served in cabinet-level positions (out of 37 such positions), the same as in 2019. In the National Assembly, 18 women were elected as members (out of 114 seats), down from 25 in 2019. In the executive office of the National Assembly, women held two vice presidential positions (out of five), one secretary position (out of six), and one quaestor position (out of two) (quaestors are in charge of the National Assembly’s financial functions).

The law requires that women constitute 50 percent of a candidate list for electoral positions. The law applies to national and local elections, as well as elected positions in public institutions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but the government but did not implement the law effectively. There were multiple allegations of corrupt practices by public officials that went unpunished.

Corruption: Authorities prosecuted very few cases, and even fewer resulted in convictions. Allegations of corruption ranged from low-level functionaries and managers of state enterprises to ministers and the presidency. Officials allegedly diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency.

In August the public prosecutor’s office announced the results of an investigation into the embezzlement of more than $51 million in public funds by two senior civil servants working for the Regulatory Authority for Posts and Telecommunications. The two civil servants, who were arrested and held pending prosecution, created fake service delivery invoices dating back to 2010 for a project managing incoming international calls.

Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are required to file a nonpublic financial disclosure statement, but this requirement was not universally respected. There are sanctions for nondisclosure, but they were not applied.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Some domestic and international human rights groups monitored and attempted to disseminate information on human rights abuses. They generally operated without government restriction. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs are required to renew their permits with the government every three years.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Institution for Human Rights promotes human rights awareness and investigates abuses. The institution was controversial from its inception because it was set up in a manner different than prescribed by law. It continued efforts to establish its credibility by releasing reports on human rights abuses and issuing recommendations to improve human rights practices, but it remained ineffective and lacked independence.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, but both occurred frequently, and authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of victims. Rape is punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Victims often declined to report crimes to police due to custom, fear of stigmatization, reprisal, and a lack of cooperation from investigating police or gendarmes. Studies indicated citizens also were reluctant to report crimes because they feared police would ask the victim to pay for the investigation.

In domestic violence cases, authorities may file charges under general assault, which carries sentences of two to five years in prison and fines. Violence against a woman that causes an injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. If the injury causes mutilation, amputation, or other loss of body parts, it is punishable by 20 years of imprisonment; if the victim dies, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault constitutes grounds for divorce under civil law, but police rarely intervened in domestic disputes, and courts rarely punished perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law and new constitution prohibit FGM/C, the country had an extremely high prevalence rate. According to a 2018 UNICEF survey, 94.5 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure, which was practiced throughout the country and among all religious and ethnic groups. The rate of FGM/C for girls between the ages of six and 14 dropped 6 percent since 2015.

The law specifies imprisonment of five to 20 years and a fine if the victim is severely injured or dies; if the victim dies within 40 days of the procedure the penalty is up to life in prison or death. The law provides for imprisonment of three months to two years and fines for perpetrators who do not inflict severe injury or death.

The government continued to cooperate with NGOs and youth organizations in their efforts to eradicate FGM/C and educate health workers, government employees, and communities on the dangers of the practice.

A total of 232 communities organized public declaration ceremonies of the abandonment of FGM/C practices and child marriage in 2019. Since January an additional 66 villages declared they abandoned FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, in February the president launched the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM Activities.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits all forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The constitution prohibits harassment based on sex, race, ethnicity, political opinions, and other grounds. The Ministry of Labor did not document any case of sexual harassment, despite its frequency. The law penalizes sexual harassment. Sentences range from three months to two years in prison and the payment of a fine, depending on the gravity of the harassment. Authorities rarely enforced the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked access to the information and the means to enjoy these rights.

No law adversely affected access to conception, but low accessibility and poor quality of family planning services as well as limited contraception choices hindered access. Cultural barriers included a lack of male partner engagement or support for a woman’s decision to use family planning services; lack of decision-making power for women, as women in many cases needed approval from their husbands before using health services, including family planning; and expectations for newlywed couples to have children. Religious beliefs also hindered access. According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women aged 15-49 who were married or in a relationship was 11 percent.

According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 55 percent of women gave birth with a skilled healthcare professional present. Lack of quality health care and sociocultural barriers, such as preferring a female health attendant during pregnancy and childbirth, also affected women’s access to skilled health attendants when no midwives were available.

According to the 2016 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births. Lack of accessible, quality health services, discrimination, gender inequalities, early marriage, and adolescent pregnancy all contributed to the maternal death rate. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the adolescent birth rate was 120 per 1,000 girls age 15-19 years.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Multisectoral committees at the national, regional, and local levels addressed gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Committee participants included health professionals, police, and administrative authorities. Health professionals provided health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, to survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

The prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15-49 was 95 percent, according to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in inheritance, property, employment, credit, and divorce. The law prohibits gender discrimination in hiring; the government did not effectively enforce this provision. There were no known limitations on women’s working hours, but there are legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks deemed hazardous and in industries such as mining and construction. Traditional practices historically discriminate against women and sometimes took precedence over the law, particularly in rural areas.

Government officials acknowledged that polygyny was common. Divorce laws generally favor men in awarding custody and dividing communal assets. Legal testimony given by women carries less weight than testimony by men, in accordance with Islamic precepts and customary law.

In May 2019 the National Assembly amended the law to make monogamy the standard for marriage, except in the case of an “explicit agreement” with the first wife.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. Authorities did not permit children without birth certificates to attend school or access health care. Authorities adjudicated birth registration in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Education: Government policy provides for tuition-free, compulsory primary education for all children up to age 16. While girls and boys had equal access to all levels of primary and secondary education, approximately 56 percent of girls attended primary school, compared with 66 percent of boys. Government figures indicated 11 percent of girls obtained a secondary education, compared with 21 percent of boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and authorities and NGOs continued to document cases. Child abuse occurred openly on the street, although families ignored most cases or addressed them at the community level.

In December 2019 the National Assembly revised the children’s code to clearly prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of children, including FGM. The revised code entered into force in March. Authorities rarely prosecuted offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law criminalizes early and forced marriage. The legal age for marriage is 18. Ambiguity remains, however, because the law refers to customary marriages for minors who receive consent from both their parents or their legal guardian. According to women’s rights NGOs, the prevalence rate remained high.

In 2017, according to UNICEF, 19 percent of all girls were married by age 15 and 51 percent were married by age 18.

The Ministry of Social Action for the Promotion of Women and Children, with assistance from UNICEF, developed and began to implement a national strategy for the 2020-24 period to promote the abandonment of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for all forms of child trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits child pornography. The law does not explicitly address the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. Having sex with someone younger than 15 is punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine. These laws were not regularly enforced, and sexual assault of children, including rape, was a serious problem. Girls between ages 11 and 15 were most vulnerable and represented more than half of all rape victims.

Displaced Children: Although official statistics were unavailable, a large population of children lived on the streets, particularly in urban areas. Children frequently begged in mosques, on the street, and in markets.

Institutionalized Children: The country had numerous registered and unregistered orphanages. While reports of abuse at orphanages sometimes appeared in the press, reliable statistics were not available. Authorities institutionalized some children after family members died from the Ebola virus.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country’s population was diverse, with three main linguistic groups and several smaller ones. While the law prohibits racial or ethnic discrimination, allegations of discrimination against members of all major ethnic groups occurred in private sector hiring. Ethnic segregation of urban neighborhoods and ethnically divisive rhetoric during political campaigns were common. The government made little efforts to address these problems.

In August a group of 50 to 60 youths, calling themselves the Association of the Young Heirs of Maferinyah and Coyah, attacked two families in Forecariah, leaving several injured and two dead. The families stated that the youths, displaced from local lands, believed that the land the families owned was expropriated from the native inhabitants of the area.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions. The Office for the Protection of Women, Children, and Morals (OPROGEM), a part of the Ministry of Security, includes a unit for investigating morals offenses, including same-sex sexual conduct. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Deep religious and cultural taboos existed against consensual same-sex sexual conduct. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented victims from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no publicly active LGBTI organizations, although some organizations worked to raise awareness concerning HIV and AIDS and prevent human rights abuses among vulnerable communities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Laws exist to protect persons with HIV from stigmatization, but the government relied on donor efforts to combat discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. Government efforts were limited to paying salaries for health-service providers. Most victims of stigmatization were women whose families abandoned them after their husbands died of AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In March the Forested Guinea Region and the town of N’Zerekore saw violence between largely Christian and animist Kpelle people, who supported the opposition and opposed the constitutional referendum, and the Muslim Koniake people who supported the government and the referendum (see section 1.a.). There were no investigations.

Discrimination against persons with albinism occurred, particularly in the Forested Guinea Region, where historically persons with albinism were sought for ritual sacrifice and other harmful practices related to witchcraft. Albino rights NGOs continued to raise awareness of discrimination and violence against persons with albinism. Authorities investigated incidents of violence. For example, in July, OPROGEM arrested six women accused of forcing seven albino children to beg in the street. As of September the women were in custody and awaiting trial. In November police investigated an alleged discovery of two albino bodies in a family compound in Coyah.

Due to a lack of trust and capacity in the local judicial system, mob violence remained a widespread problem nationwide. In November 2019 a man accused of stealing motorcycles was beaten to death by an angry mob in Kankan. In April a man in Boke accused of stealing was tied to a tree by a group of men and beaten to death. Authorities opened investigations into these incidents but the outcomes were unknown.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides most workers the right to organize, bargain collectively, join a union, and engage in strikes. The law also places restrictions on the free exercise of these rights. The law requires unions to obtain the support of 20 percent of the workers in a company, region, or trade in order to strike. The law mandates that unions provide a 10-day notice to the Ministry of Labor before striking, although it allows work slowdowns without notice. Strikes are permitted only for work-related topics; such permission does not extend to government workers, members of the armed forces, or temporary government workers, as these categories do not have the legal right to strike. Despite lacking the right to strike, public school teachers and port workers nevertheless went on strike.

The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits employers from taking union membership into consideration when considering decisions about an employee’s hiring, firing, and conduct. It also allows workers 30 days to appeal any labor decisions and provides for reinstatement of any employee fired for union activity.

During the January public school teachers’ strike, a communications representative for a local teacher’s union was removed from his position as director of studies and transferred to a new assignment in a different town by local Ministry of Education representatives. After refusing to leave his post and with the intervention of a more prominent union leader, the teacher was reinstated to his position and his blocked salary returned.

The Office of the Inspector General of Labor within the Ministry of Labor manages consensus arbitration, as required by law. Employers often imposed binding arbitration, particularly in “essential services.”

Penalties for various labor violations ranged from fines to imprisonment. The law also defines labor crimes to include workers and employers who subvert national interests or steal trade secrets. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Inspections were not adequate to achieve compliance, and penalties were not enforced.

Worker organizations generally operated independently of government or political party interference. Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In January authorities arrested two leaders representing the Union of Teachers and Researchers of Guinea after they failed to suspend their call for national strikes in negotiations with the government. After 10 days authorities dropped the charges of inciting violence and released the two leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and debt bondage. Prison labor, however, is legal, including for crimes related to political and religious expression. The law prescribes penalties of three to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for forced labor offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for those involving a child victim. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce this law or prosecute any cases for adult forced labor.

Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor in agriculture. Traffickers exploited boys in forced labor in begging, mining, fishing, and on coffee, cashew, and cocoa plantations. Some government entities and NGOs alleged forced labor was most prevalent in the mining sector. Women and children were the most vulnerable to trafficking (see section 7.c.). Migrant laborers represented a small proportion of forced labor victims.

In July, 268 workers in a Chinese-owned mosquito-netting factory near the town of Maferenya were held against their will for three months. According to media sources, the manager stated that the workers were detained in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent possible work stoppages. As of October authorities took no action on the case.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor in the formal sector and sets forth penalties of imprisonment and confiscation of resulting profits. The law does not protect children in the informal sector and authorities are hesitant to pursue cases due to longstanding sociocultural norms. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law allows minors to work below the minimum age for employment, which is 16. Exceptions allow children to work at age 12 as apprentices for light work in the domestic service and agriculture sectors, and at age 14 for other work. The law does not prescribe the number of work hours per week for children, nor does it specify the conditions under which light work may be undertaken. The law does not permit workers and apprentices younger than age 18 to work more than 10 consecutive hours at night or on Sundays; however, these rules were often not respected.

The Ministry of Labor maintained an outdated list of hazardous occupations or activities that may not employ children, but enforcement was limited to large firms in the formal sector. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including agriculture. The law increases penalties for forced labor if minors are involved, but penalties did not meet international standards, and enforcement was not sufficient to deter child labor violations. Although the law provides that treaty obligations be regarded by the justice system as lawfully binding, ambiguity concerning this provision’s validity continued due to the government’s failure to pass implementing legislation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and it conducted occasional inspections. OPROGEM is responsible for investigating child trafficking and child labor violations. After making an arrest, police transfer all information to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Security has a unit specifically focused on child trafficking and child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and inspections were not adequate. Boys frequently worked in the informal sectors of subsistence farming, small-scale commerce, street vending, shining shoes, and mining. Girls were subjected to domestic servitude domestically and abroad. Forced child labor occurred primarily in the cashew, cocoa, coffee, gold, and diamond sectors of the economy. Many children between ages five and 16 worked 10 to 15 hours a day in the diamond and gold mines for minimal compensation and little food. Child laborers extracted, transported, and cleaned the minerals. They operated in extreme conditions, lacked protective gear, did not have access to water or electricity, and faced a constant threat of disease. Many children did not attend school and could not contact their parents, which may indicate forced labor.

Many parents sent their children to live with relatives or Quranic teachers while the children attended school. Host families often required such children to perform domestic or agricultural labor, or to sell water or shine shoes on the streets. Some children were subjected to forced begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not address discrimination based on race, color, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government took no steps to prevent discrimination in employment and occupation. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Discrimination in employment occurred. Although the law requires equal pay for equal work, women received lower pay for similar work, and there were legal restrictions on women’s employment in some occupations (see section 6). Few persons with disabilities had access to work in the formal sector, although some worked in small family businesses; many survived by begging on the streets.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set the Guaranteed Minimum Interprofessional Wage at a rate below the poverty level determined by the World Bank. The minimum wage covers all sectors, but was not applied in the large informal sector.

The law mandates that regular work should not exceed 10-hour days or 48-hour weeks, and it mandates a period of at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, usually on Sunday. Every salaried worker has the legal right to an annual paid vacation, accumulated at the rate of at least two days per month of work. There also are provisions in the law for overtime and night wages, which are a fixed percentage of the regular wage. The law stipulates a maximum of 100 hours of compulsory overtime a year.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor standards, and its inspectors are empowered to suspend work immediately in situations deemed hazardous to workers’ health. The law contains general provisions regarding occupational safety and health, but the government did not establish a set of appropriate workplace health and safety standards. Moreover, it did not issue any orders laying out the appropriate safety requirements for certain occupations or for certain methods of work as called for in the law. All workers, foreign and migrant included, have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions without penalty.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Inspection and enforcement efforts were insufficient to deter violations. According to the International Labor Organization, inspectors received inadequate training. The reported number of employed labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance with the law, although labor inspector vacancies went unfilled. Inspectors lacked computers and transportation to carry out their duties. Penalties for violation of the law were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Authorities rarely monitored work practices or enforced workweek standards or overtime rules. Teachers’ wages were extremely low. Salary arrears were not paid, and some teachers lived in poverty. The informal sector included 60 to 70 percent of all workers. The law applies to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common across sectors. There were, for example, artisanal (small-scale) gold mining communities in the northern section of the country where inspectors found occupational health and environmental hazards.

Despite legal protection against working in unsafe conditions, many workers feared retaliation and did not exercise their right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Data was not available on workplace fatalities and accidents, but accidents in unsafe working conditions were common, mostly in construction and artisanal mining. The government banned wildcat gold prospecting and other mining activities during the rainy season to prevent deaths from mudslides. The practices, however, continued near the border with Mali, resulting in recurring accidents.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future