As reported over the past five years, Burundi is a source country for children and possibly women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Due to a complex political, economic, and security crisis in 2015, more than 400,000 Burundians fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries and many others sought refuge at internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or moved to the homes of extended family members. Burundi’s fragile economic and security environment created an opportunity for criminals, including traffickers, to take advantage of Burundians in precarious or desperate situations. There is little official data available on abuses committed against Burundi’s approximately 60,000 IDPs, 60 percent of whom are younger than age 18 and are highly vulnerable to exploitation.
Between April and December 2015, approximately 70,000 Burundians refugees fled to Rwanda, which contributed to an increase in child sex trafficking of both male and female refugees in Rwanda. Burundian refugee girls residing in Rwanda’s Kigeme refugee camp were reportedly exploited in sex trafficking in nearby towns. In July 2015, approximately 58 children, some younger than 15 years old, were fraudulently recruited and forced to participate in an anti-government armed invasion in Kayanza Province, which was ultimately put down by the Burundian government; it was unclear if these children were armed. Between May and December 2015, an international organization reported allegations that Burundian refugees residing in Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda were recruited into non-state armed groups, allegedly by Rwandan security forces, to support the Burundian opposition; many refugees alleged recruiters threatened, intimidated, harassed, and physically assaulted those who refused recruitment—a form of human trafficking. Most of these recruits were adult males, but six Burundian refugee children, between the ages of 15 and 17, were also identified as recruits from Mahama refugee camp. The same international organization also reported that hundreds of Burundian adult and child recruits, including girls, were allegedly trained in weaponry at a training camp in southwestern Rwanda. Some of these adult and child refugees could be victims of human trafficking. In December 2014, an armed group of primarily Burundian rebels invaded the northwestern province of Cibitoke; the estimated 150 rebels reportedly included child soldiers as young as 15 years old, some of whom were trained in Rwanda. In 2016, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) apprehended 16 Burundian children transiting through the east allegedly after recruitment from refugee camps in Rwanda or the DRC to participate in armed conflict in Burundi with an unknown entity.
Children and young adults are coerced into forced labor on farms throughout Burundi, in gold mines in Cibitoke, in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities, collecting river stones for construction in Bujumbura, and in the fishing industry. Traffickers allegedly include victims’ relatives, neighbors, and friends, who recruit them under false pretenses to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking. Some families are reportedly complicit in the exploitation of children and adults with disabilities, accepting payment from traffickers who run forced street begging operations. Children are subjected to domestic servitude in private homes, experiencing non-payment of wages and verbal and physical abuse. Children in domestic servitude or working in guest houses and entertainment establishments may also be sexually exploited. Children are fraudulently recruited from rural areas for domestic work and later exploited in sex trafficking, including in Bujumbura. Women offer vulnerable girls room and board within their homes, eventually pushing some into prostitution to pay for living expenses. These brothels are located in poorer areas of Bujumbura, along the lake, on trucking routes, and in other urban centers such as Ngozi, Gitega, and Rumonge. Some orphaned girls are exploited in sex trafficking, with boys acting as their facilitators, to pay for school, food, and shelter. Incarcerated women facilitate commercial sex between male prisoners and detained children within the Burundian prison system. Men from East Africa and the Middle East, as well as Burundian government employees including teachers, police officers and gendarmes, military, and prison officials, are among the clients of Burundian girls in child sex trafficking. Business people recruit Burundian girls for exploitation in sex trafficking in Bujumbura, as well as in Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and the Middle East; they also recruit boys and girls for various types of forced labor in southern Burundi and Tanzania. In 2015, Rwandan officials and international and local NGOs reported that Burundian refugee girls were exploited in sex trafficking in Uganda after transiting Rwanda; some of these girls may also be subjected to forced labor in domestic work in Uganda.