As reported over the past five years, Burundi is a source country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. As the result of a complex political, economic, and security crisis that began in 2015, more than 420,000 Burundians sought refuge in neighboring countries and many others sought refuge at internally displaced persons camps or moved to the homes of extended family members. Burundi’s challenging security environment and endemic poverty created an opportunity for criminals, including traffickers, to take advantage of Burundians in precarious or desperate situations. Between April and December 2015, approximately 70,000 Burundian refugees fled to Rwanda, which contributed to an increase in child sex trafficking of both male and female refugees in Rwanda. 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 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 had 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 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.
The government encouraged citizens to participate in community work each Saturday morning and the governors of various provinces sporadically fined residents who failed to participate. Both coercion and economic necessity pushed children and young adults into labor, including forced labor on plantations or small 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 include victims’ relatives, neighbors, and friends, who recruit them under false pretenses to exploit them in forced labor and sex trafficking. Some families are 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 guesthouses and entertainment establishments may also be exploited in prostitution. Children are fraudulently recruited from rural areas for domestic work and later exploited in prostitution, including in Bujumbura. International organizations reported that young Muslim women from Burundi were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking in various Gulf countries. Young adult Burundian women are fraudulently recruited for fake jobs and are instead subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in various Gulf countries, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman; NGOs estimate that between 500 and 3,000 young women have become trafficking victims in these countries between 2015 and 2016 and one NGO reported over 800 young women remain in these countries. In 2017, several adult Burundian women were identified in Kuwait, where they had been fraudulently recruited by Burundian recruitment agencies and Kenyan recruiters for work as domestic workers and receptionists; however, upon arrival they were subjected to forced labor and had their passports confiscated, were paid less than what was agreed, had restricted movement, and were made to work excessive hours without breaks.
Young women take vulnerable girls into 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 prostitution, with boys acting as their facilitators, to pay for school, food, and shelter. NGOs reported that some boys in the Lake Tanganyika fisheries are subjected to forced labor and that some girls and young women are exploited in domestic servitude and sex trafficking by fishermen. Incarcerated women facilitate commercial sex between male prisoners and detained children within the Burundian prison system. Male tourists 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. Businesspeople recruit Burundian girls for exploitation in prostitution 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 prostitution in Uganda after transiting Rwanda; some of these girls may also have been subjected to forced labor in domestic work in Uganda.