The government maintained inadequate anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The country’s laws criminalized some forms of sex and labor trafficking. Article 60 of the 2010 Child Protection Code criminalized child trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor, for which article 115 prescribed penalties of hard labor for an undefined period of time and a fine between 1 million to 10 million Central African CFA francs (CFA) ($1,760 to $17,610). Article 68 of the Child Protection Code also criminalized forced child labor and debt bondage, for which article 122 prescribed penalties between three months and one-year imprisonment or fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA ($88 to $880). Article 4 of the country’s labor code prohibited forced or compulsory labor, but there were no penalties defined in the law. None of these penalties were sufficiently stringent, and the penalties prescribed for sex trafficking were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 131 of the penal code criminalized forced prostitution and carried penalties between two and five years imprisonment and fines between 1 million and 10 million CFA ($1,760 to $17,610). The penalties for forced prostitution were sufficiently stringent, but with regard to sex trafficking, were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Congolese law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking of adults, including bonded labor or the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. Draft anti-trafficking legislation, completed in partnership with an international organization in 2014, remained pending for the fifth consecutive year.
The government initiated the investigation of at least three traffickers in 2017, a decrease compared to investigating five traffickers the prior year. An NGO reported conducting investigations into 21 potential cases during the reporting year and, of these, working with victims to reach out-of-court settlements in 18 cases and turning over the remaining three to local authorities for further investigation. The government reported prosecuting and convicting one trafficker in 2017, a decrease from five prosecutions but an increase from zero convictions in 2016. The Criminal Court in Pointe-Noire convicted and sentenced one Beninese trafficker under the Child Protection Code, in absentia, to 30 years imprisonment—the government’s first conviction of a trafficker. The Beninese trafficker was found guilty of falsifying documents to facilitate taking children from Benin to the Republic of the Congo for domestic servitude; however, at the time of the trial, the trafficker had already fled the country while on bail and will consequently avoid punishment. The government did not coordinate with the Government of Benin on the extradition of the convicted trafficker or in investigations of any additional cases, despite most of the trafficking victims originating in Benin; both governments were partners in a 2011 bilateral agreement, which has never been utilized. Additionally, an NGO continued to allege that a powerful trafficking network fraudulently recruited young children from destitute communities in Benin with the promise of economic opportunities and education in the Republic of the Congo only to face domestic servitude and forced labor in market vending upon arrival. Many cases continued to languish, some without progress for up to seven years, partly because of a significant backlog in the high court.
The government reported one investigation of a government official allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, it did not report efforts to prosecute or convict allegedly complicit officials despite ongoing and significant concerns of corruption and complicity during the year. The government reported investigating an official at the Ministry of Social Affairs, responsible for anti-trafficking matters, who was allegedly complicit in child trafficking for the purpose of domestic servitude. In addition, an NGO reported alleged official complicity of a non-Congolese foreign government official with diplomatic immunity, who was purportedly involved in facilitating the flight of a trafficker by bribing a Congolese official and falsifying documents to facilitate child trafficking. However, the government did not investigate this allegation. The government reportedly continued to include anti-trafficking training in the standard academy training for new police and immigration officers; however, there was some concern over the quality of the content and whether instructors always covered the entire curriculum. The government did not provide any other anti-trafficking training for law enforcement during the reporting period due to a lack of funding. Limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors continued to hinder anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Human trafficking activists reportedly continued to face harassment and threats, including from officials, which inhibited their work and progress in providing justice and assistance for trafficking victims.