CONGO, REPUBLIC OF THE: Tier 3

The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore the Republic of the Congo remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government investigated at least three suspected traffickers, prosecuted one suspected trafficker, and convicted one trafficker in absentia. However, the government did not fund or take any steps to implement the 2014-2017 national action plan, did not provide funding to the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire, and did not provide care to any victims or provide any support to NGOs that did. Cases remained pending prosecution for up to seven years and harassment by government officials, reportedly including police, of anti-trafficking activists continued during the reporting period. The lack of an inter-ministerial coordinating body and incomplete understanding of anti-trafficking laws among government officials continued to hinder countrywide efforts.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Significantly increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers, including allegedly complicit officials; drastically improve the provision of protective services to trafficking victims that provides appropriate care to victims nationwide and develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among child laborers, illegal immigrants, women and girls in prostitution, and indigenous persons; enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape; while respecting due process, expedite hearings to address the trafficking case backlog or consider prosecuting trafficking cases in the low court in the interim; fund the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee, the national action plan, and protective services such as the foster care system; extend anti-trafficking efforts beyond Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville; significantly increase anti-trafficking training for all law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges; provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families and with anti-trafficking activists and partners; establish a national inter-ministerial body that includes all relevant ministries to increase coordination of countrywide anti-trafficking efforts; bolster anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and accede to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

PROSECUTION

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.

PROTECTION

The government decreased protection efforts. The government continued to focus the majority of its efforts on West African children in forced labor in Pointe-Noire and did not report efforts to identify or assist Congolese victims or foreign victims exploited in other cities or other forms of trafficking during the reporting period. The government did not employ systematic procedures to identify victims among vulnerable groups or refer victims for assistance, relying instead on NGOs and international organizations to identify victims. During the reporting period, the government did not identify any trafficking victims. An NGO identified 15 victims, compared to the 16 it identified in the previous reporting period. Of these 15 identified victims, there were 11 children and four adults, eight females and seven males, at least eight were Beninese and two were Congolese, and all were victims of forced labor with one victim also exploited in sex trafficking. Once identified by the NGO, law enforcement would generally assist in removing the victim from the exploitative situation, dependent on funding for the operation from the NGO.

The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire, which aids in assigning identified West African child trafficking victims to foster homes and conducts family tracing, referred no children to foster families; however, a local NGO referred an unknown number of child victims to such homes. The government did not provide an operating budget for the Coordinating Committee, and has not since 2014. The government did not provide care to any victims, but relied on partnerships with NGOs and foster families to enable victims in Pointe-Noire to receive access to care; however, it did not fund these entities or any victim assistance programs during the reporting period. Five foster care families were available in Pointe-Noire, but only one reported receiving victims during the reporting period due to a lack of government funding. The government did not facilitate NGO partnerships to provide protective services elsewhere in the country. The government did not facilitate or fund the repatriation of any trafficking victims, a decrease from 13 repatriations it facilitated in 2016.

There were no reports of victims jailed or prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of their having been subjected to trafficking; however, inadequate identification efforts may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. While most victims choose to settle cases outside of court, officials encouraged victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, but did not expect child victims to testify in court. Congolese law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries where they would face retribution or hardship; while the government reported it did not deport foreign victims, it did not report issuing temporary or permanent residency status to victims on an ad hoc basis during the reporting period.

PREVENTION

The government made negligible efforts to prevent trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire, which solely focuses on West African child trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire, did not meet to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts during the reporting period, but did hold a few internal meetings on how to revitalize the committee. The government did not establish an inter-ministerial coordinating body to guide national anti-trafficking efforts. The government did not conduct any awareness-raising campaigns during the reporting period. The government did not fund the implementation of the 2014-2017 action plan or the efforts of the Coordinating Committee. The government did not operate a hotline within the country that trafficking victims could use. The government did not have effective laws or policies regulating labor recruiters nor did they prosecute any for fraudulent recruitment. The government did not take discernible measures to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, or child sex tourism. The government has signed but has not acceded to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. With support from a foreign donor, the government provided its troops with anti-trafficking training, prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions; however, amidst several complaints, Congolese peacekeepers were relieved of duty in 2017.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, the Republic of the Congo is a source and destination country for children, men, and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. According to a study released by an international organization in 2013, most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin and the DRC, and to a lesser extent from other neighboring countries. Most foreign victims are subjected to forced labor in domestic servitude and market vending. Women and girls from Benin, ages 7 to 19, constituted the majority of identified trafficking victims in the previous reporting period, all of which endured forced labor. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with most between the ages of 9 and 11. Girls and women from both the Republic of the Congo and the DRC are subjected to sex trafficking, with clients from among Chinese and Malaysian construction workers building a highway near the cities of Nkayi and Pointe-Noire.

Internal trafficking involves recruitment from rural areas for exploitation in cities. The indigenous population is especially vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture. NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority population, called Bantus, often forced adult indigenous people to harvest manioc and other crops without pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Most children subjected to trafficking within the country migrate from rural to urban areas to serve as domestic workers for relatives or family friends. Some child trafficking victims are also subjected to forced labor in bakeries, and the fishing and agricultural sectors, including in cocoa fields in Sangha department, sugar cane fields in the Bouenza department, and, among indigenous populations, harvesting manioc in the Lekoumou department.

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