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TUNISIA: Tier 2

The Government of Tunisia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Tunisia remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by prosecuting traffickers under the anti-trafficking law and training judicial and law enforcement officials on application of the law. It also designated deputy prosecutors and investigative judges responsible for overseeing human trafficking cases in 27 tribunals across the country and for leading anti-trafficking training programs for judicial officials. The government improved its efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims and refer them to government-run centers for vulnerable populations and to civil society organizations, including through the establishment of an anti-trafficking hotline. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in some key areas. The government did not finalize or institute standard operating procedures for victim identification across all relevant government agencies, nor did it formally adopt and utilize a national victim referral mechanism. Due to the lack of these procedures, some trafficking victims may have remained unidentified and therefore vulnerable to punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration and prostitution violations.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TUNISIA

Implement formal procedures to screen and proactively identify trafficking victims—particularly among vulnerable groups such as domestic workers, persons in prostitution, undocumented migrants, and street children—and train officials on their use; adopt and fully implement the national victim referral mechanism to ensure all trafficking victims are referred to appropriate protection services and train law enforcement and judicial authorities on appropriately referring victims to care; develop procedures to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, such as prostitution and immigration violations; use the anti-trafficking law to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers with stringent sentences and train judicial and law enforcement officials on the law; provide adequate protection services to all trafficking victims, including appropriate shelter and rehabilitative services tailored to trafficking victims; provide funding or in-kind support to NGOs that provide care to trafficking victims; and train staff at government-operated centers for vulnerable populations to provide trafficking victims with specialized care.

PROSECUTION

The government increased its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking during the reporting period. Tunisia’s anti-trafficking law, Organic Law 2016-61, enacted in July 2016, criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 Tunisian dinar (TND) ($20,340) for offenses involving adult victims and 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000-100,000 TND ($20,340-$40,680) for those involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. From April 2017 to January 2018, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) conducted 28 initial investigations of potential forced labor crimes and 57 potential crimes of sexual exploitation. Of these investigations, police arrested four individuals for allegedly forcing three women aged 18 to 19 into prostitution. Additionally, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Childhood (MWFC) identified 373 potential cases of child trafficking after receiving reported cases of child endangerment. As of March 2018, the MOI reported the opening of judicial investigations into 195 traffickers for forced prostitution, forced labor, and forced begging under the anti-trafficking law. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported it brought 21 perpetrators to trial under the anti-trafficking law. The government convicted one female perpetrator for forced begging under the anti-trafficking law and sentenced her to one month imprisonment; however, the case remained pending at the end of the reporting period, as she absconded from authorities before serving her sentence and remained at-large. In 2017, the government reported only data that it prosecuted and convicted under the anti-trafficking law, due to the government’s efforts to fully implement the law and train judicial and law enforcement officers. In comparison, in 2016, the government had not implemented the anti-trafficking law and reported prosecutions and convictions of crimes under other articles of the penal code, some of which were not trafficking crimes. Nevertheless, during the reporting period, officials reported difficulty prosecuting and convicting trafficking offenders due to lack of victim or witness testimony. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

During the reporting period, the MOJ designated a deputy prosecutor and investigative judge for each tribunal throughout the country, who were responsible for overseeing human trafficking cases and leading anti-trafficking training programs for judicial officials. In February 2018, the government, in partnership with an international organization, provided training for 24 judges who were chosen to be the trafficking experts and primary points of contact within these tribunals. In October 2017, the MOJ also created an office to monitor and maintain statistics on human trafficking cases brought before the judiciary; this office also had the authority to conduct research on the application of the anti-trafficking law and advise the minister of justice on policies related to the implementation of the law. Throughout the reporting period, the government conducted multiple training programs for security personnel and other government officials on the anti-trafficking law, victim identification techniques, and protection services. The government also continued international cooperation with INTERPOL offices in the region to improve informational exchanges about potential trafficking cases.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify and refer trafficking victims to care. The government lacked formal victim identification procedures, but it continued to work in cooperation with civil society groups to train key law enforcement, judicial, immigration, and social services personnel to identify victims among high-risk populations. In 2017, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) continued to cooperate with two NGOs through signed agreements to assist those at risk of abuse and exploitation, including trafficking victims. Between April 2017 and January 2018, the MOI reported it identified 285 trafficking victims, including victims of sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging, as well as child victims of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and exploitation in organized crime. This demonstrated an increase in identified victims compared to the previous reporting period when the MOI identified 134 victims. Additionally, child protection specialists from MWFC identified 373 potential trafficking victims among the more than 12,000 child welfare cases they received in 2017; these cases included potential child victims of sexual exploitation, exploitation in organized crimes, and forced labor. The Ministry of Health (MOH) also identified 29 potential trafficking victims of sexual and economic exploitation and forced begging, including three foreign nationals and nine children, among patients that received services from the MOH. According to an international organization in early 2018, since the implementation of the anti-trafficking law, victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes were reportedly more willing to come forward to the authorities and seek assistance.

The government referred all 285 identified victims to protection services provided by both government entities and civil society organizations. Specifically, the MSA provided assistance and accommodation, including lodging and medical and psychological assistance, to 52 foreign and Tunisian victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation. The MOI facilitated the provision of medical services for 10 of the victims it identified, while it also provided social assistance and accommodation to seven foreign victims and 25 Tunisian child victims. The MSA continued to operate centers for vulnerable populations, including victims of trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied minors, and the homeless. Through these shelters, the government provided vulnerable groups, including trafficking victims, with lodging, food, clothing, full and free medical care, psychological services, and legal aid through a network of pro bono lawyers. Three of these centers in Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax had designated areas available for victims of all forms of trafficking. The center in Tunis held a dedicated office for male and female trafficking victims with a trained social worker and offered medical and psychological exams. This center also allowed foreign embassies access to their nationals to provide assistance, including provision of legal documents and repatriation services. In October and November 2017, the MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—provided training for shelter staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. The MSA also organized a workshop for 40 participants, including the staff from both the Sousse and Sfax shelters and civil society representatives, to build partnerships for victim assistance. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis had a unit dedicated to caring for victims of violence and sexual violence, including victims of sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise. Since 2015, personnel in this unit continued to receive trafficking victim identification training and the unit assisted some trafficking victims in 2017. Despite the government’s efforts to identify, refer, and provide protection services to victims, during the reporting period, the government did not formally adopt a mechanism for the referral of trafficking victims to government-operated social centers or NGO-run shelters; however, in early 2017 the MOI adopted its own internal procedures to identify and refer victims by cooperating with civil society organizations and other government ministries. Due to a lack of systematic victim identification and referral procedures and policies, some unidentified victims may have been punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as women in prostitution or illegal immigrants.

The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; in 2017, the government granted one victim a temporary residency permit as an alternative to returning home. Trafficking victims could seek legal employment while under temporary residency status. During the reporting period, the government assisted 10 foreign trafficking victims (who were referred by an international organization) to obtain an exemption from paying overstay fees in order to leave the country. During the reporting period, the government reportedly offered all foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation and, for those who chose to return home, repatriation services. Under the anti-trafficking law, victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers, and the government provided psychological and physical protection services to victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes.

PREVENTION

The government maintained robust efforts to prevent trafficking and launched several new initiatives. The MOJ-led and -funded national anti-trafficking commission, which included representatives from 12 ministries and experts from civil society, met several times during the reporting period. In January 2018, the minister of justice inaugurated the permanent headquarters of the national commission and announced his strong support for its work. During the reporting period, the government implemented its 2015-2017 national anti-trafficking action plan by developing several manuals and training guides for judges and security personnel, and it also continued to develop its 2018-2023 national strategy to combat trafficking. In January 2018, the government began operating a hotline to report potential trafficking cases, which was operational five days a week during regular business hours and operators spoke Arabic, French, and English. During its first week of operation, the hotline received 34 calls reporting potential cases of trafficking. Throughout the reporting period, the government conducted numerous anti-trafficking public awareness and information campaigns, at times in partnership with civil society organizations, and it also conducted awareness raising trainings for child welfare workers, social workers, psychologists, and civil society representatives. Additionally, during the reporting period, the MOI placed announcements on social media sites and newspapers to inform the public about fraudulent work contracts and forced labor.

The government reported efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The labor inspectorate at the MSA designated 25 labor inspectors and 24 social workers trained as specialized points of contact for child trafficking victims. To address fraudulent labor recruitment practices, the Agency for Placement Abroad in Private Establishments (EPPA), a governmental agency, filed complaints with the MOI against 17 private employers for cases of fraud, extortion, or unauthorized abuses of Tunisians employed abroad; it also took action against 30 private employers who recruited workers without proper registration with the EPPA. This demonstrated a slight increase from actions the government took against fraudulent recruitment practices in the previous reporting period. In July 2017, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO and the largest Tunisian labor and employers’ unions to promote decent work in Tunisia for 2017-2022. In September 2017, the MSA collaborated with the National Institute of Statistics, a governmental agency, to conduct a national study on child labor in Tunisia. The government maintained bilateral labor migration agreements with France and Switzerland, which contained provisions to prevent unfair labor recruitment practices and labor trafficking. During the reporting period, the government finalized a national strategy for migration, which addresses the rights of foreign migrants and Tunisian migrants abroad, and includes provisions to prevent forced labor. The government took some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; it continued efforts over the last few years to cooperate with civil society organizations to reintegrate into the formal economy women who were formerly in prostitution in brothels.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Tunisia is a source, destination, and possible transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. In 2017, the government observed an increase in child victims of sexual violence and exploitation, some of whom are victims of trafficking. According to a baseline study published in 2013, conducted by the Tunisian government and an international organization, Tunisian youth are subjected to various forms of trafficking. According to the study and as reported by other experts since 2016, some Tunisian girls work as domestic servants for wealthy families in Tunis and major coastal cities; they are highly vulnerable to trafficking, experiencing restrictions on movement, physical and psychological violence, and sexual abuse. International organizations report a continued presence of street children selling goods on street corners and rural children working in agriculture to support their families in Tunisia; these children are vulnerable to forced labor or sex trafficking. Tunisian security officials report that organized gangs force street children to serve as thieves and beggars and transport drugs. According to experts, in 2017 Tunisian children—many of whom have dropped out of school and are between the ages of 11 and 12 years old—are observed working in small workshops, auto mechanic garages, and domestic work; some of these children may be vulnerable to trafficking. Tunisian women have reportedly been forced into prostitution under false promises of work both within the country and elsewhere in the region, such as Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

Foreign migrants are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labor in Tunisia. According to an NGO in 2017, foreign trafficking victims typically arrive in Tunisia on a valid tourist or student visa and remain in an exploitative situation for an average of five to 13 months, surpassing the validity of their visa. Civil society and international organizations continue to report an increase in women, primarily from West Africa and increasingly from Cote d’Ivoire, who are exploited in domestic servitude in private homes in Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, and Gabes. An NGO reported in 2017 that recruiters in Cote d’Ivoire target both well-educated and non-skilled individuals in the country with false and fraudulent promises of work in Tunisia. Well-educated Ivoirians, who pay a recruiter to assist them to find work in Tunisia, are promised jobs that do not exist upon arrival in Tunisia, held in debt bondage, and forced into domestic servitude in Tunisian households. Recruiters also target unskilled and uneducated individuals primarily from San Pedro, Cote d’Ivoire, to work in domestic work or agriculture in Tunisia; these individuals are then required to repay the transportation costs and recruitment fees upon arrival and thereby held in debt bondage by their employers. NGOs and international organizations observed in 2017 a slight increase in boys from Sub-Saharan and West Africa, including boys from Cote d’Ivoire, who are vulnerable to trafficking after accepting fraudulent offers of soccer careers in Tunisia. Migrants fleeing unrest in neighboring countries continue to be vulnerable to trafficking in Tunisia.

U.S. Department of State

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