As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Burundi, and traffickers exploit victims from Burundi abroad. As the result of a complex political, economic, and security crisis that began in 2015, by May 2019 more than 346,000 Burundians remained in neighboring countries as refugees while 130,000 Burundians were internally displaced, though as refugees returned, these figures decreased. Returned refugees frequently lacked access to basic services or land and remained a highly vulnerable population. 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. In July 2015, traffickers fraudulently recruited approximately 58 children, some younger than 15 years old, and forced them 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 whom may have been trafficking victims. 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. In 2018, an international organization reported separating four Burundian children from armed groups in the DRC.
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 economic necessity and coercion pushed children and young adults into labor, including forced labor on plantations or small farms throughout Burundi, in gold mines in several provinces around the country, in informal commerce in the streets of larger cities, 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. Traffickers exploit children in domestic servitude and child sex trafficking via prostitution in private homes, guesthouses, and entertainment establishments; they frequently experience non-payment of wages and verbal and physical abuse. Traffickers fraudulently recruit children from rural areas for domestic work or an education and later exploit them in forced labor and child sex trafficking via prostitution. Traffickers recruit Burundian adults and children for agricultural work, particularly in Tanzania, and subject them to forced labor. Young women take vulnerable girls into their homes, eventually pushing some into prostitution to pay for living expenses. Traffickers exploit orphaned girls, often using underage males as facilitators. There were unsubstantiated allegations that male tourists from East Africa and the Middle East, as well as Burundian government employees, including teachers, police officers, military, and prison officials are complicit in child sex trafficking by procuring underage Burundian girls. NGOs reported that fishermen exploit some boys in the Lake Tanganyika fisheries in forced labor and some girls and young women in domestic servitude and sex trafficking.
International organizations reported that young Muslim women from Burundi were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking in Gulf countries. Traffickers fraudulently recruit some young adult Burundian women for fake jobs but instead subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in various Gulf countries, such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar; 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 more than 800 young women remain in these countries. In 2015, Rwandan officials and international and local NGOs reported that traffickers exploited Burundian refugee girls in child sex trafficking via prostitution in Uganda after transiting Rwanda; some of these girls may also have been subjected to forced labor in domestic work in Uganda. In 2017, Burundian and Kenyan recruitment agencies fraudulently recruited several adult Burundian women, who were identified in Kuwait, for work as domestic workers and receptionists; however, upon arrival traffickers subjected them 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.