2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Equatorial Guinea
EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Tier 3
The Government of Equatorial Guinea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore Equatorial Guinea remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took positive steps to address trafficking, including increased acknowledgment of the issue, which led to its adopting a national action plan incorporating a whole of government approach; investigating at least one potential trafficking case; and increasing public awareness programming. However, the government did not prosecute any suspects and has never convicted a trafficker under its 2004 anti-trafficking law. The government did not proactively identify any trafficking victims and did not develop standard operating procedures to identify or refer trafficking victims to care. Officials did not provide any trafficking training to law enforcement personnel during the reporting period.
Develop, disseminate, and implement formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to care, especially among child laborers, undocumented immigrants, and women in prostitution. • Train social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officials on trafficking indicators. • Use the 2004 anti-trafficking law to prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials. • Dedicate resources and empower officials to implement the 2019-2021 national action plan to combat trafficking in persons. • Ensure consistent application of existing procedures for screening foreigners and notifying embassies before deportation to ensure trafficking victims are provided appropriate care and safe, voluntary repatriation. • Further enfranchise and support NGOs operating shelters for trafficking victims, including male victims. • Regularly convene the inter-ministerial anti-trafficking commission and create technical working groups to increase coordination between government ministries, law enforcement, presidents of communities, and NGOs. • Amend the 2004 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases. • Expand the anti-trafficking public awareness outreach campaigns on the mainland as well as on Bioko Island to educate more individuals on trafficking indicators and how they can report potential victims to government officials. • Further research the extent and nature of human trafficking within the country according to the national action plan.
The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Law on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 50 million CFA francs ($82,800) if the offense involved an adult victim; an additional five years would be added to the principal penalty for offenses involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption.
The government investigated at least one potential trafficking case involving one suspect during the reporting period, compared with investigating two cases of suspected child trafficking in the previous reporting period. In February 2019, police arrested a suspected trafficker after a victim reported the case to an embassy in Malabo. Reports indicated the government subsequently deported the suspect for an unrelated crime due to a lack of conclusive evidence of trafficking. As in the previous year, authorities did not report any prosecutions and the government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2004 law. Officials may have prosecuted traffickers under other laws during the reporting period. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not conduct anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement officials in 2018, although it worked with an international organization at the end of the reporting period to organize trainings for government officials per its national action plan.
The government maintained limited efforts to protect victims and did not take steps to identify victims proactively within the country. Authorities provided shelter and medical care to one potential victim who self-identified to a foreign embassy in Malabo. Officials coordinated with the individual’s embassy through the repatriation process and funded their return travel home. The government provided $50,000 to an NGO providing services to female victims of violence, including likely trafficking victims. The government did not have formal procedures to identify or refer trafficking victims to care. The government had no formal policies to provide foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face retribution or hardship. High-level government officials’ expressions of interest in combatting trafficking in persons during the reporting period translated to limited tangible improvement in working level officials’ capacity to identify proactively victims of trafficking.
Police and border officials solicited bribes from detainees—the majority of whom were young foreign men, although children and women were also detained—and deported those who did not pay. In 2018, there were no verified reports authorities penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal victim identification procedures and reports of officials requiring bribes from detainees, some unidentified trafficking victims may have been penalized.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, the government convened its anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee multiple times and coordinated with international organizations, foreign governments, and civil society to draft and approve a 2019-2021 national action plan to improve its ability to prosecute traffickers, proactively identify victims, and raise awareness in the capital and on the mainland; however, the government did not report allocating a budget to implement the action plan during the reporting period. The government convened its inter-ministerial committee once in the previous reporting period.
In 2018, officials launched an awareness raising campaign using multiple media platforms including radio, television, and social media to increase the population’s understanding of trafficking in persons; the government funded and provided official space for at least two week-long seminars on the mainland and in the capital to raise the public’s awareness about trafficking in persons. Prostitution was legal in the country and, in an attempt to decrease exploitation of vulnerable individuals and demand for commercial sex acts by increasing the cost of purchasing sex, the government continued implementing regulations requiring all commercial sex establishments to register and provide contracts to their workers.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security continued to implement regulations for all companies to sign formal labor contracts with their employees, and created and advertised an anonymous reporting portal for labor violations, including forced and child labor. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security continued to partner with the non-governmental General Director of the National Financial Research Organization to inspect businesses and ensure firms complied with labor laws, fining multiple Chinese companies in 2018; some of these fines may have been in response to trafficking violations. In February 2019, the government issued a public decree prohibiting children from working as street vendors, resulting in increased public awareness of forced child labor. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) instructed diplomats posted abroad to review visa applications for signs of trafficking, resulting in MFA officials denying multiple applications from Cameroonians and Nigerians based on potential trafficking indicators. The government did not report taking any further action on these visa denials. During the reporting period, the government funded $1.3 million for UN programming to advance human rights within Equatorial Guinea; some of these programs addressed human trafficking.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Equatorial Guinea. The majority of trafficking victims are exploited in the cities of Malabo, Bata, and Mongomo, where relative wealth and security make the country an attractive destination for Central and West African migrant workers. Equatoguinean traffickers exploit local and foreign women in the commercial sex trade in these cities. Lower oil prices and oil production in recent years caused a contraction of the country’s economy, leading to a decreased government budget for social welfare programming, and shrinking formal economic activity. Experts noted the sustained economic downturn resulted in Equatoguineans in urban centers replacing some foreign domestic servants with children from rural areas in Equatorial Guinea, who they then subject to forced labor. LGBTI youth are often left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Equatoguinean business owners reportedly subject children from nearby countries—primarily Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and Gabon—to forced labor as domestic workers, market laborers, vendors, and launderers. Traffickers recruit individuals from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and other African countries, as well as from Latin America and the Caribbean for work in Equatorial Guinea, and sometimes subject them to forced labor or forced prostitution. Foreign firms recruit Chinese nationals to migrate to Equatorial Guinea for work or to engage in prostitution, and subject some of them to passport confiscation, increasing their vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking. Companies in the construction sector, among others, also held the passports of foreign workers, increasing their vulnerability to forced labor. Experts reported corrupt and complicit officials—including senior members of the government—participated in trafficking-related crimes during the reporting period.