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GUINEA-BISSAU: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Guinea-Bissau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by initiating its first trafficking prosecution; identifying more victims and referring them to care; increasing public awareness campaigns; finalizing and implementing a new code of conduct for the tourism industry in Bijagos, Sao Domingos, Cacheu, and Bissau; and increasing communication between government and NGOs on the problem of forced begging among talibés. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government has never convicted a trafficker, including corrupt Quranic teachers that subject their pupils to trafficking, and the lack of resources provided to the Judicial Police prevented it from investigating cases outside of Bissau, including rampant reports of child sex tourism in the Bijagos. Victim services remained limited and the government did not prosecute a potential case of complicity. The inter-ministerial committee did not have a dedicated budget to implement the national action plan. Therefore Guinea-Bissau remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Increase efforts to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including corrupt Quranic teachers who subject boys to forced begging and hotel staff that facilitate child sex tourism in the Bijagos, and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms. • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, including corrupt Quranic teachers who subject boys to forced begging and hotel staff that facilitate child sex tourism in the Bijagos. • Hold government officials accountable for trafficking-related complicity, including the failure to investigate alleged trafficking offenses and efforts to interfere with ongoing investigations. • Provide resources to the Judicial Police at a level that better enables criminal investigations and expands its area of operation, such as in the Bijagos and Catió. • Develop and train law enforcement on formal written procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to services. • Increase training for officials on the 2011 anti-trafficking law and procedures to refer trafficking cases to the Judicial Police. • Increase support for NGOs to ensure all identified victims—especially child victims of forced begging—receive services and foreign victims are safely repatriated, minimizing the potential for re-trafficking. • Draft, approve, and finalize a national action plan to guide the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. • Increase efforts to coordinate repatriations of trafficking victims with the Government of Senegal. • Develop an effective national anti-trafficking program through regular meetings of the anti-trafficking committee and allocation of funding for its activities. • Significantly increase efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking, especially forced begging and child sex trafficking. • In collaboration with NGOs, allocate adequate space and facilities for a victim shelter in Bissau. • Develop a national referral mechanism for victims.

The government modestly increased law enforcement efforts. Public Law 12/2011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 15 years’ imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In February 2019, the government drafted amendments to the Code of Child Protection in an effort to harmonize it with international laws on human trafficking, but the legislature had not yet adopted the amendments by the end of the reporting period.

The government investigated 23 potential trafficking cases. Of these, it investigated three cases of forced child begging, with two of these cases referred to the Public Ministry for prosecution; prosecutions were not yet formally initiated at the end of the reporting period. Of the 23 potential cases, it investigated 20 potential child trafficking cases from 2017 as domestic violence with child labor as an aggravated circumstance. The Public Ministry reported one prosecution (forced child begging) for human trafficking during the reporting period, its first under the anti-trafficking law. The government has never convicted a trafficker under the anti-trafficking law. This compared to investigating 22 cases of child trafficking in 2017, although none of these led to prosecution or convictions, and zero investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in 2016. During the reporting period, the government confirmed that there was one case of complicity involving members of parliament and a minor held captive by a local government authority. After the case was reported to the police and the Institute for Woman and Children (IMC), the Public Ministry archived the case and released the perpetrators from police custody with no charges. Guinea-Bissau’s judicial system lacked sufficient human and physical capital to function effectively, and corruption remained pervasive.

The Judicial Police had a specialized unit that investigated trafficking cases; however, it did not have nationwide coverage or a dedicated budget for investigations. The police, National Guard, judiciary, and prosecutors all suffered from a chronic lack of funding which hindered their efforts to combat human trafficking. However, the government acquired three new vehicles for the Judicial Police, which could be used for trafficking investigations during the reporting period. The Judicial Police were largely absent outside the capital. Although initially reported in 2017, there was no progress made in opening a second Judicial Police office in the Bijagos; but the Police did plan to open an additional office in Catió, in southern Guinea-Bissau. The National Guard and local police in rural areas had neither the training nor the capacity to investigate trafficking crimes and did not always refer such cases to the Judicial Police, which impeded investigations into forced child begging in eastern regions and child sex trafficking in the Bijagos. In addition, police and judges often resolved intra-familial labor and abuse cases—which could include forced child labor and child sex trafficking by family members—through non-judicial means or tried them as domestic violence cases. When parents broke such agreements and police transferred the cases to court, officials noted community leaders often pressured courts to drop the cases. Nine judicial police officers received training on trafficking; the government provided technical assistance and trainers for these sessions. However, some law enforcement and judicial officials remained unaware of the 2011 anti-trafficking law. In March 2019, an international organization provided an expert on human trafficking to Guinea-Bissau, who conducted training on anti-trafficking laws and procedures for police and government officials; the government provided the facilities for the training. Another international organization provided training to police, judges, and other civil society actors; the government provided trainers for the sessions from the IMC and magistrates from the Public Ministry.

The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 172 total victims in 2018, including 171 forced child begging victims, and one victim of sexual exploitation, and referred all victims to care. It also identified seven forced marriage victims, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, as well. This compares to 22 trafficking victims and 53 potential victims in 2017, and zero trafficking victims in 2016. The government, with the help of NGOs, identified and assisted 171 victims in 2018. The government did not have formal procedures to identify trafficking victims or refer them to care. However, in partnership with an international organization, the government began to draft written victim identification procedures. Because of the country’s high rate of illiteracy, including among its security services, written victim identification procedures will need to be augmented with extensive hands-on training. In addition, the government began to develop a national referral mechanism with funding from a foreign donor and the assistance of local facilitators. During the reporting period, IMC and their NGO partners validated a national policy document for children intended to protect children across all ages, but the government had not yet adopted it. The IMC was an office within the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Cohesion responsible for victim services and coordination of services among various entities; however, it had no operating budget nor vehicles for victim services. The government did not have a specific fund for victim services and relied on international organizations and local NGOs to provide nearly all victim services; these NGOs relied on international donors for funding. However, the government contributed 5 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($8,790) annually to an NGO that cared for forced child begging victims during the reporting period. The NGO’s three care facilities were severely overcrowded and underfunded; one was unable to receive victims due to lack of funding and some shelter volunteers used their own homes to house victims temporarily. Shelter was only available for child victims, and there were no trafficking-specific services. The quality of victim care at these facilities was generally poor due to lack of funding. The government did not have formal procedures to encourage victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions against their traffickers. Victims could not obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against their traffickers. There were no legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face hardship or retribution. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; due to the absence of written procedures or training to identify trafficking victims, it was possible some remained unidentified in the law enforcement system. Observers noted that more coordination was needed between the governments of Guinea-Bissau and Senegal regarding repatriating child forced begging victims.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The inter-ministerial committee—led by the IMC and including government agencies, NGOs, and religious groups—met three times during the reporting period but lacked funding for anti-trafficking activities, which weakened its response to trafficking and development of an effective national anti-trafficking program. The government did not demonstrate political will to address trafficking at the highest levels of government. Coordination and communication between the government and civil society actors on anti-trafficking efforts was lacking such that there was duplication of efforts by NGOs and the National Guard in some areas. Observers noted an increase in communication between the government and NGOs on responding to the problem of forced begging among talibés. The government had a 2015-2018 national action plan to address trafficking but did not have resources to implement it during the reporting period. Individual ministries worked with NGOs and civil society groups to raise awareness of trafficking among local administrators, courts, police, and the public. The IMC conducted awareness-raising activities for children, two regional conferences in Bafata and Gabu and a national conference in Bissau. Law enforcement collaborated with local media in some regions to promote the prevention and reporting of child trafficking. However, the government did not conduct a national public awareness campaign due to lack of funding and engagement from high-level political officials. In May 2018, President Jose Mario Vaz asked the international community to help Guinea-Bissau fight human trafficking. In November 2018, the government participated alongside political parties, civil society, and international partners in a national dialogue on transnational organized crime, which included human trafficking.

Through the technical assistance and funding of an international organization, the government provided trainers and participated in three training sessions on child referral and monitoring mechanisms that involved 50 participants from government and civil society. An international organization also conducted two trainings on anti-trafficking prevention, victim assistance, and case referral for 40 practitioners in child protection services. IMC and the Ministry of Tourism concluded and implemented the code of conduct against sexual exploitation in the tourism sector, and disseminated it in the Bijagos islands, Sao Domingos, Cacheu, and Bissau. This work involved increasing public awareness of child sex trafficking in Bissau and the Bijagos, encouraging hotels to combat these crimes, training various hotel owners and managers on child sex trafficking, and building the capacity of tourism inspectors. Some hotel operators in the Bijagos islands, Sao Domingos, and Bissau agreed to implement the code of conduct. The labor inspectorate, housed within the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service and Public Administration, did not receive regular funding from the government and lacked personnel and material resources, and training to investigate forced labor nationwide. In addition, the government did not have the means to inspect local daaras (Quranic schools) to ensure they did not force children to beg. The Judicial Police reported that their hotline was no longer operational due to limited human and technical capacity. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Guinea-Bissau, and traffickers exploit victims from Guinea-Bissau abroad. Many Bissau-Guinean boys attend Quranic schools led by corrupt Quranic teachers. Some exploitative Quranic teachers force or coerce their students, called talibés, to beg and do not provide an education, including at some schools in Bissau’s Afia neighborhood. The traffickers are principally men from the Bafata and Gabu regions—often former talibés or men who claim to be working for a Quranic teacher—and are generally well-known within the communities in which they operate. Corrupt Quranic teachers increasingly force Guinean, Gambian, and Sierra Leonean boys to beg in Bissau and exploit Guinea-Bissau’s weak institutions and porous borders to transport large numbers of Bissau-Guinean boys to Senegal—and to a lesser extent Mali, Guinea, and The Gambia—for forced begging in exploitative daaras.

Traffickers force Bissau-Guinean boys into street vending and forced labor in the agricultural and mining sectors in Senegal, especially in the southern cities of Kolda and Ziguinchor. Traffickers force West African boys to harvest cashews during Guinea-Bissau’s annual harvest, and some are recruited for work in the harvest but then are forced to beg. Traffickers exploit some Guinean boys for forced labor in shoe shining in Guinea-Bissau. Traffickers exploit Bissau-Guinean girls in sex trafficking and forced labor in street vending and domestic work in Guinea, The Gambia, and Senegal, as well as in Spain. Senegalese trafficking networks recruit Bissau-Guinean girls for modeling jobs or traveling football clubs but subject them to sex trafficking. Bissau-Guinean girls are exploited in domestic servitude and in sex trafficking in bars, nightclubs, and hotels in Bissau. Bissau-Guinean girls from the Bijagos—and to a lesser extent mainland girls and boys—are exploited in child sex tourism in the Bijagos, an archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau that is far from the mainland and largely devoid of government and law enforcement presence. Although the extent of the problem is unknown, it is widely acknowledged among civil society, NGOs, and mid-level government officials. In most cases, French nationals own hotels on the islands and use Bissau-Guinean intermediaries to exploit island girls aged 13 to 17-years-old for French and Belgian child sex tourists. International sources report these same hotel owners provide jobs and significant support to the island community, wielding influence that can deter victims from notifying law enforcement. Poor families may encourage their children to endure such exploitation for financial gain. Bissau-Guinean men from the mainland fuel local demand for commercial sex on the islands. During previous reporting periods, there were reports of official complicity in human trafficking among island officials and in the judiciary.

U.S. Department of State

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