CONGO, REPUBLIC OF THE: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so; therefore the Republic of the Congo was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included identifying and assisting more trafficking victims than the previous reporting period; increasing training for law enforcement and diplomats; and making efforts to adopt a comprehensive anti-trafficking law. The government reinvigorated a federal-level inter-ministerial committee, though efforts were limited. Despite these achievements, law enforcement efforts remained weak, as the government convicted fewer traffickers and deported trafficking suspects without prosecution. Previous allegations of official complicity remained uninvestigated and traffickers and complicit officials largely operated with impunity. The government did not dedicate specific funding to the inter-ministerial committee, the coordinating committee in Pointe-Noire, or to NGOs that provided care to trafficking victims. The government did not proactively screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations. The lack of a current national action plan and a clear understanding of anti-trafficking laws among government officials continued to hinder countrywide efforts.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and impose adequate penalties, and fully investigate, and as required prosecute, allegations of officials complicit in trafficking. • Increase efforts to proactively identify victims, including screening for trafficking indicators, especially among vulnerable populations, including child laborers, illegal immigrants, women and girls exploited in prostitution, unaccompanied minors, and indigenous persons. • Drastically improve the provision of protective services to trafficking victims that provide appropriate care to victims nationwide. • While respecting due process, expedite hearings and consider prosecuting trafficking cases in the low court in the interim. • Develop and implement standard operating procedures to guide government officials, including police, immigration, labor, and military authorities, in victim identification and referral to protective services. • Increase anti-trafficking training for all law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges. • Complete passage and enactment of 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. • Allocate a specific budget and adequate funding to the federal-level Inter-Ministerial Committee, the Pointe Noire based Anti-Trafficking Coordinating Committee, the national action plan, and protective services including victim shelters. • Extend anti-trafficking efforts beyond Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. • Provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families and with anti-trafficking activists and partners. • Increase effectiveness of the anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee to drive concrete national anti-trafficking efforts. • Further bolster anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and the DRC. • Consider establishing an anti-trafficking law enforcement unit. • 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 most forms of sex trafficking 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 franc (CFA) ($1,660 to $16,560). 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 of imprisonment or fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA ($83 to $830). Article 4 of the country’s labor code criminalized forced or compulsory labor and Article 257 prescribed a fine of 600,000 to 900,000 CFA ($994 to $1,490) as the penalty. 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 334 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 ($1,660 to $16,560). The penalties for forced prostitution were sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Congolese law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking of adults, including the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. During the year, the government made progress to strengthen its legal framework and criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Draft anti-trafficking legislation, completed in partnership with an international organization in 2014, remained pending without enactment for the sixth consecutive year; however, at the end of the reporting period, the law remained with the Senate for further consideration.

The government initiated the investigation of at least six traffickers in 2018, compared to three the prior year. The government reported prosecuting four and convicting zero suspected traffickers in 2018, compared to one prosecution and conviction in 2017. In one case, the government reported investigating a suspected Cameroonian trafficker who allegedly subjected at least seven children to child sex trafficking; however, the government did not prosecute the suspect, but rather deported him without holding the suspect accountable. In another case, the government reportedly arrested a suspected trafficker of one boy from the DRC, but the government released this suspect from prison and deported him without prosecution. An NGO reported conducting investigations into eight additional trafficking cases during the reporting year; of these, the NGO worked with victims in two cases to reach out of court settlements and the public prosecutor filed charges in at least four cases, but the government did not report arresting any suspects by the end of the reporting period. Frequently traffickers of these children operate in West Africa, making Congolese prosecution action difficult. Additionally, in the prior reporting period, an NGO alleged that a 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; however, the government did not report investigating this network. Despite efforts to address complicit officials the previous year, during the reporting period, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. Low-level corruption and limited intra-governmental coordination limited the government’s ability to investigate, prosecute, and convict suspected traffickers, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating an allegedly bribed Congolese official involved in the facilitation of the escape of a convicted trafficker during the last reporting period. Due to inadequate funding, police continued to require the payment of transportation stipends from NGOs or other stakeholders prior to conducting law enforcement investigations, including those related to human trafficking and removing victims identified by NGOs from situations of trafficking. Many cases continued to languish, some without progress since the courts stopped functioning in 2014 and because of a significant backlog in the high court. The government did not report the outcomes of any languishing cases, making it unclear if older cases had been dismissed.

The government continued to include anti-trafficking training in the standard academy training for new police and immigration officers. The government also conducted two, three-day, high-level anti-trafficking trainings for 50 government officials in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, including law enforcement officers; 10 diplomats; 25 civil society members; and 15 religious officials. However, despite increased training efforts, limited understanding of the anti-trafficking laws among law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and labor inspectors persisted and continued to hinder anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and allowed traffickers to continue operating with impunity. The government did not work to implement the law enforcement provisions within its 2011 bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin or otherwise coordinate with Beninese law enforcement officials on any investigations or the extradition of any suspected traffickers, despite most traffickers and their victims originating from Benin.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify and assist victims; however, lack of proactive screening for trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, failure to identify adult or indigenous victims, and inadequate availability of assistance, remained serious concerns. The government’s ability to address trafficking remained difficult due to a lack of adequate funding for anti-trafficking governmental agencies, a dearth of trained personnel, limited transparency, and a lack of statistics. In Pointe Noire, the government continued to focus the majority of its efforts on West African children in forced labor, including domestic servitude. The government did not identify or assist Congolese victims or foreign victims exploited in other cities. During the reporting period, the government identified at least eight trafficking victims, an increase from zero the prior year. In one case of child sex trafficking, the government reported it provided at least seven victims with vocational retraining, medical assistance, and psycho-social services, including family and psychological counseling in Brazzaville. In another case, the government temporarily detained one child from the DRC; it later identified the child as a victim of forced criminality and facilitated the child’s repatriation to his parents, but it did not report providing care. In one police operation, the government identified three adult women in prostitution from the DRC and in another operation, the media reported that the government allegedly arrested 30 females from the DRC and 41 female citizens—potentially including children—in prostitution; however, the government did not report assisting any of these 74 individuals, nor did it report screening any of them for trafficking indicators, including those it later deported to the DRC. Despite the continued exploitation through forced labor of the indigenous population, the government did not adequately address this internal trafficking problem. An NGO identified an additional nine victims, compared to the 15 it identified in the previous reporting period. Once identified by the NGO, law enforcement would generally assist in removing the victim from the exploitative situation, dependent on funding for transportation from the NGO. The government did not have a formal national mechanism to identify and refer all trafficking victims to care—including adults, child laborers, irregular migrants, women and girls exploited in prostitution, and indigenous persons—but did have a procedural manual for child trafficking victims. Instead, the government traditionally relied on NGOs and international organizations to assist with the identification, referral, assistance, investigation, and negotiation of compensation for the majority of victims.

The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire, which was responsible for assigning identified West African child trafficking victims to foster homes and conducting family tracing, did not report the number of trafficking victims referred to the five available foster families; but it did report funding the foster homes during the reporting period. A local NGO also funded and referred child victims to foster families if repatriation, family integration, or local reinsertion options were unavailable. The government funded three public shelters that at-risk victims, including child trafficking victims, could access, but did not report referring any trafficking victims to the shelters during the reporting period. During the year, the government did not provide a specific operating budget for the Coordinating Committee and has not since 2014. The government did not report identifying any adult trafficking victims and did not operate shelters for adult victims. For the majority of services provided to victims, the government continued to rely on partnerships with NGOs, but it did not provide funding to them. Other than one NGO in Pointe-Noire, the government did not facilitate NGO partnerships to provide protective services elsewhere in the country. The government facilitated the repatriation of two trafficking victims during the year, including funding one of the repatriations. The government facilitated the repatriation of one foreign trafficking victim from Egypt to the Republic of the Congo and funded the repatriation of another to the DRC, compared to zero repatriations in 2017.

There were reports authorities temporarily detained child trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit until parental identification and repatriation was completed. There were also reports that police arrested individuals in prostitution but did not report screening for indicators of sex trafficking. The government provided the same availability of care to both national and foreign victims. Foreign adult victims were provided a choice between repatriation to their country of origin or reintegration into the local community. 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 during the reporting period.

PREVENTION

The government maintained insufficient efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s federal inter-ministerial committee met at least twice during the reporting period and worked to increase coordination between ministries, but did not report on concrete actions taken to drive countrywide efforts. At the department level in Pointe Noire, the anti-trafficking coordinating committee also met at least twice but did not report concrete actions taken during the reporting period. However, the government did not directly fund either of these committees. The government did not have a current national action plan. The government conducted a public awareness campaign on radio and television, which focused on the provisions under the pending anti-trafficking legislation. The government operated an emergency assistance line for victims of crime; however, it was unclear whether it received any calls to report trafficking specific crimes during the year. The government did not have effective laws or policies regulating labor recruiters nor did they investigate or prosecute any despite ongoing concerns of fraudulent recruitment involving such entities. The government worked with officials from the Government of the DRC to address cross-border trafficking by preventing all unaccompanied minors from entering the country; however, the government did not specifically screen for trafficking indicators and did not report identifying any victims as part of these efforts. The government used the 2011 bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin to a limited degree when it issued temporary travel documents to a Beninese trafficking victim and a local NGO continued to provide care for Beninese victims and facilitated the repatriation of a Beninese trafficking victim with the Beninese government. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex but did not make efforts to reduce demand for forced labor. The government has signed but has not acceded to the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. The government provided anti-trafficking training to a limited number of its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Republic of the Congo, and traffickers exploit victims from the Republic of the Congo abroad. Forced labor involving adults and children of both genders continues to be a primary type of trafficking within Congo. Most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin and the DRC, and to a lesser extent from other neighboring countries. Traffickers subject most foreign victims to forced labor in domestic servitude and market vending. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with most between the ages of 9 and 11. Traffickers exploited girls and women from both the Republic of the Congo and the DRC to sex trafficking, with clients among Chinese and Malaysian construction workers who had been building a highway near the cities of Nkayi and Pointe-Noire. Parents in foreign countries, mostly West African, sometimes send their children to the Republic of the Congo with the expectation that the child will send remittances or receive an education, but instead traffickers exploit the children in child sex trafficking or forced labor.

Internal trafficking involves recruitment from remote rural areas for exploitation in cities. The indigenous populations are vulnerable to traffickers for forced labor in the agricultural sector; some reports suggest that some servitude might be hereditary. According to an NGO, members of indigenous communities often incur significant debts, which must be worked off, sometimes leading to debt bondage. NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority population, called Bantus, force adult indigenous people to harvest manioc and other crops without pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Most children exploited by traffickers within the country migrate from rural to urban areas to serve as domestic workers for relatives or family friends. Traffickers subject some child trafficking victims to forced labor in market vending, 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. In 2018, there were reports of domestic prostitution networks exploiting children in child sex trafficking.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Republic of the Congo
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