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BENIN: Tier 2

The Government of Benin does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Benin remained on Tier 2. The government enacted a new penal code criminalizing the trafficking of adults; investigated and prosecuted more child trafficking cases and reported prosecuting one case involving an adult victim for the first time in over five years; identified and referred more potential child trafficking victims to care; expanded proactive child victim identification and awareness measures at open-air markets; increased training for law enforcement officials as well as first responders; and finalized its bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with Gabon to facilitate law enforcement data sharing and coordination on repatriation in transnational trafficking cases. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government continued to make limited efforts to identify adult victims or refer them to services and it did not convict any traffickers who exploited adults.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Train law enforcement and judicial officials on the new penal code’s Articles 499-504 to increase their ability to effectively investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers who exploit adults. • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and adequately sentence offenders of sex and labor trafficking of adults and children, including illegal labor recruiters. • Develop and disseminate systematic procedures for proactive identification of adult victims and their subsequent referral to care. • Finalize the multilateral agreements with Togo, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to increase information sharing and cooperation on transnational trafficking investigations. • Use the 2011 bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with the Republic of Congo to increase law enforcement coordination and investigate, prosecute, and convict perpetrators of transnational trafficking cases, while respecting due process. • Expand the Central Office for the Protection of Minors’ (OCPM) existing trafficking database to include adult trafficking information.

PROSECUTION

The government increased its law enforcement efforts to address child trafficking but demonstrated minimal efforts to prosecute adult trafficking crimes. Existing laws criminalized all forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2006 Act Relating to the Transportation of Minors and the Suppression of Child Trafficking (Act 2006-04) criminalized child sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. In December 2018, President Talon enacted a new penal code criminalizing adult sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.

In 2018, OCPM—a specialized unit responsible for anti-trafficking enforcement—investigated 188 child trafficking cases; OCPM investigated 30 suspected child trafficking cases in 2017. The government reported prosecuting 44 cases of child trafficking and one case involving a potential adult victim in 2018, compared with prosecuting 13 child trafficking cases and zero adult cases in the previous year. Before the president enacted the new penal code in December 2018, the government’s lack of legislation criminalizing adult trafficking hindered its law enforcement efforts related to cases involving adult victims. In 2018, officials reported convicting 11 child traffickers under Benin’s 2006 anti-child trafficking law; courts sentenced eight traffickers to imprisonment ranging from three months to 10 years, and suspended the sentences of three traffickers. The government reported convicting 13 child traffickers in 2017 but did not disclose sentencing details. Authorities did not take action against informal employment agents who facilitated trafficking, although some illicit recruiters continued to lure Beninese victims abroad with fraudulent employment promises during the reporting period. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.

The government finalized its bilateral anti-trafficking cooperation agreement with Gabon in November 2018 to facilitate law enforcement data sharing and repatriation coordination; however, it did not finalize its multilateral anti-trafficking cooperation agreements with Togo and Nigeria, and with Togo and Burkina Faso, to increase law enforcement coordination on transnational trafficking cases. Officials reported Beninese authorities coordinated with Nigerian law enforcement agencies in the arrest of two suspected traffickers in Ibadan, Nigeria; the case was pending in Nigeria at the end of the reporting period. In 2018, the government coordinated with international organizations to provide anti-trafficking training for 486 officials focused on identifying trafficking crimes along borders and improving the government’s referral process for child trafficking victims. In comparison, the government trained approximately 50 officials on smuggling, human trafficking, and victim identification and protection in 2017.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to protect child trafficking victims and made limited efforts to identify and assist adult victims. During the reporting period, officials patrolled borders, bus stations, and large markets to proactively identify child trafficking victims, referring 1,214 potential child trafficking victims (724 girls and 490 boys) to temporary shelter and services in 2018, compared with identifying and referring 370 potential child victims to care in 2017. Additionally, the Ministry of Labor identified and referred approximately 565 victims of forced labor to legal, medical, and psychological services. The government-supported Social Promotion Center (CPS) in the southwest city of Klouekamey reported identifying and referring to care 25 child victims of internal and cross-border trafficking in 2018. During the reporting period, the government referred additional victims to NGO-run shelters throughout the country. Authorities did not report proactively identifying or referring adult trafficking victims to care.

In February 2019, the government partnered with an international organization to finalize and launch standard operating procedures (SOPs) to identify and refer child trafficking victims to care; however, the government did not disclose how many officials it trained on the SOPs. Prior to the development of the SOPs, officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance, OCPM, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and NGOs used an informal system to identify and refer child victims to services; once authorities identified child trafficking victims, OCPM assumed initial custody and provided temporary shelter in its Cotonou facility that could house up to 160 children (80 boys and 80 girls). The OCPM shelter offered child victims legal, medical, and psychological assistance and served as a transit facility for potential child trafficking victims while officials worked to place the children in long-term NGO shelters. After conducting an interview and assessment, OCPM referred victims to a network of NGO shelters throughout the country. Authorities did not have SOPs to identify adult victims and subsequently refer them to care. The government did not provide trafficking-specific services for adult victims; however, the government did offer programs intended to assist adult victims of other forms of abuse.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance assisted foreign trafficking victims, predominantly minors, before repatriating them to their home countries. The government repatriated an unknown number of foreign victims in partnership with an international organization and with the assistance of embassies or consulates of victims’ countries of origin. In 2018, the government reported repatriating 258 Beninese victims of trafficking (primarily children) from Gabon, Ghana, Kuwait, and Nigeria and provided them health and social services during their reintegration.

During the reporting period, the government increased funding to support OCPM’s operations from 19.2 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($33,760) to 52 million FCFA ($91,440), which supported services for all children received in its shelter, including trafficking victims. Beninese law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, although cases involving foreign child trafficking victims were considered on an ad hoc basis. While there were no reports the government penalized any trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, some adult victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system due to a legislative framework that did not criminalize adult trafficking.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and periodically convened its inter-ministerial committee (IMC) during the reporting period. The IMC—chaired by the Chief of Staff of the Minister of Planning and Development—was composed of directors of offices from across the Beninese government as well as partners from key NGOs and international organizations. In May 2018, the government approved a 2019-2023 national action plan to address forced child labor. In addition, the government developed a 2019-2025 National Policy to Fight Trafficking in Persons with an accompanying action plan.

In 2018, the government reported 85 CPSs held 255 anti-trafficking awareness campaigns throughout Benin reaching an unknown number of parents, students, teachers, and artisans. Additionally, the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service, and Social Affairs—in coordination with an international organization—continued to inspect open-air markets (Dantokpa in Cotonou, Ouando in Porto-Novo, and Arzeke in Parakou); the General Directorate of Labor reported identifying 511 potential trafficking victims through these inspections. During the reporting period, the government showed a documentary to raise awareness of child trafficking and reached approximately 500 market patrons in Cotonou, Porto-Novo, Parakou, Lokossa, Abomey, and Bohicon. The government made no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.

The government partnered with a Beninese NGO in October 2018 to hold a workshop in the Republic of Congo to assess the two countries’ anti-trafficking cooperation based on their 2011 bilateral agreement. The workshop convened Beninese honorary consuls serving in Congo with personnel from the Congolese ministries of Justice, Interior, and Public Security to discuss irregular migration of Beninese children to Congo, focusing on victim identification. The government did not finalize its tripartite child trafficking cooperation agreements with Togo and Burkina Faso or with Togo and Nigeria.

The government continued its Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population during the reporting period, resulting in officials registering 10 million Beninese. A lack of identity documentation contributed to increased vulnerability to trafficking in Benin. In July 2018, the Director of Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) presented an anti-trafficking training to new Beninese diplomats; the MFA also has a code of conduct for diplomats that prohibits Beninese nationals deployed abroad from engaging in or facilitating trafficking in persons. The OCPM maintained its database—“Enfants du Benin”—to organize information related to child trafficking cases. Law enforcement officials’ widespread lack of computers and reliable electricity resulted in personnel recording case details on paper, creating information management and prosecutorial challenges.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Benin, and traffickers exploit victims from Benin abroad. Trafficking in Benin is predominantly internal and involves children from low-income families. Vulnerable populations most at risk of trafficking frequently lack formal education or basic identity documents including birth certificates and national identification. Some community members and relatives use the promise of education or employment to recruit Beninese children from northern rural areas to the more urban southern corridor and subject them to forced labor in domestic servitude, markets, farming, and in handicraft manufacturing. Beninese traffickers include farmers, traders, artisans, small factory owners, civil servants, and some belong to criminal networks. Traffickers operate in urban areas under the guise of informal employment agents and recruit children for domestic work in private residences, where house managers and families subject the minors to forced labor. Some parents follow a traditional practice known as vidomegon, which involves sending children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities; some of these more affluent families then subject the children to forced labor in various sectors, including in domestic service and open-air markets. The government reported criminals exploit girls in sex trafficking in Cotonou and Malanville. Officials reported traffickers exploit boys, girls, and women from Djougou and Bassila in the northwest of the country; Parakou in the northeast; Zakpota, Djida, and Agbaizoun in the central region; Adja and Lobogo in the southwest; and Pobe and Sakete in the southeast. Traffickers exploit these groups in labor and sex trafficking.

Cross-border criminal groups subject Beninese children to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor in Nigeria, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, and other West and Central African countries. Benin has been the largest source country for trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo, with the department of Oueme in southeast Benin historically a primary area traffickers used to recruit child victims.

Reports indicate criminal groups fraudulently recruit young Beninese women for domestic work in Gulf countries, Lebanon, and North Africa and subsequently subject them to forced labor or sex trafficking. Traffickers and their accomplices continue to send child victims to their destinations alone and then meet the victims upon arrival, increasing the challenges for law enforcement to investigate these crimes. International organizations report some adult labor migrants use airports in Togo, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to circumnavigate anti-trafficking screening procedures put in place by the government at the International Airport of Cotonou, increasing the migrants’ vulnerability to human trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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