The government increased overall efforts to protect child trafficking victims and improved its efforts to identify adult victims, which historically have been a deficiency for Benin. In 2019, officials reported proactively identifying 309 trafficking victims between the ages of four and 35 (248 females and 61 males), compared with identifying 565 child victims of forced labor in 2018. Officials from the Central Office for the Protection of Minors (OCPM) continued to patrol borders, bus stations, and large markets to proactively detect child trafficking victims, identifying and referring 1,387 potential child trafficking victims to temporary shelter and services in 2019, compared with identifying and referring 1,214 potential child victims to care in 2018. The Ministry of Health’s standard operating procedures for providing health services to individuals in commercial sex included a presumption that any minor involved in commercial sex was a victim of sex trafficking. The government has not developed a corresponding directive or procedure for the identification of adult trafficking victims.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance, OCPM, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various international donors and NGOs coordinated during the reporting period to identify, assist, repatriate, and reintegrate victims of child trafficking. The process involved OCPM taking initial custody of victims in Benin and providing them temporary shelter in its Cotonou facility with a capacity of 160 (80 boys and 80 girls). After an OCPM interview and assessment, officials referred victims to a network of NGO shelters. OCPM officers then referred cases to court when there was sufficient evidence following investigations. Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance representatives coordinated with NGOs and civil society to reunite children with their families. Observers described the government’s referral process as adequate; however, they noted limited shelter capacity hindered the country’s service provision for some victims. 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.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance’s network of Social Promotion Centers (Centres de promotion sociale) continued to provide basic services for adult and child trafficking victims in all of Benin’s 77 communes. Each commune had a service center staffed with a local representative and a social protection committee who could refer child trafficking victims to NGO housing or foster families with the approval of a juvenile court judge.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance continued to assist foreign trafficking victims, predominantly minors, before repatriating them to their home countries. The government repatriated 50 Beninese child trafficking victims (44 girls and six boys) from Gabon, Niger, and Nigeria in partnership with an international organization and with the assistance of embassies or consulates of victims’ countries of origin. Separately, OCPM reported assisting in the return of 20 Beninese victims from: Mali (two girls and one boy), the Republic of the Congo (two girls and one boy), Algeria (one boy), Lebanon (one woman), Saudi Arabia (one woman), and Kuwait (11 women). The government did not report the number of victims it repatriated to their home countries in 2019.
The government coordinated with partners in 2019 to provide anti-trafficking training for 487 judges, social workers, police, and labor inspectors (compared with 486 officials in 2018) focused on increasing their knowledge of child trafficking, in addition to broader child protection issues. Officials reported increasing funding for OCPM for the second consecutive year, from 52 million to 70 million West African CFA franc ($89,350 to $120,270). 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 for immigration relief on an ad hoc basis. While there were no reports the government penalized any trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, some adult victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system due to authorities’ limited but increasing awareness and understanding of adult trafficking.