The government increased overall efforts to identify and protect child trafficking victims, although its efforts to identify adult victims remained inadequate. In 2020, OCPM officials reported identifying and providing services to 363 potential victims, compared with identifying 309 potential victims in 2019. OCPM officers continued to patrol borders, bus stations, and large markets to proactively detect child trafficking victims, identifying and referring an unknown number of potential victims to temporary shelter and services in 2020, compared with identifying and referring 1,387 potential victims to care in 2019. The government reported NGOs identified 539 child trafficking victims (271 girls and 268 boys) and 63 adult victims (59 women and four men) and referred them to government social services in 2020; officials did not disclose similar statistics in 2019.
The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service General Directorate of Labor reported conducting 2,070 inspections in 2020 at the primary markets in Dantokpa (Cotonou), Ouando (Porto-Novo), and Arzeke (Parakou), as well as in workshops, bars, restaurants, and other areas with high risks of child exploitation. An international organization reported the government identified 2,643 at-risk children through these inspections, and the Ministry of Labor stated it identified 1,273 violations related to child labor during the reporting period. In 2019, authorities conducted 746 inspections and identified approximately 1,040 vulnerable children. Without providing statistics, the government reported law enforcement officers identified victims of sexual exploitation among individuals in commercial sex through undercover operations during the reporting period. 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 sex trafficking victim. 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 child trafficking victims. 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). Following 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 and access to justice 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, with additional Social Promotion Centers in more populated communes such as Parakou, Cotonou, and Porto Novo. Each commune had a service center staffed with a local representative and a social protection committee that 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 children, before repatriating them to their home countries. The government repatriated 155 children (63 girls and 92 boys from Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo, as well as other countries) and two adult victims (women) of trafficking in 2020, compared with 50 victims in 2019. Separately, the Beninese honorary consuls in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire in the Republic of the Congo facilitated the repatriation of eight Beninese child victims of domestic servitude from Brazzaville.
An official reported the government increased OCPM funding for the third consecutive year despite the country’s resource constraints. 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 victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit, some adult victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system due to authorities’ limited awareness of adult trafficking.