As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in CAR, and traffickers exploit victims from CAR abroad. Most government officials, as well as civil society, lack an understanding of human trafficking, hindering the country’s ability to identify victims and address the crime. Observers report traffickers primarily exploit CAR nationals within the country and in smaller numbers in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. Perpetrators—including transient merchants, herders, and non-state armed groups—exploit children in domestic servitude, sex trafficking, as well as in forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mines, shops, drinking establishments, and street vending within CAR. Also within the country, some relatives exploit children in domestic servitude, and community members exploit Aka (pygmy) minorities in domestic servitude, especially in the southwest of the country. Authorities’ prejudice against individuals in commercial sex—despite its prevalence—hinders victims’ access to justice and assistance. Some government workers reportedly coerced women into sex in exchange for government employment or documents and services to which they were entitled. Observers note non-state armed groups’ December 2020 to February 2021 closure of the main supply route from Cameroon resulted in rising prices, and a corresponding increase in exploitation of many Central Africans. Fraudulent labor recruiters attract foreigners from nearby countries such as Chad and Libya to enter the country illegally to work in CAR’s mining sector; armed groups capture and exploit some of these irregular migrants in forced labor.
Some relatives or community members coerce girls into forced marriages and subsequently exploit the girls in domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Stemming from severe poverty throughout the country, a government official stated many husbands physically coerce their wives to engage in commercial sex to cover household expenses, with little recourse from authorities. Officials note family members also exploit children in forced labor and sex trafficking to supplement family income.
Observers reported Central African criminal elements engage in the sex trafficking of girls as young as 13 in maisons de joie (houses of joy) throughout Bangui. Maisons de joie are private residences with little official oversight where CAR nationals serve alcohol and food to middle and upper class customers as a cover to exploit girls and women in commercial sex. Criminals reportedly take advantage of abject poverty across the country to recruit women and girls with the promise of money for their children or families.
Violent conflict since 2012 has resulted in chronic instability and the displacement of 1.3 million people, increasing the vulnerability of adults and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. As of February 2021, more than 741,000 IDPs and 647,000 Central Africans sought refuge in neighboring countries. This represents a significant increase from September 2019, in which there were approximately 600,000 IDPs and 592,000 Central African refugees in neighboring countries.
Escalating pre- and post-election violence resulted in armed groups recruiting and using more child soldiers, with nearly 3,000 recruited into combat since the country’s December 2020 elections. The new coalition of six armed groups (Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R), Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), Anti-Balaka Mokom, and Anti-Balaka Ndomate) intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government—the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC)—led a child soldier recruitment campaign near the town of Bambari for children between the ages of 12 and 17 through February 2021. Additionally, individual militias associated with Anti-Balaka; Ex-Seleka; FPRC; Lords Resistance Army; 3R; UPC; and other armed groups continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers in CAR before and after the creation of the CPC. Multiple sources alleged armed groups in southeastern CAR—areas outside of governmental control—kidnapped children and coerced them into serving as child soldiers, in addition to forcing community members into forced labor as porters, cooks, and other support roles, or in illegal mining operations. Additionally, observers reported government security forces may have used children at checkpoints during the reporting period. International organizations reported armed groups recruited children to serve as combatants, servants, child brides, and sex slaves in 2020; armed groups also subjected children to forced labor in the mining sector. Since the conflict began in 2012, armed groups have recruited more than 17,000 children; during the reporting period, militias primarily recruited and used child soldiers from the prefectures of Vakaga, Haute-Kotto, Haut-Mbomou, Nana-Grebizi, Nana-Mambere, and Basse-Kotto; these areas were outside of government control during the reporting period. Although some children initially join locally organized community defense groups to protect their families from opposifng militias, many commanders maintain influence over these children even after they are demobilized, increasing their risk of re-recruitment. Inadequately funded reintegration programming, continuing instability, and a lack of economic opportunity throughout the country exacerbate the risks of re-recruitment among former child soldiers. Some demobilized child soldiers face violent—and at times deadly—reprisals from their communities following reintegration.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has 14,921 civilian and military staff in CAR—as of January 2021—to protect civilians, provide security, support humanitarian operations, and promote and protect human rights, among other objectives. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, an international organization reported there were 21 allegations of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers with trafficking indicators in the 2020 reporting period, compared with 30 allegations in the 2019 reporting period, of which four cases were unsubstantiated.