As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in DRC, and traffickers exploit victims from DRC abroad. Some traffickers were individuals or family members who promised victims or victims’ families educational or employment opportunities but instead exploited victims by forcing them to work as domestic workers, street vendors, and gang members, or to engage in commercial sex. Most trafficking is internal and involves forced labor in artisanal mining sites, agriculture, domestic servitude, or armed groups recruiting children in combat and support roles, as well as sex trafficking. The capital region served as a source for sex trafficking victims, with criminal networks and community members facilitating the movement of women and girls. As in years past, traffickers took advantage of families eager to lessen economic costs and seek opportunities for their children. In urban centers such as Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Goma, some foreign workers in the beauty industry reported employers failed to honor contracts, controlled their passports, and forced workers to pay exorbitant fines to leave the country before their contracts expired.
Decades-long instability in eastern DRC—notably North Kivu, Ituri, South Kivu, and Tanganyika provinces—continued, resulting in armed groups and criminal networks engaging in unlawful child soldier recruitment and use, forced labor in artisanal mining, as well as in sex trafficking and slavery-like practices. Children in the Kasai region were vulnerable to forced begging schemes facilitated by criminals in Kasai and Kinshasa. The APLTP and NGOs reported years of cyclical displacement stemming from escalating insecurity in Ituri Province (bordering South Sudan and Uganda) has increased the vulnerability of thousands of homeless children without support networks who criminal elements—including armed groups and community members—coerce into commercial sex or forced labor. During the reporting period, individuals associated with a construction company in Kinshasa may have exploited Indian and Pakistani workers in forced labor; authorities reported the suspects confiscated the workers’ passports, controlled their movements, and withheld their salaries. In 2020, experts reported there were more than 500,000 refugees and five million internally displaced people (IDPs)—the largest IDP population in Africa; these individuals are vulnerable to trafficking due to their lack of economic stability and access to justice.
In 2020, armed groups (most egregiously Mai Mai Mazembe, Mai Mai Nyatura, and Mai Mai Apa na Pale, NDC-Renova (NDC-R), Alliance des Forces de Resistance Congolaise (AFRC), Kamuina Nsapa, Raia Mutomboki, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Cooperative for Development of the Congo (CODECO)) continued to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese adults and children as combatants as well as human shields. Additionally, armed groups forcibly recruited adults and children to serve in support roles such as guards, porters, cleaners, cooks, messengers, spies, and tax collectors at mining sites; some armed groups also forced women and girls to marry or serve as sex slaves for their members.
Community and family members, as well as loosely organized illicit networks, force children across the border into the Republic of the Congo where criminal actors coerce the children to commit theft. Child soldiers separated from armed groups and reintegrated into society remain vulnerable to re-recruitment, as adequate rehabilitation services did not exist for children suffering severe psychological trauma, and stigmatization may interfere with community reintegration. FARDC officers used one child to perform espionage, and two others in support roles during the reporting period; in coordination with an international organization, the officers released all three children by October 2020 and referred them to care. In July 2020—following years of operational coordination and materiel support—the FARDC ceased collaborating with the Guidon faction of the NDC-R, a group that recruits and uses child soldiers. However, observers reported the military continued to coordinate with the NDC-R’s Bwira faction, a group that had no documented cases of child soldier recruitment and use during the reporting period.
Traffickers—including mining bosses, other miners, family members, government officials, and armed groups—force or coerce some adults and children to work in artisanal mines in eastern DRC, including through debt-based coercion. Individuals associated with the extractive sector abuse some children in forced labor in the illegal mining of diamonds, copper, gold, cobalt, tungsten ore, tantalum ore, and tin, as well as the smuggling of minerals to Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates, and Tanzania. Children are also vulnerable to forced labor in small-scale agriculture, domestic work, street begging, vending, and portering. Children from the Republic of the Congo may transit through the DRC en route to Angola or South Africa, where traffickers may exploit them in domestic servitude. Some criminal elements coerce Congolese women and girls into forced marriages where they are highly vulnerable to domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Congolese women and children migrate to other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, where traffickers exploit them in commercial sex or forced labor in agriculture, diamond mines, or domestic service. Illicit labor recruiters may fraudulently recruit women and force or coerce them into domestic work abroad through false promises of education or employment opportunities.