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The Government of the Republic of South Sudan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and, even considering the documented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the government’s anti-trafficking capacity, is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore South Sudan remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including convening its anti-trafficking inter-ministerial task force consistently, cooperating with an international organization to release approximately 189 child soldiers, and launching a nation-wide awareness campaign. However, during the reporting period there remained a government policy or pattern of employing or recruiting child soldiers. Government security and law enforcement officers continued to recruit and use child soldiers, at times by force, and did not hold any members of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) or South Sudan National Police Services (SSNPS) criminally accountable for these unlawful acts. Authorities did not report investigating or prosecuting any forced labor or sex trafficking crimes for the ninth consecutive year. The government made negligible efforts to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims, did not report identifying any victims in 2020, continued to arrest and imprison child sex trafficking victims, and continued to indiscriminately arrest and imprison individuals for prostitution violations without screening for indicators of trafficking.

Cease all recruitment and use of children by government forces and associated militias and immediately release all child soldiers under the command or influence of government forces and affiliated militias and, in partnership with international organizations, transfer them to appropriate civilian rehabilitation and reintegration programs. • Train law enforcement and social workers to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children, individuals in commercial sex, and internally displaced persons. • Increase funding and human resources for the Technical Taskforce on Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons in the Republic of South Sudan (Taskforce). • Train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges—including officials serving on the Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court—on the 2008 Child Act, 2008 Penal Code, and 2018 Labor Act so officials can more effectively investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including military officials complicit in the unlawful recruitment, use, and sexual exploitation of children. • Starting in Juba, establish and implement victim identification screening and referral procedures in partnership with international organizations and civil society to prevent penalization of trafficking victims for unlawful acts their trafficker compelled them to commit. • Following due process and respecting human rights, investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses under existing laws and convict traffickers, including complicit government officials. • Amend the 2008 Penal Code or pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law to criminalize adult sex trafficking and prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. • Provide additional financial and staffing support to the SSPDF’s Directorate of Child Protection to facilitate efforts to identify perpetrators of child soldiering and refer cases to civilian courts. • Contribute human resources and provide in-kind support for the second phase of the awareness raising initiative in Eastern, Central, and Western Equatoria. • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government continued to demonstrate negligible law enforcement efforts to hold traffickers accountable. The 2008 Penal Code, 2008 Child Act, and 2018 Labor Act criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 277 of the penal code prohibited forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent. Article 276 criminalized buying or selling a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribed a punishment of up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which was sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishment prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Articles 254 and 258 criminalized the procurement of a child for prostitution and the facilitation of the prostitution of a child by the child’s parent or guardian and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine; these penalties were also sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The criminal code did not explicitly criminalize adult sex trafficking and conflated human trafficking with smuggling by requiring movement across borders. Article 282 prohibited and prescribed a sufficiently stringent punishment of up to seven years’ imprisonment for the sale of a person across international borders. Articles 31 and 32 of South Sudan’s 2008 Child Act prohibited the recruitment and use of children for military or paramilitary activities, and prescribed punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for such crimes. The 2018 Labor Act prohibited forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, confiscation of property, cancellation of a business license, or closure of business, or a combination thereof; these penalties were sufficiently stringent.

The government reported authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any traffickers for the ninth consecutive year. In 2020, the government contributed logistical support for an international organization to provide training for the Directorate of Nationality, Passports, and Immigration on human trafficking indicators, compared with partnering with the same organization to train approximately 30 officials in 2019. However, most police and judicial officials continued to lack a basic understanding of trafficking in persons and frequently conflated human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Officials estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to capacity limitations of statutory courts, further limiting accountability for accused sex and labor traffickers. In December 2020, the government inaugurated the Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court, although authorities did not report it trying any human trafficking cases. This specialized court—located in Juba—provides dedicated and expedited trials for gender based violence and juvenile cases, which may include cases involving trafficking in persons. The government convened the Technical Taskforce with the stated objective of bringing South Sudan’s legal framework into harmony with the 2000 Palermo Protocols. In February 2021, the Taskforce completed a legal framework gap analysis, with technical assistance from an international organization, to examine existing laws and identify articles that law enforcement can use to complement the 2008 Penal Code until a comprehensive TIP law is developed.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns; however, the government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Despite the ongoing recruitment and use of child soldiers by the SSPDF, SSNPS, and allied militias, the government has never held an offender criminally or administratively accountable for such crimes. The lack of resources for basic operations, a dearth of trained judicial officials, and corruption throughout the justice sector continued to impede law enforcement efforts.

The government decreased protection efforts. Officials did not report identifying any victims during the reporting period, compared with identifying 19 potential victims in 2019. International organizations stated the government may have identified some victims during the reporting period, but pandemic-related movement restrictions limited access and verification throughout much of the country. Members of the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) and other government officials cooperated with an international organization to demobilize and release approximately 189 child soldiers during the reporting period; international organizations provided psychosocial and reintegration assistance for the children following their release. The government’s enlistment procedures required an age assessment, usually done through a dental exam, as many South Sudanese do not have access to birth registration documents. Government officials noted many SSPDF officers did not meet their annual training requirements to increase their awareness of international standards and obligations around child soldier recruitment and use due to ongoing conflict, poor communication, and general lack of capacity. The SSPDF’s Directorate for Child Protection, headed by a brigadier general, maintained responsibility for investigating allegations of child soldiering. Despite ongoing reports government forces continued to recruit and use child soldiers, officials did not report opening any inquiries into complicit officers.

Social stigma and fear of punitive law enforcement actions continued to discourage victims—particularly those subjected to sex trafficking—from reporting crimes to law enforcement officers. The government has not passed any laws or policies to protect victims from prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, although the Minister of Gender reported opening special protection units during the reporting period at police stations in all 10 states, with six in Juba. The government designed these units to provide safe spaces for vulnerable populations; however, authorities acknowledged that the lack of female officers and high staff turnover limited the units’ effectiveness. Officials did not report providing services to any victims of trafficking. Security forces and law enforcement continued to lack a formal mechanism to identify potential victims, resulting in officials indiscriminately arresting individuals in commercial sex without screening, including known child sex trafficking victims. The government did not provide specialized services for trafficking victims or legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they would face hardship or retribution, nor did it offer legal assistance or other mechanisms to encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. In coordination with an international organization, the government convened the Taskforce, co-chaired by the Ministries of Interior and Justice, multiple times during the reporting period. For the second consecutive year, the Taskforce did not accomplish its primary objectives of ratifying the Palermo Protocol and enacting the country’s migration policy, which intends to improve the country’s ability to manage migration flows including trafficking victims and smuggling clients. The government did not have a trafficking-specific national action plan, although officials worked with an international organization to produce the country’s first comprehensive report on trafficking in persons, publicizing it in July 2020.

Trafficking awareness remained low among officials and the public, hindering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. During the reporting period, the Taskforce launched the first phase of its nationwide awareness-raising campaign in partnership with an international organization. The Taskforce coordinated with law enforcement and judicial officials, as well as civil society in Awiel in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Rumbek in Lakes, Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria, and Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal. The awareness raising initiative included education and training components, and it lasted between five and seven days in each state.

Government security forces actively continued to recruit child soldiers, at times by force, and did not fully implement the existing action plan to demobilize child soldiers currently within the forces. In addition, poor command and control among SSPDF units and ongoing instability throughout the country hindered implementation. Authorities did not make efforts to address the labor exploitation of South Sudanese nationals working abroad or foreign nationals within South Sudan. Officials did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel and South Sudan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Sudan, and traffickers exploit victims from South Sudan abroad. South Sudanese women and girls, particularly those from rural areas or who are internally displaced, are vulnerable to domestic servitude throughout the country. Male occupants of the household sexually abuse some of these women and girls while traffickers force others to engage in commercial sex acts. Prominent South Sudanese individuals in state capitals and rural areas sometimes force women and girls into domestic servitude. South Sudanese and foreign businesspeople exploit South Sudanese girls in sex trafficking in restaurants, hotels, and brothels in urban centers—at times with the involvement of corrupt law enforcement officials. South Sudanese individuals coerce some children to work in construction, market vending, shoe shining, car washing, rock breaking, brick making, delivery cart pulling, gold mining, begging, and cattle herding. South Sudanese and foreign business owners recruit men and women from neighboring countries—especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of the Congo, and Uganda—as well as South Sudanese women and children, with fraudulent offers of employment opportunities in hotels, restaurants, and construction, and they force them to work for little or no pay or coerce them into commercial sex. An international organization reported Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Kenyan business owners recruited and exploited their compatriots, who enter South Sudan with valid visas and travel documents, to exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking. Traffickers sexually exploit women most frequently in the country’s capital, Juba, and in Nimule, a city located on the border with Uganda.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the population’s vulnerability to exploitation during the reporting period, compounding already severe economic challenges. The closure of restaurants and hotels in Juba due to COVID-19 restrictions resulted in job losses particularly affecting migrant women, who became more vulnerable to sexual exploitation by business owners. Reports of child, early, and forced marriages rose with an increase in food insecurity, due to bride prices serving as an alternative source of revenue for families. An international organization reported criminal networks use traders and trucks transporting goods and produce to bypass COVID-19-related movement restrictions and move trafficking victims throughout the country. The government’s pandemic-related lockdowns—beginning in March 2020—resulted in decreased access to support and assistance for victims.

Child, early, and forced marriage remains a nationwide problem, with families forcing some girls into marriages as compensation for inter-ethnic killings; husbands and their families may subsequently subject these girls to sexual slavery or domestic servitude. East African migrants transiting through South Sudan to North Africa remain vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Observers report traffickers exploit individuals along the country’s borders with Uganda and Kenya where economic activities are concentrated, as well as in artisanal mining operations along South Sudan’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Violent conflict continued throughout the year, resulting in approximately 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees living in neighboring countries as of December 2020, compared with 1.5 million IDPs and 2.2 million refugees in December 2019. These groups, including orphaned children, are at increased risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation within South Sudan and neighboring countries due to sometimes limited access to formal justice and support networks. Unaccompanied children in camps for refugees or internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to abduction by sex or labor traffickers. Inter-ethnic abductions and abductions by external criminal elements and armed groups remain common, especially in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states; traffickers exploit some abductees in forced labor or sex trafficking.

An international organization estimated government and opposition-affiliated forces have recruited more than 19,000 child soldiers since the start of the conflict in 2013, and armed groups continued to recruit and use children during the reporting period. Experts assess there are currently between 7,000 and 19,000 child soldiers within South Sudan as of February 2021. Both the SSPDF and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – In Opposition signed or recommitted to action plans for child soldier demobilization and reintegration, but implementation remains incomplete. Government forces—including SSNPS—use children to fight and perpetrate violence against other children and civilians, to serve as bodyguards, staff checkpoints, and in other security support roles. According to the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan signed in 2018, the parties committed to refrain from the recruitment or use of child soldiers by armed forces or militias in contravention of international conventions. Governmental and non-governmental groups continued to retain, recruit, and use child soldiers during the reporting period, with observers reporting armed groups used 48 percent of children in combat roles. Experts note more children fight on behalf of locally organized armed groups rather than formally organized groups with centralized command and control structures. International observers reported groups recruited and used child soldiers in Central and Western Equatoria, Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Greater Upper Nile. Observers reported armed groups used young boys to guard or raid cattle, a key source of income for many South Sudanese.

U.S. Department of State

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