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.