As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the DRC, and traffickers exploit victims from the DRC abroad. Most trafficking is internal and involves forced labor in artisanal mining sites, agriculture, domestic servitude, or armed group recruitment of children in combat and support roles, as well as sex trafficking. As in years past, traffickers took advantage of families eager to lessen economic costs and seek opportunities for their children. Some traffickers were individuals or family members who promised victims or victims’ families educational or employment opportunities but instead exploited victims in forced labor as domestic workers, street vendors, and gang members or exploited them in sex trafficking. The capital region serves as a source for sex trafficking victims, with criminal networks and community members facilitating the movement of women and girls. 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, and sex trafficking and slavery- like practices. In 2020, experts reported there were more than 500,000 refugees and five million IDPs—the largest IDP population in Africa; these individuals are vulnerable to trafficking due to their lack of economic stability and access to justice. Children in the Kasai region are vulnerable to forced begging schemes facilitated by criminals in Kasai and Kinshasa; victims reported traffickers drugged them and forced them to beg. 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 children experiencing homelessness without support networks who criminal elements—including armed groups and community members—coerce into sex trafficking or forced labor. 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.
Armed groups (most egregiously Mai Mai Mazembe, Mai Mai Nyatura, and Mai Mai Apa na Pale; NDC-R, Alliance des Forces de Resistance Congolaise [AFRC]; Kamuina Nsapa; Raia Mutomboki; Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda [FDLR]; ISIS-DRC, known locally as Allied Democratic Forces [ADF]; and Cooperative for Development of the Congo [CODECO]) continue to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese adults and children as combatants and human shields. Additionally, armed groups forcibly recruit 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 force women and girls into marriage or sexual slavery. Child soldiers, separated from armed groups and reintegrated into society, remain vulnerable to re-recruitment as rehabilitation services for children suffering severe psychological trauma remain inadequate and stigmatization may interfere with community reintegration. Some FARDC officers continue to recruit and use children, mainly in espionage or support roles. In 2021, the FARDC recruited at least six children formerly associated with an armed group and used them as informants and combatants. The military continued to coordinate with NDC-R; observers report NDC-R continues to recruit and use child soldiers.
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. An NGO reported children traveling long distances to smuggle minerals are vulnerable to trafficking and recruitment by armed groups. Observers noted children in mining areas are vulnerable to sexual violence, including sex trafficking, in part due to traditional and religious beliefs correlating harming children and sex with protection against death or successful mining. Congolese workers in PRC national-owned cobalt mines may be exploited in forced labor; observers reported workers faced wage violations, physical abuse, employment without contracts, and restricted movement—all potential indicators of forced labor. Children are 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. Undocumented Congolese migrants, including children, enter Angola for work in diamond-mining districts, where traffickers exploit some in forced labor or sex trafficking in mining camps. Congolese migrants expelled from Angola are also vulnerable to trafficking. 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 sex trafficking 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. During the previous reporting period, individuals associated with a construction company in Kinshasa may have exploited Indian and Pakistani workers in forced labor in the DRC; authorities reported the suspects confiscated the workers’ passports, controlled their movements, and withheld their salaries. International health workers and UN peacekeepers allegedly sexually exploited victims while deployed in the DRC. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, the UN reported there were 13 new allegations submitted in 2021 of sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by UN peacekeepers from Benin, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Peru, Tanzania, and Uruguay deployed to the DRC.