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Democratic Republic of the Congo (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included finalizing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral to services and partnering with NGOs to identify more trafficking victims. The government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted traffickers, including complicit officials. The government’s Agency for the Prevention and the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons (APLTP)-led inter-ministerial committee and technical working group continued coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking response. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. Congolese National Army (FARDC) officers continued coordinating with an armed group, despite allegations that  it has previously forcibly recruited and used children. Authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, and corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. The government did not adopt comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation for the third consecutive year. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, the DRC was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore the DRC remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

  • Expand efforts to enforce the law and to sensitize all FARDC officers on the need to cease the unlawful recruitment and use of children and hold accountable officials who recruit or use children.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers and—if convicted in a transparent trial—adequately sentence traffickers in accordance with the law, including complicit officials.
  • Finalize pending legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes.
  • Implement and train front-line officials on the SOPs to proactively identify trafficking victims, including among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in commercial sex, street begging, and artisanal mining, and refer victims to appropriate care in coordination with civil society and international organizations.
  • Allocate sufficient financial and human resources, including dedicated personnel, for the APLTP to execute its mandate fully.
  • Improve efforts to collect and share comprehensive data on sex trafficking—as distinct from other sexual violence crimes—and forced labor.
  • Increase public awareness of human trafficking and enhance the public’s ability to identify and report trafficking crimes, including by using radio in French and local languages and increasing engagement with civil society.

The government maintained mixed law enforcement efforts. Congolese law criminalized all forms of sex trafficking and some forms of labor trafficking. However, the lack of a comprehensive anti-trafficking legal framework continued to exacerbate officials’ limited understanding of trafficking and their conflation of the offense with other crimes, such as illegal international adoption. Article 174(j) of the 2006 Sexual Violence Law criminalized child sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Section 174(e) criminalized sexual slavery and prescribed penalties ranging from five to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs ($100). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Article 174(c), which criminalized the “forced prostitution” of adults, prescribed penalties of three months to five years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Articles 182 and 183 of the 2009 Child Protection Law 09/001 also criminalized the “procurement” of children and child sexual slavery and prescribed penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment and 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment with a fine between 8,000 and 1 million Congolese francs ($4-$503), respectively; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate, with respect to sex trafficking, with other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 187 criminalized child labor, including forced child labor, and prescribed penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine between 100,000 and 200,000 Congolese francs ($50 to $100); these penalties were not sufficiently stringent with respect to forced child labor. Article 326 of the 2002 Labor Code criminalized adult forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 Congolese francs ($15); this penalty was not sufficiently stringent. Congolese law also criminalized the enlistment of persons younger than 18 years old into the armed forces and the police, which carried penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The comprehensive trafficking legislation—drafted by the APLTP and the Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with an international organization—remained pending for the third consecutive year.

Courts and police units operated at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic. The government reported investigating at least five trafficking cases, initiating prosecution of at least one alleged trafficker, and convicting four traffickers and one complicit official in 2021. This compared with investigating six cases, initiating prosecutions of 13 alleged traffickers, and convicting four traffickers during the previous year; the government did not report how many prosecutions it continued from 2020. Courts sentenced one police officer to five years’ imprisonment for child sex trafficking. In November 2021, the court convicted two sex traffickers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), sentencing one to three months and the other to 10 years’ imprisonment. As part of this case, the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted one complicit government employee who forged legal documents allowing the trafficking victims to remain in the DRC, and the court sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment; however, the government also fined eight of the victims 1.99 million Congolese francs ($1,000) each for illegal stay in the country. In September 2021, a military court convicted and sentenced an ex-rebel leader to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, including child soldiering, and ordered him to pay 596.34 million Congolese francs ($300,000) to 87 trafficking victims in restitution. In the previous reporting period, the military initiated prosecutions of two FARDC soldiers accused of kidnapping children for the purpose of sexual enslavement and arrested an officer for his alleged role in a child trafficking ring; both cases remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

Although the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes, corruption and complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Observers reported widespread government complicity, including allegations government officials directly engaged in trafficking, helped facilitate the crime, and obstructed justice. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, the UN reported there was one new allegation, submitted in 2021, of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). There were also pending allegations of sexual exploitation against Congolese peacekeepers deployed to CAR reported in previous years, including four reported in 2019, one in 2017, and one in 2016. The government had not yet reported the accountability measures taken, if any, for the open cases at the end of the reporting period.

The FARDC unlawfully recruited at least six children formerly associated with an armed group and used them as informants and combatants during the reporting period. The FARDC continued to collaborate and provide material support to NDC-Renove (NDC-R), despite allegations that it had previously forcibly recruited and used child soldiers.

During the reporting period, an international organization issued a report finding more than 80 of its staff members, including national and international workers, allegedly sexually abused and exploited victims, which at times included sex trafficking—soliciting sex in exchange for jobs or promotions, while working as part of an international mission responding to the Ebola outbreak between 2018 to 2020. The government did not report initiating any investigations or prosecutions of the alleged perpetrators by the end of the reporting period. For the third consecutive year, the government did not report investigating 142 cases involving sexual slavery NGOs reported to provincial courts in Ituri province in 2019.

Limited information management and data collection capabilities, poor understanding of the crime, weak judicial systems, and broad government corruption hindered law enforcement efforts. The government, in collaboration with international organizations and foreign donors, trained law enforcement, social workers, labor inspectors, and security agents on human trafficking legal frameworks, identifying and protecting victims, data collection, and investigative techniques. The Congolese National Police (PNC) incorporated human trafficking training in its community policing program curriculum. Observers reported limited understanding of trafficking among local officials impeded law enforcement efforts and likely led to underreporting of trafficking crimes. During the previous reporting period, APLTP launched a judicial training program on prosecuting trafficking cases in coordination with an international organization. The APLTP and the Ministry of Interior collaborated with an international organization to begin implementing an anti-trafficking law enforcement data collection system. The government did not report cooperating with foreign counterparts on law enforcement activities but regularly cooperated with INTERPOL on trafficking investigations. The government had a bilateral agreement with the Republic of the Congo but did not report conducting activities as part of the agreement.

The government maintained protection efforts. The government reportedly identified 256 victims, including 155 forced labor victims, 86 sex trafficking victims, and 15 victims where the form of trafficking was unknown, and referred them to care in coordination with NGOs. This compared with 207 victims identified and referred to care during the previous reporting period. The government, in collaboration with international organizations, finalized SOPs to systematically identify and refer trafficking victims to appropriate care and began disseminating the procedures to relevant stakeholders to initiate their implementation. The PNC’s Child Protection and Sexual Violence Directorate also had a formal mechanism in place with local NGOs to screen for possible trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, and the PNC, in collaboration with civil society, followed screening procedures to identify child labor and trafficking victims at mining sites.

The Ministry of Social Affairs was the primary government agency responsible for coordinating provision of victim services, including medical care, psycho-social support, legal aid, and socioeconomic reintegration services. The government did not report the total number of victims it provided these services. The government did not provide specialized services to trafficking victims as distinct from other vulnerable groups, and there were no government-run shelters for trafficking victims. As such, officials usually referred victims to NGO-run shelters. NGOs also provided victim services, including vocational and educational training, medical and psycho-social care, and legal support. Due to pandemic-related mitigation measures, NGOs, at times, limited their services and could not always provide shelter for victims. The government reported it provided financial assistance for one victim but did not report providing other financial or in-kind assistance to NGOs caring for victims during the reporting period. The government provided repatriation support to foreign national victims, including to at least 12 potential trafficking victims during the reporting period. Foreign and Congolese victims were eligible for the same services. The government did not report providing legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. As part of its national disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration plan, the government continued partnering with an international organization and NGOs to identify and remove child soldiers from armed groups operating in eastern DRC. Officials referred children separated from armed groups to international organizations for services, including psycho-social, medical, and reintegration support. However, rising insecurity hindered officials’ access to these areas and subsequently limited screening and demobilization efforts.

Officials afforded protections to victims testifying in legal proceedings on an ad hoc basis. Courts were authorized to provide measures concealing witnesses’ identities, such as using physical screens, testifying in adjacent rooms, or submitting written testimony in lieu of appearing in person. However, these protections were only available if specifically requested by a victim’s lawyer, and infrastructure challenges and severe resource constraints limited their availability and effectiveness. NGOs reported defendants’ family members frequently intimidated witnesses and victims. Victims often lacked transportation, lodging, psychological, or medical support during legal proceedings. Victims could file civil suits against traffickers, but none reportedly did so, and victims rarely received compensation. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, but in practice, defendants rarely paid it. In September 2021, a military court ordered the leader of an armed group to pay 596.34 million Congolese francs ($300,000) in restitution to 87 trafficking victims, but the government did not report whether the restitution was paid.

Authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Due to a lack of training on victim identification and screening procedures and the frequency of arbitrary arrest in the country, authorities detained unidentified victims. During the reporting period, authorities fined eight PRC national trafficking victims 1.99 million Congolese francs ($1,000) each for illegal stay in the country. Authorities, at times, remanded sex trafficking victims in custody during investigations. In 2021, authorities detained 160 children as young as 3 years old, including potential trafficking victims, for alleged association with armed groups, compared with 85 children in 2020; five children remained in detention at the end of the year. Authorities held children in local detention cells—which suffered from overcrowding, lack of food and health services, and poor sanitation—for periods ranging from two days to four months before releasing them to child protection actors. Local authorities usually, but not uniformly, granted international child protection actors access to the detained children.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The APLTP coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and led the interagency trafficking in persons committee, as well as a technical working commission, and both bodies met regularly. The government increased the APLTP’s 2022 budget by 66 percent, allowing it to hold regular technical committee meetings and cover its operating expenses.

The government continued implementing its 2020-2024 anti-trafficking national action plan; while it allocated resources to implement the plan, these were not sufficient for its full implementation. The APLTP continued its national awareness-raising campaign consisting of three tracks focused on educating the general population about the dangers of human trafficking; establishing a national hotline; and training government authorities on identification and referral procedures, as well as identifying strategies for prosecuting trafficking cases under existing legal frameworks. It conducted public campaigns and held trainings for journalists, community leaders, social workers, and labor inspectors to raise awareness of human trafficking. The Ministry of Interior produced an annual report on the country’s anti-trafficking efforts. An APLTP delegation traveled to Niger to meet with the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illicit Transport of Migrants and share best practices in combating trafficking.

The government continued efforts to prevent FARDC recruitment and use of children. The FARDC, in collaboration with an international organization, screened new recruits to verify their ages; authorities identified and prevented 62 children from entering basic training. The FARDC separated and reintegrated the children with their families and issued administrative punishments to the recruiters. In collaboration with an international organization, the government’s Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG)—comprised of government ministries, NGOs, and international organizations—continued implementing its national action plan to end child recruitment and met monthly. The government continued collaborating with an international organization to train security and law enforcement officials on age verification and care procedures. In the previous reporting period, the Ministry of Defense—in close coordination with an international organization—engaged directly with armed group commanders to end and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The government did not effectively regulate foreign labor recruiters and did not report taking measures to hold fraudulent labor recruiters accountable. The government did not report continuing investigations of Indian and Pakistani labor recruiters initiated in 2020. The government continued to uphold standards for labor recruitment and placement agencies, which required agencies to have a National Business Identification Certificate, a business license, and a tax ID number and to be officially recognized by the Ministry of Labor. However, Congolese law does not criminalize fraudulent labor recruitment, thereby limiting the government’s ability to penalize agencies for such actions and deter future violations.

The Minister of Human Rights continued implementing an August 2020 decree to increase oversight of mining communities, including a zero-tolerance policy for forced child labor in the mining sector. As part of this effort, the government, in cooperation with an international organization, continued certifying artisanal mining sites in eastern DRC as conflict-free and child labor-free. Ministry of Mines officials visited and screened 700 mines for labor violations, including trafficking; this was a significant increase from 125 mines during the previous year, in part due to the Ministry’s hiring and training of 63 new mine site inspectors. The Minister of Mines, after a review process conducted by government officials and civil society stakeholders to ensure the mine was not subject to labor violations, validated 238 mining sites in 2021. As part of the certification process, the APLTP and PNC, in collaboration with civil society, screened for child labor and child trafficking victims, and when victims were identified, referred them to care. The government did not report how many trafficking victims, if any, it identified and referred to care as a result of the inspections, but it did report closing an unknown number of mines to deter unlawful practices related to trafficking. Observers reported limited administrative capacity and funding hindered provincial departments’ ability to monitor mining sites; informants, including government officials, allegedly warned companies about upcoming inspections, allowing miners to hide child laborers.

The government operated a hotline for reporting sexual and gender-based violence, and as a result of calls to the hotline, identified and referred an unknown number of trafficking victims to care. In January 2022, the government began providing anti-trafficking training to diplomats prior to their departure. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for FARDC troops prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions; although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were seven open cases of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

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.

U.S. Department of State

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