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Equatorial Guinea (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Equatorial Guinea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included increasing anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, as well as finalizing and beginning implementation of an updated 2022-2024 national action plan (NAP) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim protection and care. The government improved coordination efforts among the members of the anti-trafficking Interagency Coordinating Committee (TICC). It also trained local leaders on trafficking indicators and law enforcement officials on trafficking investigations and victim identification. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increased efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2004 anti-trafficking law, and authorities did not prosecute alleged traffickers or identify any victims during the reporting period. The government’s anti-trafficking law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking. Further, there were allegations that senior government officials were complicit in trafficking crimes. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Equatorial Guinea was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3; therefore Equatorial Guinea remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

  • Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, including allegedly complicity officials.
  • Prioritize the proactive identification of victims of trafficking—separate from fraudulent adoptions or other forms of abuse—including by screening vulnerable communities, such as child laborers in markets; women in commercial sex; domestic and construction workers; undocumented immigrants; North Korean and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) national workers; and Cuban overseas workers, including medical professionals.
  • Amend the 2004 anti-trafficking law—or pass amendments to the penal code—removing the requirement of a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases.
  • Form and provide resources to an independent agency mandated to improve the government’s capacity to investigate and prosecute traffickers and identify victims.
  • Implement the updated anti-trafficking NAP to enhance governmental coordination.
  • Continue to expand training for law enforcement and judicial officials to increase their capacity to investigate, prosecute, and—following a fair and transparent trial—sentence convicted traffickers under the anti-trafficking law.
  • Continue to train social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officials on trafficking indicators, including the difference between trafficking and migrant smuggling victims.
  • Increase funding for victim services and coordinate with civil society and NGOs to provide shelter for all identified trafficking victims.
  • Continue to include local officials in the nation-wide anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns to educate more individuals on trafficking indicators and enhance their ability to report potential victims to first responders using the government’s hotline or web-based portal.
  • Further research the extent and nature of human trafficking within the country according to the NAP and draft an annual public report describing the government’s efforts.
  • Screen all individuals in immigration detention or custody for indicators of human trafficking.

The government maintained limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Law on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 50 million Central African francs (CFA) ($86,470) if the crime involved an adult victim; an additional five years would be added to the principal penalty for offenses involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Equatorial Guinea’s legal framework required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore, it did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Additionally, the law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. The government continued efforts to draft new penal code articles with increased victim protection requirements; however, parliament had not approved the articles by the end of the reporting period.

The government did not make comprehensive law enforcement statistics easily accessible and had limited information management capabilities and data collection. However, authorities added the National Institute of Statistics as an integral member of the anti-trafficking committee to improve the government’s efforts to collect data on trafficking trends and to assess its own efforts to combat human trafficking. Media reports noted the government initiated the investigation of three Beninese women for child labor trafficking crimes in November 2021. However, officials did not report investigating any other cases or prosecuting any suspected traffickers during the reporting period. The government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2004 trafficking law. The government did not provide an update on cases reported in the previous reporting period, including the investigations into two cases of illegal sale of a child that may have included aspects of human trafficking in 2020; a possible trafficking case involving an Equatoguinean national suspect abroad; and the results of the commission of inquiry into reports of soldiers sexually exploiting minors. Judicial officials noted a lack of training resulted in authorities frequently prosecuting and convicting potential trafficking cases under related statutes, such as kidnapping, illegal adoption, or physical abuse. The government did not report cooperating with foreign counterparts on any law enforcement activities.

The government organized training in Batra for approximately 50 border agents and military personnel stationed in Equatorial Guinea’s continental region. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality (MSA) also reportedly trained community leaders, police officers, and MSA delegates throughout the country on strategies for identifying trafficking victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and alleged official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Multiple credible sources alleged senior officials were involved in human trafficking, particularly in the recruitment of domestic workers in their own households or by exploiting workers in forced labor in their private businesses. Additionally, reports alleged high-level officials were involved with sex trafficking of women from countries including Brazil, the PRC, and Venezuela. Authorities at airports reportedly took bribes from foreign nationals who overstayed their visas, and judges were also accused of taking bribes and other goods in exchange for favorable rulings. Additionally, military service members at the border with Cameroon reportedly accepted bribes to let people enter the country during pandemic-related border closures between December 2021 and January 2022. Spanish authorities formally dismissed the charges against seven suspected traffickers, including Equatoguinean nationals, due to lack of evidence in a case involving a network exploiting women and girls in Spain, allegedly perpetrated with assistance from Equatoguinean military officials who may have falsified the victims’ identity documents.

The government maintained limited efforts to identify victims. In 2021, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims, compared with identifying and providing services for one potential trafficking victim in 2020. The government finalized two SOPs for victim protection and care; one for government agencies and the other for consular officers to use abroad. Pandemic-related movement restrictions affected the government’s protection efforts by limiting officials’ ability to inspect key sectors for trafficking victims. The government reported it suspended some services due to the pandemic. Officials continued to designate government housing as temporary shelters for victims of trafficking and domestic violence, although authorities did not report referring any victims to these shelters. The government decreased its allocated budget for anti-trafficking efforts to 75 million CFA ($129,700), compared with $566,829 in 2020, to provide services to trafficking victims and to raise awareness of the crime among vulnerable populations. The government had no formal policies to provide foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face retribution or hardship.

Due to a lack of widely used formal victim identification procedures, authorities may have deported or arrested some unidentified trafficking victims. During the reporting period, government officials in Spain provided assistance to Equatoguinean victims identified in a case that allegedly involved complicity by some members of the military.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government finalized an updated 2022-2024 NAP during the reporting period. Per the country’s updated NAP, the government maintained its anti-trafficking interagency committee, which includes representatives from the Office of the Third Vice Prime Minister in charge of Human Rights, multiple ministries, and several NGOs. The government reported the committee held six meetings during 2021. The government reported it included a line item for each ministry for anti-trafficking efforts in its fiscal year 2022 budget request; however, the budget only included one trafficking line item totaling 50 million CFA ($86,470) for the Ministry of Justice, Worship, and Penitentiary institutions by the end of the reporting period. In June 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MFA) reported drafting a roadmap document to address anti-trafficking gaps highlighted in previous reporting periods; observers reported there were no additional resources, if any, dedicated to the roadmap implementation. The Ministry of Interior, in collaboration with a local NGO and local corporations, hosted 10 seminars for local authorities and community leaders on human trafficking in urban districts in Malabo and Bata, reportedly training 810 local leaders. The government partnered with the same NGO to hold additional seminars to raise awareness of human trafficking among civil society and health care workers. Observers reported a public service announcement on human trafficking created by the Ministry of National Security in 2020 continued to air on national TV stations.

The Ministry of Labor’s web-based reporting platform and hotline remained active and available for individuals to anonymously report potential trafficking cases, as did the Ministry of National Security’s hotlines for reporting crimes to the police. The government did not report any trafficking-related calls during the reporting period. Additionally, observers noted that the government’s ongoing focus on pandemic prevention and mitigation put vulnerable populations at risk of trafficking and emboldened traffickers to operate with less risk of detection and conviction.

The Ministry of Labor continued to implement regulations requiring all companies to sign formal labor contracts with their employees. During the reporting period, Ministry of Labor officials conducted inspections; however, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims.

Border security officials stated they increased cooperation with Gabonese and Cameroonian counterparts on screening for potential victims of trafficking; however, they did not report identifying any victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for diplomats but reported it began developing a new training for diplomats that remained pending at the end of the reporting period.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Equatorial Guinea, and traffickers exploit victims from Equatorial Guinea abroad. Despite continued education and awareness-raising efforts by the government, many civil society members and government officials still lack an understanding of human trafficking, hindering the country’s ability to identify victims and address the crime. Observers reported traffickers are adjusting their tactics to increasingly use online platforms to recruit and exploit victims.

Observers reported Equatoguineans exploit the majority of trafficking victims in forced labor in domestic service and commercial sex in the cities of Malabo, Bata, Mongomo, and Ebebiyin, where relative wealth and security attracts Central and West African migrant workers. Equatoguinean traffickers exploit local and foreign women in commercial sex in these cities, with the Malabo neighborhoods of Banapa and Paraiso and the city center primary areas of concern. Foreign national men were susceptible to deceptive employment offers and forced labor in construction, agriculture, domestic work (security guards), and other low-skill jobs.

Observers noted that the sustained economic downturn due to decreasing oil prices and oil production—exacerbated by the global economic contraction caused by the pandemic—resulted in Equatoguineans in urban centers replacing some foreign domestic workers with children from rural areas in Equatorial Guinea, whom they then exploited in forced labor. Some business owners involved in the hospitality and restaurant sectors exploit hotel and bar workers in forced labor and commercial sex within the country’s urban centers. Observers report LGBTQI+ youth are often left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Measures to control the pandemic’s spread—including border closures and mandatory curfews—may have increased the vulnerability of migrants and informal sector workers by reducing their ability to maintain a stable income.

Equatoguinean business owners reportedly exploit children from nearby countries—primarily Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Nigeria, and Togo—in forced labor as domestic workers, market laborers, vendors, and launderers. Over the past five years, observers reported Equatoguinean traffickers, some of whom may be associated with the country’s elites, may exploit women from Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and the PRC in commercial sex at nightclubs, bars, and brothels in the country. Traffickers may exploit Equatoguineans in Spain. During the reporting period, there were reports alleging members of the Equatoguinean military falsified identity documents to facilitate a sex trafficking ring in Menorca, Spain, involving women and girls.

Some business owners recruit women from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and other African countries for work in Equatorial Guinea and exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking in markets, hair salons, or commercial sex. PRC national-owned firms recruit PRC nationals to migrate to Equatorial Guinea for work or to engage in commercial sex; some of these businesses then confiscate workers’ passports, which increases their vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking. Observers noted the government contracted highly-skilled professionals, such as Cuban doctors and teachers, to work in its public schools and hospitals. A small number of North Koreans working in Equatorial Guinea may have been forced to work by the North Korean government. Companies in the construction sector, among others, also sometimes held the passports of foreign workers, increasing their vulnerability to forced labor. Observers reported some corrupt and complicit government workers, including senior officials and elected representatives, participated in trafficking-related crimes during the reporting period.

U.S. Department of State

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