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Tunisia (Tier 2)

The Government of Tunisia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Tunisia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting sex and labor traffickers for the first time in three years. In addition, the government significantly increased investigations and prosecutions of alleged traffickers. The government publicly released its national victim identification and referral mechanism (NRM), thereby increasing awareness and coordination among government and civil society stakeholders, and continued to coordinate with civil society organizations to ensure all identified victims received appropriate care. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government identified fewer trafficking victims, and access to services was conditioned on official identification from a limited number of authorities, thereby possibly delaying identification and even subjecting unidentified victims to penalization for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. While the government provided some services for victims, overall government services appropriate for the needs of all trafficking victims outside of major cities remained limited. Despite training efforts, limited understanding of trafficking among officials and the small number of ministries that could legally identify trafficking victims slowed the process for victims to receive care.

  • Continue investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms, using the 2016 anti-trafficking law.
  • Fully implement formal procedures for all relevant officials to screen and proactively identify sex and labor trafficking victims—particularly among vulnerable groups such as domestic workers, undocumented migrants, children experiencing homelessness, and persons in commercial sex—and train officials on their use.
  • Authorize more government officials, including throughout the country, to officially identify trafficking victims to allow for more efficient access to protection services.
  • Train and build the capacity of judicial and law enforcement officials on the application of the anti-trafficking law, investigative techniques, and evidence collection specific to trafficking cases; witness and victim protection best practices during trial; and alternatives to victim testimony.
  • Expand implementation of the NRM using a victim-centered approach to ensure officials refer all trafficking victims to appropriate protection services and train law enforcement and judicial authorities on appropriately referring victims to care. 
  • Provide adequate protection services to adult and child victims of all forms of trafficking, including appropriate shelter, psycho-social, long-term, and rehabilitative services tailored specifically to trafficking victims.
  • Train staff at government-operated centers for vulnerable populations to provide trafficking victims with appropriate and specialized care and increase resources for provision of care at these centers.
  • Improve coordination among government ministries to combat trafficking.
  • Provide funding or in-kind support to NGOs that provide care to trafficking victims.
  • Develop procedures, especially for law enforcement, judicial, and border officials, to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution and immigration violations.

The government increased overall law enforcement efforts. Tunisia’s anti-trafficking law, Organic Law 2016-61, enacted in July 2016, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine for offenses involving adult victims and 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine for those involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Article 171 of the penal code criminalized begging and using children to beg and prescribed penalties of six months to two years’ imprisonment.

In 2021, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) conducted a total of 332 investigations, which included 27 cases of sex trafficking, 122 cases of forced labor, 135 cases of child “economic exploitation” (forced labor), 12 cases of child forced criminality, and 36 unspecified forms of trafficking. This demonstrated a significant increase from the 181 investigations—73 cases of forced labor, 62 cases of “economic exploitation” (forced labor), 28 cases of sexual exploitation, and 10 cases of child forced criminality, and 8 unspecified forms of trafficking—the government initiated in 2020. The National Authority to Combat Trafficking in Persons (“National Authority”)—the government’s lead agency coordinating anti-trafficking efforts—reported the government, with the assistance of a legal aid NGO, initiated 200 new forced labor prosecutions under the anti-trafficking law in 2021. In addition, the government continued 114 sex trafficking prosecutions and 136 prosecutions for unspecified forms of trafficking initiated in previous reporting periods. This was a significant increase compared to 32 prosecutions in 2020. Courts completed 56 trafficking cases in 2021, resulting in eight convictions (one sex trafficking conviction, three child forced labor convictions, three forced begging convictions, and one forced criminality in drug trafficking conviction); seven of the convicted traffickers were convicted under the anti-trafficking law, and one was convicted of forced begging under Article 171 of the penal code. These were the first trafficking convictions since 2018. Of the 56 completed cases, courts issued 40 default judgements in cases where the defendants were tried in absentia, and an additional eight judgements were subject to appeal. Sentences ranged from four months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment; of the seven convictions under the anti-trafficking law, at least five traffickers were sentenced to prison terms greater than one year. The government investigated an employee of a publicly-funded social assistance center for alleged complicity in child trafficking but otherwise did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) designated a judge at each tribunal of first instance, for a total of 28, to serve as focal points to prosecute and investigate human trafficking cases. The MOI’s special victims unit, established in 2017, included brigades of judicial police and national guard officers throughout the country who specialized in cybercrime and assistance to victims of trafficking and gender-based violence. The MOJ continued to monitor and maintain statistics on human trafficking cases brought before the judiciary through a specialized office; this office also had the authority to conduct research on the application of the anti-trafficking law and advise the Minister of Justice on policies related to the implementation of the law. Although pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns limited in-person gatherings for a portion of the reporting period, the government—in coordination with international and civil society organizations—conducted a wide variety of anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement and judicial officials, healthcare practitioners, social workers, and other government officials on identifying and assisting trafficking victims, as well as investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. Nevertheless, insufficient training of judicial and law enforcement officials hindered investigations and victim identification efforts, and some officials conflated trafficking and migrant smuggling. The National Authority reported the lack of an independent budget and insufficient capacity building hindered the government’s efforts to fully implement the law. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported there continued to be a low level of awareness among police and judicial authorities on the application of the anti-trafficking law and handling of trafficking cases. Due to their lack of familiarity with the law, some judicial officials used other laws that had less stringent sentences to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders. Observers also reported courts dismissed several potential trafficking cases due to a lack of evidence on the exploitative nature of the crimes; lack of victim or witness testimony also created challenges for officials to successfully prosecute and convict trafficking offenders.

The government maintained protection efforts. In 2021, the National Authority identified 718 trafficking victims; while this represented a decrease from the 907 victims it identified in 2020 and 1,313 identified victims in 2019, it was an increase compared with 780 in 2018 and 285 in 2017. More than half of the identified victims were women and children, and 387 were foreign victims from Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Guinea, Italy, Japan, Mali, Nigeria, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Syria. Of the 718 identified victims, 107 were sex trafficking victims, 292 were labor trafficking victims, and 319 were subjected to unspecified forms of trafficking. During the reporting period, the government identified eight Tunisian victims in other Arab countries; the government provided reintegration assistance to six of the victims upon their return to Tunisia. The government referred or directly provided assistance to all identified victims of trafficking in 2021. The Ministry of Health (MOH) provided healthcare to 127 trafficking victims, including both Tunisian and foreign victims. NGOs reported the government continued to collaborate with civil society organizations to provide assistance to victims. The government also assisted in the repatriation of 38 Tunisian trafficking victims in 2021: 27 women and 11 men. The government continued assisting the reintegration of 34 female Tunisian trafficking victims repatriated in 2020, who Tunisian authorities identified in Gulf countries in 2018 and 2019.

The government continued implementing the NRM, which streamlined all stages of the referral process from victim identification and assistance to civil and criminal proceedings. In December 2021, the National Authority publicly released the NRM and published the NRM on its website in both Arabic and French. Judicial and border police continued to have practices in place to screen for potential trafficking victims among those who overstayed their legal residency or who were subject to expulsion after serving a prison sentence. The government also provided practical guides to security officers and judicial police on victim identification techniques. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) continued to train all labor inspectors to identify potential trafficking victims; there were 26 labor inspectors and 24 social workers in the MSA’s labor inspectorate that were trained as specialized points of contact for child trafficking victims. Despite these efforts, the National Authority and MOI special victims unit were the only government entities authorized to officially identify trafficking victims, thereby allowing victims access to state-run services and requesting exemptions from exit visas for foreign victims. During the reporting period, the National Authority requested exemptions from exit penalties for 38 potential foreign trafficking victims; the Ministry of Finance approved all requests. NGOs continued to report that the limited number of ministries that could legally identify trafficking victims slowed the process for identification and, subsequently, for victims to receive care. Moreover, insufficient interagency coordination and resources reportedly hindered the timely identification and referral to services for trafficking victims. In addition, civil society organizations reported the special victims unit did not have sufficient personnel or resources to provide adequate assistance to trafficking victims, nor did personnel have the cultural understanding or training to communicate with vulnerable migrants from the sub-Saharan African population, including potential trafficking victims. Civil society organizations also expressed concern that the government’s process to provide exemption from visa penalties for foreign trafficking victims was slow and cumbersome, thereby creating difficulties for civil society to assist victims in a timely manner. As a result of the official identification procedures and the other constraints outlined above, civil society noted authorities may have punished some unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution or immigration violations.

The MSA continued to operate two shelters for children in Tunis and Sidi Bouzid and shelters for adults in Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax; at least two of the five shelters had designated areas for trafficking victims where victims could enter and exit freely and return on a regular basis for assistance seeking employment. The five MSA shelters supported 129 victims in 2021, including 47 women, 35 men, and 35 boys. The MSA shelters provided psychological care, family reintegration, social support, material assistance, professional integration, and health services. The MSA—in collaboration with an international organization—continued to provide training for the centers’ staff on rehabilitation and care for trafficking victims. The MSA and National Authority continued to uphold an agreement, signed in January 2019, for the MSA to dedicate one room in all social care centers for victims of trafficking and violence. An MOH-operated hospital in Tunis continued to have a unit with trained personnel dedicated to caring for victims of violence, including sexual exploitation, which offered psycho-social support, medical documentation, and legal expertise; the government did not report if this unit assisted any trafficking victims. The government’s rehabilitation center for torture victims could also assist trafficking victims with psychological and therapeutic support; the rehabilitation center assisted 18 trafficking victims with short-term psychological support in 2021. The government ran 79 youth centers around the country that provided psycho-educational services to at-risk children ages six to 18, including child trafficking victims, one of which was dedicated solely for abandoned or otherwise vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims; however, the government did not report if any child trafficking victims received assistance at these centers during the reporting period. Civil society contacts reported there were overall limited services throughout the country for child trafficking victims, especially long-term, reintegration, and relocation services. Despite the centers and services provided by the MSA and MOH, the National Authority and civil society partners continued to report the country lacked sufficient shelters to support vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims. Although the National Authority and NGOs partnered to reintegrate victims into society, the lack of resources, trained personnel, and sufficient shelter beds—especially outside of Tunis—created challenges in doing so. The government offered foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. The anti-trafficking law provided all identified foreign trafficking victims relief from deportation; the government did not report whether it provided temporary relief from deportation for any foreign trafficking victims in 2021. Victims had the right to free legal aid to assist them in engaging in civil and criminal proceedings against their traffickers and provisions to protect victims’ privacy during court proceedings, such as recorded testimony and physical protection. The government allowed trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period, renewable once, while they decided whether to assist law enforcement; victim assistance was not dependent on assisting law enforcement. Prosecutors could seek restitution in trafficking cases; however, the government did not report whether courts issued restitution in trafficking cases in 2021. Trafficking victims could request legal aid to assist them in civil suits; the government did not report whether courts ordered defendants to pay compensation in the form of damages through civil suits during the reporting period.

The government maintained overall efforts to prevent trafficking. The government drafted, but had not yet adopted, a 2022-2023 national strategy and action plan to combat trafficking, and the MOJ continued to lead the National Authority, which included representatives from 13 ministries and experts from civil society. The National Authority continued implementing and updating its contingency plan drafted in 2020 to manage its crisis response to trafficking amid the pandemic and to prepare for similar situations in the future. Decree law number 2019-653 issued in 2019 established operating procedures and guidelines for the National Authority and four specialized commissions to focus on monitoring and evaluation, research, training and development, and tracking victim cases. The National Authority continued to consult a network of trafficking survivors established in 2019 that served as a council to share experiences, advise, and present recommendations to the committee to help improve its work. During the reporting period, the National Authority completed its annual report that detailed its activities in 2020 and recommendations on how to improve the government’s fight against human trafficking; the National Authority published the report in October 2021. In addition, the government partnered with several international organizations and academic institutions to research trafficking trends in Tunisia, including the intersection of trafficking and irregular migration; the government plans to publish the results of these studies in 2022. The government continued to conduct numerous anti-trafficking public awareness and information campaigns, at times in partnership with civil society organizations, including workshops for journalists and media engagements. The government continued to operate a hotline to report potential trafficking crimes, which was operational five days a week during regular business hours and whose operators spoke Arabic, French, and English. The hotline received 1,505 calls in 2021, but the government did not report identifying any potential trafficking victims through the hotline; 70 percent of calls were related to case follow-up, and 16 percent of calls were related to requests for interviews. In 2020, the government did not report the number of calls to the hotline but reported identifying three potential trafficking victims through the hotline.

The government continued to make efforts to address fraudulent labor recruitment practices. The Agency for Placement Abroad in Private Establishments (EPPA) continued to regulate private labor recruiters and had 31 EPPAs in Tunisian embassies abroad to oversee labor migration. Article 4 of Law 2010-2948 on EPPAs prohibited worker-paid recruitment fees. The Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment (MFPE) coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration, and Tunisians Abroad and created labor attaché positions at the Tunisian embassies in Qatar, France, and Saudi Arabia. The MFPE also maintained three resource centers for Tunisian labor migrants to offer support and services before, during, and after traveling abroad for work. In addition, the Directorate General for Immigration continued to coordinate with the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment to combat illegal job recruitment agencies. The National Agency for Employment and Independent Work (ANETI) maintained a network of 120 approved private recruiting agencies, 1,000 job advisors, and an online platform to improve employment searches in Tunisia and prevent exploitative work contracts. ANETI raised awareness about its work and advised job seekers to avoid communicating with unauthorized recruitment agencies as they may use exploitative contracts. The government also used a Qatar-Tunisia visa center to organize the process of recruiting Tunisians to work in Qatar and oversee employment contracts. In July 2021, Law No.37 of 2021 was published in the official gazette to regulate domestic work. The law defines the terms of employment for domestic workers and the rights and obligations of the employer and wage earner, as well as monitoring and inspection mechanisms; the government did not report on the status of implementation of the law by the end of the reporting period. Nevertheless, civil society organizations reported concerns the government did not provide sufficient initiatives to address the internal child domestic servitude problem. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or child sex tourism.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Tunisia, and traffickers exploit victims from Tunisia abroad. Some Tunisian children are vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking in Tunisia. During the reporting period, the government reported child sex trafficking, including online sexual exploitation and recruitment through social media, increased during the pandemic; the government also reported family members were at times the alleged trafficker(s). Tunisian girls working in domestic service for wealthy families in Tunis and major coastal cities are highly vulnerable to trafficking, experiencing restrictions on movement, physical and psychological violence, and sexual abuse. Tunisian children—many of whom dropped out of school and were between the ages of 11 and 12 years old—worked in small workshops, auto mechanic garages, and domestic service; some of these children may be vulnerable to trafficking. International organizations report a continued presence of children who were homeless or street vendors and rural children working in agriculture to support their families in Tunisia; these children are vulnerable to forced labor or sex trafficking. Tunisian officials reported organized gangs reportedly forced children who were homeless to serve as thieves and beggars and to transport drugs. Tunisian women are reportedly exploited in sex trafficking under false promises of work, both within the country and elsewhere in the region, such as Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

Foreign migrants are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labor in Tunisia. According to an NGO, foreign trafficking victims typically arrived in Tunisia on a valid tourist or student visa and remained in an exploitative situation for an average of five to 13 months, surpassing the validity of their visa. Civil society and international organizations continue to report an increase in traffickers exploiting women, primarily from West Africa and increasingly from Cote d’Ivoire, in domestic servitude in private homes in Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, and Gabes. An NGO also reported traffickers forced some men from Cote d’Ivoire to work on farms and construction sites. Traffickers reportedly coerce Ivoirians to smuggle cannabis and opioids into Tunisia. According to a Tunisian NGO, recruiters in Cote d’Ivoire target both well-educated and non-skilled individuals in the country with false and fraudulent promises of work in Tunisia. Well-educated Ivoirians, who pay a recruiter to assist them to find work in Tunisia, are promised jobs that do not exist upon arrival in Tunisia, are held in debt bondage, and are forced into domestic service in Tunisian households. Recruiters also target unskilled and uneducated individuals primarily from San Pedro, Cote d’Ivoire, to work in domestic service, construction, or agriculture in Tunisia; these individuals are then required to repay the transportation costs and recruitment fees upon arrival and are thereby held in debt bondage by their employers. Civil society organizations continue to report traffickers appear to coach some of their victims on how to answer questions about their trafficking experiences so victims can access benefits—such as a reprieve from exit fines—which would further allow the traffickers to exploit victims. An NGO reported that female victims of domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor, whose employers hold them in debt bondage, are further exploited by nightclub owners that cater to sub-Saharan African communities in Tunisia. The nightclub owners falsely promise to pay the women’s debts in exchange for working in the nightclubs as servers, but the owners subsequently force the women into commercial sex for the nightclubs’ clientele. Civil society organizations also report male migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who work in poor working conditions in Tunisia, could be vulnerable to forced labor. Tunisian LGBTQI+ rights associations report migrants and asylum-seekers from neighboring countries who escaped violence or discrimination due to their gender identity or sexual orientation may be particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in Tunisia. NGOs and international organizations observe a slight increase in boys from sub-Saharan and West Africa, including Cote d’Ivoire, who were vulnerable to trafficking after accepting fraudulent offers of soccer careers in Tunisia. In 2020 and 2021, Italian authorities reported a sharp increase in undocumented Tunisian migrants arriving in Italy, in part due to pandemic-related economic fallout; these undocumented migrants were vulnerable to trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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