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BENIN (Tier 2)

The Government of Benin 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, if any; therefore Benin remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers and identifying significantly more trafficking victims and referring those victims to protection services.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Authorities did not report identifying any foreign or adult trafficking victims.  Additionally, the government did not have adequate protection services for adults. 

  • Seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Develop and implement SOPs for proactive identification of adult trafficking victims and their subsequent referral to care or incorporate identification of adult trafficking victims into existing SOPs. 
  • Collaborate with NGOs and international organizations to increase the government’s capacity to provide shelter and services to more trafficking victims, including adults. 
  • Expand training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and judicial staff on the 2018 penal code articles 499-504 to increase their ability to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including fraudulent labor recruiters. 
  • Develop an information management system for the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Labor, Foreign Affairs, and other relevant government agencies – in coordination with international organizations – to improve access and utilization of law enforcement and judicial statistics. 
  • Expand implementation of the 2011 bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with the Republic of the Congo as well as the multilateral agreement with Burkina Faso and Togo to increase law enforcement coordination and hold perpetrators of transnational trafficking cases criminally accountable. 
  • Finalize the multilateral agreement with Togo and Nigeria to increase information-sharing and cooperation on transnational investigations. 
  • Screen any North Korean workers for signs of trafficking and refer them to appropriate services, in a manner consistent with obligations under United Nations Security Council resolution 2397.

The government increased law enforcement efforts.  However, the government did not report anti-trafficking data consistently from year to year, making it difficult to assess its law enforcement efforts.  Existing laws criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  Articles 499-504 of the Penal Code criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.  The 2006 Act Relating to the Transportation of Minors and the Suppression of Child Trafficking (Act 2006-04) criminalized all forms of child sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment.  These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.  

The government reported initiating investigations into 176 individuals, including 101 for sex trafficking, three for forced labor, and 72 for unspecified forms of trafficking; this compared with not reporting initiation of any investigations during the previous reporting period.  The government also reported continuing investigations into 312 individuals, including 157 for sex trafficking, 51 for forced labor, and 104 for unspecified forms of trafficking.  The government reported prosecuting 176 individuals for trafficking, including 101 for sex trafficking, three for forced labor, and 72 for unspecified forms of trafficking, compared with prosecuting four cases of child trafficking during the previous reporting period.  The government reported continuing prosecutions of 312 individuals.  The government reported convicting 94 traffickers, including 92 for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking, compared with 11 convictions in the previous reporting period.  The government also reported convicting an additional 90 individuals for trafficking-related crimes under non-trafficking laws.  The government did not report sentencing data for the convictions; in previous reporting periods, courts reportedly sentenced the majority of convicted traffickers to prison terms substantially shorter than the 10-20 years’ imprisonment required by Benin’s Penal Code for trafficking.  Some judicial officials asserted more stringent prison terms may exacerbate the vulnerability of some child victims since the perpetrators were relatives.  In a previous reporting period, officials reported police and prosecutors often did not understand or uniformly interpret the trafficking law, which resulted in traffickers being charged with other crimes.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) noted the lack of an effective data collection system resulted in the need for officials to contact individual courts to obtain case details.  Many police stations lacked the technology and capacity necessary to maintain electronic databases; judicial personnel and most courts continued to record cases on paper, creating challenges in compiling and sharing law enforcement statistics.  The government did not report prosecuting or convicting government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes, although some civil servants may have exploited children through the traditional practice of vidomegon, which involves sending children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities.  The government partnered with an international organization to train judges, police officers, and social workers on technical and legal frameworks and tools for detecting, investigating, and prosecuting cases.  Child trafficking was addressed in the National Police Academy’s curriculum for new police officers, though the government assessed supplemental training was needed.  The government cooperated with the governments of Gabon, Togo, Nigeria, and the Republic of the Congo on investigations and repatriations of trafficking victims and participated in a joint anti-trafficking operation with Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and an international organization.  The government did not report what actions it took under the 2011 bilateral anti-trafficking agreement with the Republic of the Congo or the multilateral agreement with Burkina Faso and Togo.  

The government increased overall efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims.  The government reported identifying 1,451 trafficking victims, including 1,214 labor trafficking victims and 237 victims of unspecified forms of trafficking.  All of the identified victims were children.  This compared with identifying 701 potential victims in the previous reporting period.  The government referred all victims to social services, as it did during the previous reporting period.  The government reported NGOs identified 26 sex trafficking victims and 541 child labor trafficking victims.  The government did not have formal identification procedures for the identification or referral of adult victims and did not identify any adult victims of trafficking.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance, Central Office for the Protection of Minors (OCPM), MOJ, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various international donors and NGOs coordinated to identify, assist, and repatriate child trafficking victims using the national referral mechanism.  OCPM operated a temporary shelter for child victims in Cotonou with a capacity of 160 children (80 boys and 80 girls), but due to pandemic safety measures, the capacity was reduced to 120.  The shelter offered child victims legal services, medical, and psychological assistance and served as a short-term shelter while officials worked to place children in long-term NGO shelters.  NGOs coordinated with Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance representatives to reunite children with their families.  Observers noted limited shelter capacity hindered service provision and access to justice for some victims.  The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance’s network of Social Promotion Centers (Centres de Promotion Sociale) continued to provide basic services for adult and child trafficking victims in all of Benin’s 77 communes, with additional Social Promotion Centers in more populated communes such as Parakou, Cotonou, and Porto Novo.  Victims in rural areas had limited access to services.  The Ministry of Health’s SOPs for providing health services to individuals in commercial sex included a presumption that any minor involved in commercial sex was a sex trafficking victim; however, screening for trafficking indicators was inconsistent.  The government has not developed a corresponding directive or procedure for the identification of adult trafficking victims among this vulnerable population.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained some unidentified trafficking victims.  

The government continued implementing its social services data management system to track child protection cases, including child trafficking.  Data was publicly available, yet remained incomplete as not all staff were equipped or trained to input data.  The government had procedures to provide legal aid services to victims to support their participation in criminal proceedings, but due to lack of funding, such services were rarely available.  Beninese law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, although the government considered cases involving foreign child trafficking victims for immigration relief on an ad hoc basis.  

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking in persons.  The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Technical Commission coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.  It was chaired by the Chief of Staff of the Minister of Planning and Development and comprised the ministries of Development, Justice, Interior, Finance, Labor, Foreign Affairs, and Social Affairs, among other agencies.  The commission met twice in 2022.  The Minister of State, in charge of Development and Coordination of Government Action’s General Directorate for Evaluation and the Observatory for Social Change, had working level responsibility for the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.  The National Monitoring and Coordination Working Group for Child Protection (CNSCPE), which monitored child trafficking cases, met regularly.  The government reported it continued to implement the country’s 2020-2024 anti-trafficking NAP.

Child Protection Committees, comprised of local officials, police, and NGO representatives in all of Benin’s 77 communes, met regularly to discuss strategies to address child protection issues, including child trafficking.  The government conducted awareness raising activities on human trafficking risks in domestic work and, in conjunction with an international organization, conducted an awareness raising campaign in border areas and cities where children faced a high risk of trafficking.  In coordination with an international organization, the Ministry of Social Affairs ran a child protection hotline, which reported receiving 44 calls related to child trafficking concerns that resulted in police or social worker intervention.  The hotline was operational 24 hours a day and staffed with French and local language speakers.  There were no hotlines available for adult trafficking victims.  

The government conducted 953 labor inspections, including in sectors with high instances of child labor, and reported identifying 575 instances of violations of child labor laws, though the government did not provide information on whether any of these cases resulted in investigations.  The government trained new labor inspectors on child trafficking.  The government regulated formal recruitment agencies, but authorities did not take action against informal employment agents who facilitated trafficking.  Some illicit recruiters continued to recruit Beninese victims for employment abroad with fraudulent offers of employment.  The government did not report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs trained diplomats on human trafficking issues.  A foreign government provided anti-trafficking training to Beninese troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers.  Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were seven open cases of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to various UN peacekeeping missions.  These include two allegations in 2020 and one in 2021 against Beninese military personnel deployed with the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); one in 2019 against a police officer, who received financial disciplinary action and was repatriated, and one in 2020 against military personnel deployed with the mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA); one in 2018 against a police officer deployed to the now-closed mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), who was repatriated; and one in 2016 against a military officer deployed to the mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  The government did not report on the accountability measures taken, if any, for the remaining open cases in MONUSCO, MINUSCA, and MINUSMA by the end of the reporting period.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Benin, and traffickers exploit victims from Benin abroad.  Trafficking in the country is predominantly internal.  The majority of child trafficking victims are from rural areas and are most often victims of labor trafficking.  Children from low-income families and those without birth documents are especially at risk; officials report parent illiteracy and single-parent households also increase children’s risk of exploitation.  In past reporting periods, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some risk factors for trafficking, including poverty and school absences.  Some community members and relatives use the promise of education or employment to recruit Beninese children from northern rural areas to the more urban southern corridor and exploit them in forced labor in domestic servitude, markets, farming, as “apprentices” engaged in various trades, and in handicraft manufacturing.  Beninese traffickers include farmers, traders, artisans, small factory owners, and civil servants; some belong to criminal networks and others may have been former trafficking victims.  Adults are exploited in sex and labor trafficking.  Officials reported that traffickers are increasingly using Voudoun curses as a means to control female Beninese trafficking victims.

The government reported traffickers exploit children living in the lakeside areas of Benin – including the commune of So Ava in southeast Benin – in debt bondage.  Criminal elements operate in urban areas under the guise of informal employment agents and recruit children for domestic work in private residences, where house managers and families exploit them in domestic servitude.  Some parents follow a traditional practice known as vidomegon, which involves sending children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities; some of these families then subject the children to forced labor, often in domestic service and open-air markets, or sexual exploitation.  Some Quranic schools in northern Benin exploit their students, or talibe, in forced begging.  Officials and civil society organizations reported that the norther, central, southern, and border regions are high-risk regions for human trafficking.  

Beninese children are sent to Nigeria, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, and to a lesser extent other West and Central African countries for domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor.  Togolese victims also transit through Benin in route to other destinations.  Benin has been the largest source country for trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo, with the department of Oueme in southeast Benin historically an area traffickers used to recruit child victims.  Child marriage remains prevalent nationwide, with some families forcing girls into marriages as a result of generational poverty; these girls may then be subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude.

Reports indicate criminal groups fraudulently recruit young Beninese women for domestic work in Lebanon, Algeria, and Persian Gulf countries and subsequently exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking.  In past reporting periods, traffickers and their accomplices have sent child victims to their destinations alone and met the victims upon arrival.  International organizations report some adult labor migrants use airports, primarily in Togo – but also in the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso and Nigeria – to circumvent anti-trafficking screening procedures put in place by the government at Cotonou’s international airport, increasing the migrants’ vulnerability to human trafficking.  An international organization reported victims from Thailand have been fraudulently recruited and forced into sexual exploitation in Benin.  Children from Togo, Burkina Faso, and Niger are exploited in forced begging in Northern Benin.  North Koreans working in Benin may be operating under exploitative working conditions and display multiple indicators of forced labor.

U.S. Department of State

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