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The Government of the Republic of South Sudan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on the government’s anti-trafficking capacity, is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore South Sudan remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including convening its anti-trafficking inter-ministerial task force and conducting training activities in partnership with international organizations. However, during the reporting period there was a government policy or pattern of employing or recruiting child soldiers. Government security and law enforcement officers continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers and did not hold any members of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) or South Sudan National Police Services (SSNPS) criminally accountable for these unlawful acts. Authorities did not report investigating or prosecuting any trafficking crimes for the eleventh consecutive year. The government did not report identifying or assisting any trafficking victims and continued to penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

  • Cease all unlawful recruitment or use of children by government forces (and associated militias) and immediately demobilize all child soldiers under the command or influence of government forces and affiliated militias and, in partnership with international organizations, provide adequate protection and reintegration support.
  • Investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers, including complicit government officials.
  • Train law enforcement and social workers to identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children, individuals in commercial sex, and IDPs.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Provide additional financial and staffing support to the SSPDF’s Directorate of Child Protection to facilitate efforts to identify perpetrators of unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and refer cases to civilian courts.
  • Draft, finalize, and implement victim identification screening and referral procedures in partnership with international organizations and civil society.
  • Train law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges – including officials serving on the Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court – on the 2008 Child Act, 2008 Penal Code, and 2018 Labor Act.
  • Increase funding and resources for the anti-trafficking inter-ministerial taskforce.
  • Amend the 2008 Penal Code or pass a comprehensive anti-trafficking law to criminalize adult sex trafficking and prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape.
  • Accede to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its TIP Protocol.

The government continued to demonstrate negligible law enforcement efforts.  The 2008 Penal Code, 2008 Child Act, and 2018 Labor Act criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking.  Article 276 criminalized buying or selling a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribed a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which was sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  Articles 254 and 258 criminalized the procurement of a child for prostitution and the facilitation of the prostitution of a child by the child’s parent or guardian and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine; these penalties were also sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  The criminal code did not explicitly criminalize adult sex trafficking and, inconsistent with international law, required movement across borders to establish the crime.  Article 282 prohibited and prescribed a sufficiently stringent punishment of up to seven years’ imprisonment for the sale of a person across international borders.  Articles 31 and 32 of South Sudan’s 2008 Child Act prohibited the recruitment and use of children for military or paramilitary activities, and prescribed punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for such crimes.  The 2018 Labor Act prohibited forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, confiscation of property, cancellation of a business license, or closure of business, or a combination thereof; these penalties were sufficiently stringent.

The government did not report investigating any suspected trafficking cases, compared with investigating three cases during the previous reporting period.  The government has not reported prosecuting or convicting any suspected traffickers for the eleventh consecutive year.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.  Government authorities did not report cooperating with any foreign governments on trafficking cases.  Despite the ongoing unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the SSPDF, SSNPS, and allied militias, the government has never held an offender criminally or administratively accountable for such crimes.  The lack of resources for basic operations, a dearth of trained judicial officials, and corruption throughout the justice sector continued to impede law enforcement efforts.

The government continued to contribute logistical support for two international organizations to provide training on identifying trafficking victims and referral mechanisms for judges, prosecutors, police, immigration officials, and members of the human trafficking task force.  However, most police and judicial officials continued to lack a basic understanding of trafficking and frequently conflated human trafficking and migrant smuggling.  Officials estimated customary courts handled most cases due to capacity limitations of statutory courts, further limiting accountability for suspected traffickers.  The government continued operation of its specialized Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court to expedite trials for these cases, which may have included cases involving human trafficking.  The SSPDF’s Directorate for Child Protection, maintained responsibility for investigating allegations of child soldiering.  The taskforce continued its review of South Sudan’s legal framework to identify areas for alignment with the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its TIP Protocol.

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts.  Officials did not report identifying any victims during the reporting period.  The government did not report having formal procedures to proactively identify and refer victims to care.  The government did not report providing services to any victims of trafficking.  Members of the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission (NDDRC) and other government officials reported demobilizing and releasing 11 child soldiers in cooperation with an international organization, compared with 20 child soldiers demobilized and released during the previous reporting period.  The government, in conjunction with an international organization, convened key stakeholders to address protection issues of children in armed conflict, including training officials on relevant laws.

Social stigma and fear of punitive law enforcement actions continued to discourage victims – particularly those subjected to sex trafficking – from reporting crimes to law enforcement officers.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely arrested some unidentified trafficking victims, including children.  The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they faced hardship or retribution, nor did it have a victim-witness assistance program to support victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking.  In coordination with an international organization, the government convened its anti-trafficking inter-ministerial taskforce.  However, for the fourth consecutive year, the taskforce did not accomplish its primary objectives of ratifying the UN TIP Protocol and enacting the country’s migration policy, which intends to improve the country’s ability to manage migration flows, including increased identification of potential trafficking victims.  The government did not finalize its draft 2021-2023 NAP to combat human trafficking.  Trafficking awareness remained low among officials and the public, hindering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.  The government did not report conducting awareness raising activities.

Government security forces actively continued to recruit child soldiers, at times by force, and did not implement the existing action plan to demobilize child soldiers currently within the forces.  In addition, poor command and control among SSPDF units and ongoing instability throughout the country further hindered implementation.  Government officials noted many SSPDF officers did not meet their annual training requirements – due to ongoing conflict, poor communication, and general lack of capacity – on increasing awareness of international standards and obligations around child soldier recruitment and use.  The government did not report any efforts to regulate labor recruiters.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.  South Sudan is not a party to the UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Sudan, and traffickers exploit victims from South Sudan abroad.  South Sudanese women and girls, particularly those from rural areas or who are internally displaced, are vulnerable to domestic servitude throughout the country; male occupants of these households sexually abuse some of these women and girls and may exploit them in commercial sex.  Prominent South Sudanese individuals in state capitals and rural areas sometimes exploit women and girls in domestic servitude.  South Sudanese and foreign businesspeople exploit South Sudanese girls in sex trafficking in restaurants, hotels, and brothels in urban centers – at times with the involvement of corrupt law enforcement officials.  South Sudanese individuals coerce some children to work in construction, market vending, shoe shining, car washing, rock breaking, brick making, delivery cart pulling, gold mining, begging, and cattle herding.  South Sudanese and foreign business owners recruit men and women from neighboring countries – especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of the Congo, and Uganda – as well as South Sudanese women and children, with fraudulent offers of employment opportunities in hotels, restaurants, and construction, and exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking.  An international organization reported Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Kenyan business owners recruited their compatriots, who enter South Sudan with valid visas and travel documents, and exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking.  Traffickers exploit women in sex trafficking most frequently in the country’s capital, Juba, and in Nimule, a city located on the border with Uganda.

Child, early, and forced marriage remains a nationwide problem, with families forcing some girls into marriages as compensation for inter-ethnic killings; husbands and their families may subsequently subject these girls to sex trafficking or domestic servitude.  East African migrants transiting through South Sudan to North Africa remain vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking.  Observers report traffickers exploit individuals along the country’s borders with Uganda and Kenya where economic activities are concentrated, as well as in artisanal mining operations along South Sudan’s border with DRC.

Violent conflict continued throughout the year, resulting in approximately 2.2 million IDPs as of December 2022 and 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees living in neighboring countries as of January 2023.  These groups, including orphaned children, are at increased risk of trafficking and other forms of exploitation within South Sudan and neighboring countries due to sometimes limited access to formal justice and support networks.  Unaccompanied children in camps for refugees or IDPs are particularly vulnerable.  Inter-ethnic abductions, as well as abductions by external criminal elements and armed groups, remain common, especially in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states; traffickers exploit some abductees in forced labor or sex trafficking.

Observers reported the recruitment and use of 30 children in the first half of 2022 by parties in conflict, compared to 101 in all of 2021.  Government security forces continued to recruit child soldiers, at times by force.  Experts assessed there are between 7,000 and 19,000 child soldiers within South Sudan.  An international organization also estimated government and opposition-affiliated forces have recruited more than 19,000 child soldiers since the start of the conflict in 2013, and armed groups continued to recruit and use children.  Both the SSPDF and the SPLA-In Opposition signed or recommitted to action plans for child soldier demobilization and reintegration, but implementation remains incomplete.  Government forces – including SSNPS – use children to fight and perpetrate violence against other children and civilians, to serve as bodyguards, and to serve in staff checkpoints and in other support roles.  According to the Comprehensive Action Plan to Prevent All Grave Violations Against Children in South Sudan signed in 2020, the parties committed to refrain from the recruitment or use of child soldiers by armed forces or militias.  The government’s enlistment procedures required an age assessment, usually done through a dental exam, as many South Sudanese do not have access to birth registration documents.  Governmental and non-governmental groups continued to retain, recruit, and use child soldiers.  Experts note more children fight on behalf of locally organized armed groups rather than formally organized groups with centralized command and control structures.  International observers reported groups recruited and used child soldiers in Western Equatoria, Unity, and Lake states.  Observers reported armed groups used boys for manual labor and other jobs.

U.S. Department of State

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