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 labor trafficking in artisanal mining sites, agriculture, domestic servitude, or armed group recruitment of children in combat and support roles, as well as sex trafficking. Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal, illicit, and strongly linked to both armed groups and the FARDC. As in years past, traffickers exploited 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 labor trafficking as domestic workers, street vendors, or exploited them in sex trafficking. Observers reported persons with disabilities and disadvantaged children continued to be vulnerable to trafficking. Criminal networks operate throughout the DRC and frequently bring sex trafficking victims from the provinces to the capital. One NGO report found sex trafficking is mainly concentrated in large cities such as Goma and Kinshasa, and traffickers recruit victims from economically disadvantaged areas and IDPs from conflict zones. 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.
Observers reported 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 human trafficking, including unlawful child soldier recruitment and use, labor trafficking in artisanal mining, and sex trafficking. In 2022 experts reported there were more than 522,000 refugees and 5.75 million IDPs – the largest IDP population in Africa in the DRC; these individuals are vulnerable to trafficking due to their lack of safety, economic stability, and access to justice. These refugees cross borders into Malawi and Zambia leaving them vulnerable to trafficking across borders and in their destinations. Children in the Kasai region are vulnerable to forced begging schemes facilitated by criminals in the Kasai region and Kinshasa; victims reported traffickers drugged them and forced them to beg. The government 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; criminal elements – including armed groups and community members – coerce these vulnerable children 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 as well as 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. In past years, some FARDC officers recruited and used 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.
An NGO report found labor trafficking in the DRC is most prevalent in provinces with mining activity (Haut Katanga, Haut Uele, Kasai, Lualaba, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri). 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 People’s Republic of China 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 labor trafficking 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’s Lunda Norte province back to the DRC 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 or flee violence 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 fraudulently recruit women and force or coerce them into domestic work abroad through false promises of education or employment opportunities. In 2020, individuals associated with a construction company in Kinshasa allegedly 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. In 2021, 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 outbreaks between 2018 to 2020. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, an international organization reported there were 37 new allegations of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers from Bolivia, Ghana, Malawi, Niger, South Africa, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Zambia deployed to the DRC with trafficking indicators submitted in 2022.
The recurrence of armed hostilities between the M23 movement armed group and FARDC resulted in a surge in IDP populations in North Kivu, contributing to a total of more than 2.2 million IDPs fleeing violence in the eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu, Ituri, South Kivu, and Tanganyika. The prolonged conflict in eastern DRC increased IDPs and refugees’ vulnerability to child soldier recruitment by armed groups, labor, and sex trafficking. Observers reported the Government of Rwanda provided support to and coordination with the M23 armed group that forcibly recruited and used children in the DRC.