Benin is a country of origin, transit, and destination for women, children, and men subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of identified victims are Beninese girls subjected to domestic servitude or sex trafficking in Cotonou, the administrative capital. The practice of vidomegon, which traditionally provided educational or vocational opportunities to children by placing them in the homes of wealthier families, is now sometimes used to exploit children in domestic servitude. Children are forced to labor on farms, in commercial agriculture—particularly in the cotton sector—in artisanal mines, at construction sites, or as street or market vendors to produce or hawk items. A July 2013 UNICEF study cited over 7,800 children subjected to labor exploitation in the markets of Cotonou, Porto-Novo, and Parakou. Children from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Togo, and Niger are also in forced labor in these sectors; Togolese girls are exploited in prostitution in Benin. Cases of child sex tourism, involving both boys and girls, were reported in the Department of Mono and on the shores of the Bight of Benin. In northern Benin, children in Koranic schools, known as talibe, are exploited in forced begging by Koranic teachers known as marabout. The majority of child trafficking victims are from the northern regions of Benin, and many are recruited and transported to Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Gabon, and, to a lesser extent, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Guinea-Bissau, where they are forced to labor in homes, mines, quarries, restaurants, markets, and on cocoa farms. The majority of child victims intercepted in Benin, either from Benin or other West African countries, are en route to exploitation in Nigeria. Benin is the largest source country for trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo. West African women are trafficked into domestic servitude and forced prostitution in Benin, and Beninese women are victims of sex trafficking in Lebanon.
The Government of Benin does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to prosecute and convict child labor traffickers and to identify and provide protective services to child trafficking victims, though authorities focused on intercepting traffickers and victims in transit rather than rescuing persons from exploitation in Benin. During the reporting period, the government identified 173 potential child trafficking victims and convicted six individuals for unlawfully transporting them. Anti-trafficking legislation—including prohibitions and penalties for the trafficking of adults—has remained pending review by the Ministry of Justice since September 2012. The government failed to systematically investigate instances of trafficking of adults and provide protective services to adult victims. It also did not investigate or prosecute any sex trafficking or forced labor offenses or cases that did not involve the movement of victims within Benin or across borders. Anti-trafficking progress continues to be hindered by the lack of adequate funding and staffing for the Office for the Protection of Minors (OCPM), the Ministry of Family, and the Ministry of Labor.
Recommendations for Benin:
Finalize and enact draft legislation to criminalize all forms of trafficking consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; increase efforts to convict and punish trafficking offenders, including via existing statutes to prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor crimes, as well as the trafficking of adults; adequately sentence convicted trafficking offenders; develop systematic procedures for the proactive identification of victims—including those found to be in situations of forced labor—and their subsequent referral to care; train law enforcement officials on relevant legislation and identification and referral procedures; greatly increase funding to the OCPM, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Family to ensure they can adequately carry out their responsibilities for inspecting worksites for trafficking crimes and providing support to victims; improve efforts to collect law enforcement data on trafficking offenses and make these data available to other government agencies and the public; and launch a nationwide anti-trafficking awareness campaign.
During the reporting period, the government maintained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, continuing its investigation and prosecution of potential child trafficking cases and its first case against adult labor trafficking suspects. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of trafficking. The 2006 Act Relating to the Transportation of Minors and the Suppression of Child Trafficking (Act 2006-04) criminalizes all forms of child trafficking and prescribes penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. However, Act 2006-04 focuses on prohibiting and punishing the movement of children rather than their ultimate exploitation and prescribes much lower penalties—six months to two years’ imprisonment or fines—for actual trafficking crimes involving labor exploitation; these penalties are not sufficiently stringent. The country’s penal code outlaws procuring or offering someone for prostitution and the facilitation of prostitution and prescribes punishments of six months to two years’ imprisonment, while the labor code prohibits forced labor and prescribes punishments of two months to one year imprisonment or a fine. These punishments are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that includes prohibitions and penalties for the trafficking of adults has remained pending review by the Ministry of Justice since the draft was completed in September 2012.
During the year, the Ministry of the Interior’s OCPM—a specialized unit responsible for all criminal cases involving children—reported its investigation of 62 cases of child trafficking in addition to 11 cases of exploitative child labor, including several cases of domestic servitude. The government continued to fail to systematically investigate the trafficking of adults. OCPM referred 23 suspects to the courts for prosecution. Prosecutions in 20 cases remained ongoing in courts at the close of the reporting period. The government convicted six individuals for the illegal movement of children under Act 2006-04, a decrease compared to 20 offenders convicted in 2012 and 25 in 2011. Although one offender received a suspended sentence, the courts sentenced five other offenders to terms of imprisonment of up to five years. For example, in April 2013, the Court of Abomey sentenced a trafficker to five years’ imprisonment, under Act 2006-04 and penal code Article 354 (on kidnapping), following her exploitation of a 13-year-old Beninese girl in domestic servitude in Nigeria. The government failed to investigate or prosecute any cases involving sex trafficking offenses or forced labor on worksites. OCPM anecdotally reported cases of child exploitation occurring in Cotonou that did not involve movement of the victims from places outside of the capital. OCPM remained understaffed, underfunded, and without adequate office supplies, transportation, and fuel to conduct investigations and provide immediate victim assistance.
In May 2013, UNODC led a training session at the National Police Academy on counteracting child trafficking, as part of its broader training on child rights and protection for 10 senior and entry-level police officers. In partnership with UNODC, the government trained 20 gendarmes, police, and border protection agents on victim identification and trafficking case investigation techniques. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The government sustained efforts to protect potential forced child labor victims during the year. The OCPM identified 173 trafficking victims in 2013. The majority of those identified were potential Beninese labor trafficking victims being moved to other countries, though children from Togo and Nigeria were also identified. Those identified also included five Nigerian sex trafficking victims ages 16 to 22, who fled to Benin after enduring sex trafficking by a Nigerian syndicate in Cote d’Ivoire. OCPM provided them temporary shelter, as well as legal, medical, and psychological services, in a transit center staffed by government and NGO personnel and located on police premises in Cotonou. OCPM then transferred victims to long-term NGO shelters; however, the government failed to provide financial or in-kind support to NGOs providing such care. For example, in March 2013, security forces intercepted and the OCPM subsequently identified 10 Beninese children who were allegedly destined for labor exploitation in Nigeria; the children were assisted at OCPM’s transit center before government officials reunited them with their families. OCPM worked with the Ministry of Family to return Beninese children to their families, typically after schooling or vocational training provided by the Ministry of Family had been secured; it is unclear how many victims received such assistance during the year. Officials with the Ministries of Family, Justice, and Interior worked in partnership with UNICEF and NGOs to coordinate placement of child trafficking victims with host families who provided additional care to children prior to reinsertion into their home communities. Government social workers provided counseling for such children, while an NGO provided financial support to cover their basic needs. Through their broad services in support of victims of crime and vulnerable groups, 85 centers for social promotion (CSP) under the Ministry of Family, offered basic social services, food, and temporary shelter to trafficking victims throughout the country, particularly in rural areas where such services were scarce and in the reintegration of victims into their home communities.
The Beninese government partnered with the Nigerian government to repatriate five Nigerian victims and with the Gabonese and Congolese governments to facilitate the repatriation of at least 10 Beninese child trafficking victims. Officials and NGO stakeholders in destination countries noted re-trafficking was an issue once victims returned to Benin, with the child or their siblings often sent back to the trafficker by their parents to uphold their initial agreement to send children. The Beninese government failed in 2013 to carry out joint investigations or extraditions of charged defendants in cooperation with Congolese authorities—a key component of their anti-trafficking cooperation agreement. In August 2013, Beninese officials met with Gabonese authorities to finalize an agreement for cooperation on child trafficking, although this remained incomplete at the end of the reporting period. As part of its cooperation agreement with Nigeria, Beninese security officials routinely hand over to Nigerian authorities alleged Nigerian traffickers intercepted at the border.
The OCPM did not encourage child victims to take part in investigations or court proceedings unless a judge required it, preferring not to expose them to potential additional trauma. There were no reports that victims were detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. However, the government did not make systematic efforts to identify adult trafficking victims or employ any mechanism to screen individuals in prostitution for trafficking victimization, which may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. The anti-trafficking coordinating body—the Trafficking and Exploitation Technical Working Group of the National Monitoring and Coordination Working Group for Child Protection—reportedly met during the year, but failed to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts, or organize awareness campaigns for the second consecutive year. Nonetheless, during the reporting period, the Ministries of Justice and Family held sessions to raise awareness of child trafficking and the related provisions under Beninese law, specifically in source communities. In July 2013, the government launched the National Plan for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (2012-2015) and the Ministries of Labor, Family, and Justice introduced activities from the plan into their annual work plans. In June 2013, as part of the World Day of Action Against Child Labor, the government, in cooperation with the ILO, UNICEF, and UNHCR, raised awareness of the worst forms of child labor, including child trafficking, at granite and gravel quarries in Dogbo and children’s fairs held in Cotonou, Lokossa, and Zapkota. During ILO-funded trainings, Ministry of Labor officials trained 25 labor inspectors on techniques to combat child labor in October 2013, and members of the National Executive Committee to Combat Child Labor, in May 2013. Labor inspectors generally imposed administrative penalties, resulting in fines, even for serious labor violations, some of which likely included trafficking crimes; in 2013, the Ministry of Labor did not report penalization of any child labor law violations. The government took no systematic steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor both within the country and in other countries during the reporting period. It provided Beninese troops with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, though such training was conducted by a foreign donor.