Burundi is a source country for children and possibly women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Children and young adults are coerced into forced labor on plantations or small farms in southern Burundi, in gold mines in Cibitoke, for informal commerce in the streets of larger cities, collecting river stones for construction in Bujumbura, or in the fishing industry. Some traffickers are the victims’ family members, neighbors, or friends who recruit them for forced labor under the pretext of assisting with education or employment opportunities. Some families are complicit in the exploitation of children and adults with disabilities, accepting payment from traffickers who run forced street begging operations. Children in domestic servitude in private homes or working in guest houses and entertainment establishments are coerced—with threats of being fired—into committing sex acts for their employers or clients. Children are also fraudulently recruited for domestic work and later exploited in prostitution. Young women offer vulnerable girls room and board within their homes, eventually pushing some of them into prostitution to pay for living expenses; these brothels are located in poorer areas of Bujumbura, along the lake, and on trucking routes. Extended family members sometimes also financially profit from the prostitution of young relatives residing with them; mothers sometimes also initiate their daughters into the sex trade, at times through threats and bullying. Male tourists from East Africa and the Middle East, teachers, police officers and gendarme, military, and prison officials exploit Burundian girls in prostitution. Incarcerated women facilitate commercial sex between male prisoners and detained children within the Burundian prison system. Business people recruit Burundian girls for prostitution in Bujumbura, as well as in Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and the Middle East, and recruit boys and girls for various types of forced labor in southern Burundi and Tanzania. During the reporting period, the UN Group of Experts reported its identification of a Burundian man who had been fraudulently recruited in Uganda and forced to join the ranks of the M23 rebel group.
The Government of Burundi does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however it is making significant efforts to do so. The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Burundi is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year. Burundi was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The government made efforts to increase its capacity to combat trafficking in 2013 through its establishment of a national coordinating body, completion of its national action plan, and work to finalize anti-trafficking legislation. However, the government made few other tangible efforts during the reporting period to demonstrate its seriousness in addressing trafficking crimes or protecting victims. The government continued investigations into several potential trafficking cases, initiated the prosecution of two defendants, and convicted two traffickers in 2013. Nonetheless, law enforcement efforts remained modest overall and investigations continued to focus on transnational trafficking crimes. NGOs continued to provide most victim assistance with minimal government support; however, officials assisted in the return to the country, referral to assistance, and reintegration of some victims during the year. A lack of adequate training for officials and the government’s continued inaction to address official complicity remained serious concerns.
Recommendations for Burundi:
Finalize and enact draft anti-trafficking legislation; enforce the trafficking provisions in the 2009 criminal code amendments through increased prosecution of trafficking offenses and conviction and punishment of trafficking offenders, including complicit officials; institutionalize anti-trafficking training for all police, prosecutors, judges, and border guards; establish standardized policies and procedures for government officials to proactively identify trafficking victims and transfer them to care; increase provision of protective services to victims, possibly through partnerships with NGOs or international organizations; and institute a unified system for collecting trafficking case data for use by all stakeholders.
The Government of Burundi maintained its modest efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses in 2013 and convicted its first offender since 2009. Articles 242 and 243 of Burundi’s criminal code prohibit some forms of human trafficking, prescribing punishments of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, but do not provide a definition of human trafficking, impeding investigators’ and prosecutors’ ability to identify and prosecute trafficking offenses. Elements of sex trafficking offenses can also be addressed using penal code articles on brothel-keeping and procuring prostitution, which prescribe penalties of one to five years’ imprisonment, and child prostitution, with prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment; these articles do not require the use of force, fraud, or coercion in commission of these crimes. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Forced labor is prohibited by Article 2 of the labor law, though there appears to be no explicit penalties for a violation, which officials cite as a weakness in addressing forced child labor. The government completed its drafting of anti-trafficking legislation, intended to rectify this and other gaps in existing laws. In December 2013, the trafficking in persons commission referred the draft to the Minister of Solidarity and Human Rights, where it remained pending submission to and review by the council of ministers before being sent to parliament for debate and passage.
The Children and Ethics Brigade, under the Burundian National Police, led the country’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The brigade, however, lacked capacity to adequately track its caseload. The government continued to focus on investigating trafficking crimes involving transnational movement, failing to investigate any cases involving Burundian victims trafficked internally. The government reported its investigation of 12 alleged trafficking offenders and initiated prosecution of two suspects during the year. In addition, in March 2014 in Ruyigi, the government sentenced a convicted offender to five years’ imprisonment for the abduction of two girls held in domestic servitude and sexually abused. His accomplice was also convicted and sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. Trials involving at least five other alleged traffickers remained pending from previous reporting periods. The government opened an investigation into the case of a Lebanese national allegedly responsible for the sex trafficking of more than 100 Burundian girls to Lebanon since 2004. It charged two men with trafficking for their attempted recruitment of Burundian girls for sex trafficking in Oman; the suspects remain in custody pending trial.
Officials’ lack of investigative skills and trafficking awareness reportedly continued to hinder investigations and prosecutions. In 2013, the brigade developed a new curriculum for recruits being trained at the police academy that includes a section on trafficking in persons, which reached more than 1,000 new recruits during the year. Police repeatedly apprehended suspects involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children, but released them shortly thereafter without prosecution, at times due to the corruption of police and judicial officials. As in previous years, the government failed to prosecute or convict any public officials suspected of complicity in human trafficking crimes, despite allegations against teachers, police officers, members of the military and gendarmerie, and prison officials. For example, during the previous reporting period, the assistant prosecutor of Cibitoke investigated a police officer suspected of facilitating the prostitution of young girls. The prosecutor dropped the charges as the girls eventually testified in favor of the suspected police woman. The government reported no information regarding the status of this case. The government took no action to stop child prostitution occurring within the Burundian prison system. The government expelled a diplomat from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for his alleged involvement in trafficking of Burundian girls to a third country.
The government maintained its modest efforts to protect victims during the reporting period. It facilitated the return of three trafficking victims from overseas, reintegrated four potential victims, and referred 70 victims to an NGO working group—a decrease from 99 referred in the previous reporting period. Care centers in Burundi are operated by NGOs, religious organizations, and women’s or children’s associations largely funded by UN agencies; none are specifically focused on providing assistance to trafficking victims. NGOs reported the identification and referral of 70 trafficking victims by communal leaders and border police following their anti-trafficking training of these officials. The government, however, did not provide information on its victim identification or referral efforts. It also did not provide adequate support for the services delivered by these organizations. Burundian police, in partnership with an NGO, assisted in the return of a Burundian girl and a mentally disabled Burundian boy from Oman in 2013. Burundian officials, working with authorities in Lebanon, facilitated the repatriation of one Burundian woman; however, the lack of cooperation by Lebanese officials stymied efforts to return additional identified victims.
The Ministry of National Solidarity provided funding to some local NGOs to assist victims of gender-based violence and trafficking, while the Ministry of Health provided vouchers for hospital care to an unspecified number of trafficking victims. The Ministry of National Solidarity continued oversight of centers for family development that address human rights and gender-based violence issues at the commune-level. It often assisted in the reintegration of victims into their home communities. The government operated two centers, in Kigobe and Buyenzi communes, to assist street children, including an unknown number of victims of forced child labor who were identified and provided counseling through the centers. The government-staffed and UNICEF-supported one-stop center in Gitega—established to provide victims of gender-based violence immediate care and assistance in reporting cases—provided these services to three trafficking victims in 2013.
The government has not yet finalized a system to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations or to refer victims to service-providing organizations. Officials referred cases in an ad hoc fashion to an NGO working group, which coordinated provision of care among service providers. Police and National Solidarity officials partnered to ensure trafficking victims received referrals to NGO care. Without standardized procedures for identifying trafficking victims, some may have been penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. For example, the Children and Ethics Brigade did not attempt to identify trafficking victims among women in prostitution who were arrested, jailed, or fined. However, police provided limited shelter and food to child trafficking victims in temporary custody, keeping them in a holding area separate from adult detainees while authorities attempted to locate their families. In some instances, the brigade and its provincial focal points provided counseling to children in prostitution and mediated between these victims and their parents immediately thereafter, though without referral for additional services. Although the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers, none did so during the year. Burundian law does not provide foreign trafficking victims with legal alternatives to their removal to a country where they may face hardship or retribution.
The government increased its capacity to make proactive anti-trafficking efforts during the year. In 2013, it established the Trafficking in Persons Permanent Commission to oversee its anti-trafficking efforts. During the year, the commission worked to finalize anti-trafficking legislation and, in March 2014, completed its national action plan. Nonetheless, coordination across government ministries to combat trafficking remained poor, and relevant agencies remained largely unaware of the problem, which severely hindered progress. With donor funding, an NGO-led joint working group on human trafficking, including representation from the National Police and the Ministries of Justice and National Solidarity, continued to meet every three months to share information; however, the government did not take an active role or provide material support to the efforts of the group. In 2013, the Children and Ethics Brigade continued its national awareness-raising campaign throughout the country to educate officials and local populations about the dangers of human trafficking, and encourage citizens to report trafficking cases to local authorities. In June 2013, the National Multi-Sectoral Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor organized a national day for awareness on the worst forms of child labor. In 2013, the Ministry of Labor’s 18 inspectors conducted no child labor inspections; in addition, the number of inspectors was inadequate and their focus on labor law violations in the formal sectors did not reach the majority of forced child labor violations, which occurred in the informal sector. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, child sex tourism, or forced labor during the reporting period. The government, in partnership with a foreign donor, provided Burundian troops with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.