Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, for women subjected to forced prostitution, and adults subjected to forced labor. The scope of the CAR’s trafficking problem is unknown, and increased violence and insecurity during the year forced the suspension of NGO programs to survey the problem. Observers report that most victims appear to be CAR citizens exploited within the country, and a smaller number are transported back and forth between the CAR and Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and South Sudan. Trafficking offenders—likely including members of expatriate communities from Nigeria, South Sudan, and Chad, as well as transient merchants and herders—subject children to domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mines, shops, and street vending. Within the country, children are at risk of becoming victims of forced labor and Ba’aka (pygmy) minorities are at risk of becoming victims of forced agricultural work— especially in the region around the Lobaye rainforest. Girls are at risk of being exploited in the sex trade in urban centers. Girls forced into marriages are often subjected to domestic servitude, sexual slavery, and possibly commercial sexual exploitation. Reports indicate that the incidence of forced marriages, often perpetrated by members of armed groups, increased during the year. Women in prostitution, some of whom reported in previous years being subjected to gang rapes and beatings perpetrated by peacekeeping troops from other Central African countries, are vulnerable to sex trafficking.
Surges in violent conflict during the year resulted in the displacement of nearly one million people, increasing the vulnerability of men, women, and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. There is limited information about the forms of exploitation that may have increased as a result of the crisis. An organization operating locally reported that women and girls were taken to Sudan for forced labor and that armed groups subjected girls to sex slavery.
The recruitment and re-recruitment of children for use in armed groups, at times through force, increased dramatically during the year, particularly among armed groups aligned with the Seleka government and the organized village self-defense units fighting against it known as the anti-balaka. The Seleka coalition was comprised largely of former members of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), and the Democratic Front of the Central African Republic (FDPC)—all groups known to recruit and use children as soldiers and porters. The anti-balaka evolved from a network of self-defense units previously established by towns and villages to combat armed groups and bandits in areas where the national army or gendarmes were not present. The UN estimated in previous years that children comprised one-third of these civilian self-defense units. There are reports that Seleka groups recruited and used children from neighboring countries, including Sudan and Chad, and groups on all sides of the conflict have coerced children into participation in direct hostilities. Children formerly associated with armed groups were at risk of re-recruitment. Despite having previously signed an action plan with the UN to end the recruitment and use of children, the CPJP continued to recruit and use children during the year. In December 2013, the UN estimated that the number of child soldiers in the CAR had increased from more than 2,000 in April to approximately 6,000.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operates in eastern regions of the CAR, continued to enslave Central African, South Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandan boys and girls for use as cooks, porters, concubines, and combatants. The LRA also committed abductions, forced girls into marriages, and forced children to commit atrocities such as looting and burning villages, killing village residents, and abducting or killing other children. Some of these children may have been taken back and forth across borders into South Sudan or the DRC.
The Government of the Central African Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected cases of human trafficking, and it did not identify, provide protection to, or refer to service providers any trafficking victims. Armed groups aligned with the Seleka government recruited and used children in the commission of atrocities and re-victimized children who had previously been rescued and separated from armed groups.
Recommendations for Central African Republic:
Make efforts to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers in armed groups and self-defense units, and institute a zero tolerance policy for the use of children within the government’s armed forces; thoroughly vet incoming members of the reconstituted Central African army (FACA) to ensure soldiers who have committed abuses against children are not reintegrated; investigate allegations of child recruitment into armed groups and punish public officials or civilians who perpetrate this crime; in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, provide care to demobilized child soldiers and children in commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; in collaboration with NGOs and the international community, train law enforcement officials and magistrates to use the penal code’s anti-trafficking provisions to investigate and prosecute these offenses; and increase efforts to educate and encourage the public and relevant governmental authorities to identify and report trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women and girls in prostitution, street children, children associated with armed groups, and Ba’aka.
The Government of the Central African Republic made no discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Article 151 of the CAR’s penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, penalties which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. If the offense involves a child victim, Article 151 prescribes the additional penalty of hard labor. If the offense involves a child victim of sex trafficking or forced labor similar to slavery, the prescribed penalty is life imprisonment with hard labor. Articles 7 and 8 of the January 2009 Labor Code prohibit forced and bonded labor and prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Victims can file civil suits to seek damages from their traffickers. These provisions were not enforced, and there is no evidence that any cases of suspected human trafficking offenses were investigated or prosecuted during the reporting period. Traditional dispute resolution methods are widely practiced throughout the country to punish criminal acts, often to the exclusion of formal legal proceedings. The Criminal Court in Bangui has not held a session since 2010, apparently due to lack of financial resources and the overall breakdown of governance throughout the country. The CAR government did not investigate or prosecute any public officials for their alleged complicity in trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period. The government did not investigate the use of child soldiers in its aligned militias. Law enforcement officials were not provided adequate technical training and resources to identify and investigate trafficking cases, and officials outside the capital may not have had access to copies of the legal codes.
The Government of the CAR did not report efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to protective services during the reporting period. It did not develop measures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable groups or enact a system for referring identified victims to NGOs to receive care. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the year. An NGO identified 100 victims of sex and labor trafficking and provided care for 30 of these in Bangui, though a surge in violence in December 2013 forced the NGO to halt its operations and victims fled to neighboring countries or were relocated with host families. UNICEF and NGOs facilitated the release of 229 children from armed groups. In October, the government issued guidance authorizing UNICEF to access four military sites in order to identify and separate children, and in January it allowed unimpeded access to all bases.
Armed groups aligned with the Seleka government re-victimized children. In two April incidents in Bangui, Seleka-aligned groups abducted two boys from a children’s shelter and re-recruited 41 boys and girls formerly associated with the CPJP from a transit center for use in their ranks. In September, a Seleka commander re-recruited a boy in UNICEF’s reintegration program. Also during the reporting year, Seleka groups looted a shelter serving boy victims of trafficking.
The government, which has very limited resources, did not directly provide reintegration programs for child soldiers, which left victims susceptible to further exploitation or re-trafficking by armed groups, including those affiliated with the government, or other traffickers. In previous years, reports indicated that the government arrested and jailed individuals involved in the sex trade, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, without verifying their ages or attempting to identify indicators of trafficking. It is unknown whether the government punished any individuals for involvement in the sex trade during this reporting period. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, and no such victims were identified.
The government did not report any anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the reporting period. There was insufficient evidence to determine whether the government’s working group continued to exist or carry out any activities due to continued violence that pervaded the country during the reporting period. The government did not report any efforts to establish a policy against child soldiering or raise awareness about the country’s laws prohibiting the use of children in armed forces. In January 2014, following the forced resignation of the Seleka-controlled transitional government, the FACA forces began to report back to service, with many soldiers returning from fighting as members of the anti-balaka; inadequate efforts to vet incoming soldiers for past abuses against children may have increased children’s vulnerability to victimization by members of the FACA. The government did not report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year.