The Comoros is a source country for children subjected to forced labor and, reportedly, sex trafficking. Comoran children are subjected to forced labor within the country, mostly on the island of Anjouan, in domestic service, roadside and market vending, baking, fishing, and agriculture. On the islands of Anjouan and Moheli, it is commonplace for poor rural families to place their children with wealthier relatives or acquaintances in urban areas or on the island of Grande Comore for access to schooling and other benefits; however, some of these children become victims of domestic servitude. At times, local women serve to arrange the sending of children into these situations. Most Comoran boys and girls aged three to seven (but on occasion up to age 14) study at Koranic schools headed by private instructors, and some are exploited as field hands or domestic servants as payment for instruction; these Koranic students are sometimes subjected to physical and sexual abuse. According to some reports, children from Anjouan are coerced into criminal activities, such as drug trafficking. Girls are reportedly exploited in prostitution in the Comoros; inducing children under 18 to perform commercial sex acts is a form of human trafficking. An NGO reported that tourists from the neighboring French island of Mayotte are among the clients of children in prostitution in Anjouan.
Comorans may be particularly vulnerable to transnational trafficking due to a lack of adequate border controls, corruption within the administration, and the existence of international criminal networks involved in human smuggling. Unaccompanied Comoran children become victims of domestic servitude and prostitution on the island of Mayotte, at times after the deportation of their parents; French officials have recognized the 3,000 unaccompanied children on the island—the majority of which are Comoran—as requiring urgent assistance. Illicit recruiting agencies based in Madagascar attempted to circumvent a ban by the Malagasy government on sending migrant workers to the Middle East by sending Malagasy women as tourists by air to the Comoros, then sending them illegally by boat to Mayotte, where they would board flights onward. Some of these women may become victims of trafficking upon reaching their destinations. The Comoros may be a destination for forced labor, as officials noted Malagasy women and girls and East African women in domestic service, with some reports of abuse and potential coercion.
The Government of the Comoros 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, the Comoros is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year. The Comoros 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. Government officials, including the President, acknowledged the trafficking problem in the Comoros for the first time during the reporting period and developed a work plan to structure its national activities. The Ministry of Justice completed draft amendments to the penal code that include trafficking prohibitions; however, the National Assembly failed to enact this comprehensive set of amendments during the reporting period due to an unrelated debate about capital punishment in the penal code. Although the Morals and Minors Brigade investigated one trafficking case, leading to the dismissal of a high-level official, the government failed to prosecute or convict trafficking offenders during the year, including this and other officials complicit in trafficking crimes. The government increased the capacity of the Morals and Minors Brigade to fulfill its mandate to investigate child abuse and exploitation by establishing new brigades on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli, where the majority of trafficking cases reportedly occur. The government continued its support to NGO-run centers on each of the three islands; staff at the center in Grande Comore provided medical care to and coordinated one victim’s return home in 2013. Officials lacked formal victim identification or referral procedures and the provision of protective services to victims was extremely modest. Official complicity in trafficking crimes continues to be a serious concern.
Recommendations for the Comoros:
Enact anti-trafficking legislation; increase the capacity of the Morals and Minors Brigade on all three islands to identify and respond to trafficking, including through investigation and prosecution of these crimes; develop procedures for the identification and referral of trafficking victims to care; end the practice of returning children to their exploiters through arbitration; increase the availability of and provide support for provision of counseling and psychological care, possibly within facilities already in existence for victims of other crimes; prosecute allegedly complicit officials; work with international partners to conduct a study on the forms and extent of the trafficking problem in the Comoros; continue anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns on each of the islands; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government increased its capacity to respond to trafficking crimes by establishing Morals and Minors Brigades on two additional islands, but failed to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses. Comoran law does not prohibit all forms of human trafficking. Article 323 of the penal code prohibits the facilitation of child prostitution, prescribing sufficiently stringent punishments of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between the equivalent of approximately $460 and $6,150; however, these penalties are not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Although prostitution is illegal in the Comoros, existing laws do not criminalize the forced prostitution of adults. Article 2 of the labor code prohibits forced and bonded labor, prescribing insufficiently stringent penalties of three months’ to three years’ imprisonment or fines from the equivalent of approximately $310 to $1,540. Article 333 of the penal code prohibits illegal restraint and prescribes penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. The labor code, updated in 2012, prohibits, but does not prescribe penalties for child trafficking; this law is in effect, but the enhanced penalties await the parliamentary passage of the draft penal code. In December 2013, the Council of Ministers completed its review of amendments to the penal code, which incorporated prohibitions and penalties for human trafficking, and sent it to the National Assembly for debate and passage.
During the year, the government increased the capacity of the Morals and Minors Brigade to oversee the investigation of cases of child abuse and exploitation, including child trafficking, nationwide. Previously only present on the island of Grande Comore, in December 2013, the Ministry of the Interior established offices for the Brigade on the islands of Moheli or Anjouan, where the majority of trafficking crimes reportedly occur, and within the Gendarmerie on the island of Grande Comore. The government provided each office with computers and equipment; however, these offices remained without vehicles, and newly assigned staff did not receive anti-trafficking training before the close of the reporting period. The police generally lacked resources, which stymied investigation of child abuse and exploitation cases.
The government failed to prosecute or convict trafficking offenders or independently train law enforcement officials on human trafficking during the year. Two police officers received training on combatting child trafficking from an international organization in Cote d’Ivoire in November 2013. The Brigade on the island of Grande Comoros investigated one case involving the domestic servitude of a 14-year-old girl in the home of a magistrate; the case remained under investigation at the close of the reporting period. Corruption remained endemic throughout the Comoros and hindered law enforcement efforts, including efforts to address trafficking. In the aforementioned case, 15 police officers, the Chief Prosecutor for the Comoros, and the Secretary General of the Government demanded a family assisting the victim return her to her exploiter; police arrested three daughters in this family as part of a sustained campaign to intimidate them. In addition, the Chief Prosecutor threatened to jail a reporter who broke the story in the press. Although the government dismissed the prosecutor general following his interference in this case, it did not initiate prosecution of the magistrate for her suspected exploitation of the child in forced labor and failed to investigate or prosecute other officials complicit in this case and others. Alleged perpetrators were sometimes released without prosecution after out-of-court settlements with victims’ families. At times, judges renegotiated agreements between a child’s parents and his or her trafficker, effectively re-trafficking the victim by returning the child to domestic servitude; officials reported at least two such cases in 2013.
The government continued to provide extremely limited victim protection services and identified and assisted only one victim. In 2013, the government provided the equivalent of approximately $7,200 in salary support for staff of three UNICEF-supported, NGO-run centers for abused children; the center in Grande Comore provided immediate medical care to one child trafficking victim, placed her within a foster family, and supported her return home to the island of Moheli in September 2013. The government failed to provide psycho-social services for victims and provided minimal support to NGOs doing so. Law enforcement’s failure to fully protect children remained a concern; the Morals and Minors Brigade lacked adequate facilities to shelter child victims, even temporarily, and its staff remained without training for interviewing child victims of crime. The government did not develop or employ systematic procedures for identifying trafficking victims or for referring them to the limited care available; it pledged to develop such procedures and assess the sufficiency of services available at the centers as part of its current work plan. As government officials did not make systematic efforts to identify victims, victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system. There were no reports of the government penalizing victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
The Comoran government increased efforts to prevent trafficking by establishing a coordinating body and holding awareness-raising events. Following the government’s development of a national action plan in May 2013, it established an anti-trafficking commission in July 2013 and composed a plan to implement specific items in the action plan. The commission consists of representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Health, Education, Labor, Interior, and Policy and Planning, with the National Human Rights Commission serving as its secretariat and UNICEF providing technical assistance; the commission served to provide overall direction on official anti-trafficking efforts. In August 2013, the government established a working-level monitoring group to implement action items included in the work plan and ensure effective coordination among all stakeholders in doing so. The commission and monitoring group each met weekly, and the head of the monitoring group reported on its activities at weekly Council of Ministers meetings.
In November 2013, the government organized a national symposium and community awareness events to inform stakeholders about trafficking and its list of the worst forms of child labor, which it adopted in August 2012. The president opened this symposium, where several high-level officials condemned—for the first time publicly—the socially-accepted practice of sending children to work as domestic servants in the homes of richer families. The National Human Rights Commission organized awareness campaigns on child labor on all three islands in September 2013; these activities involved Koranic school teachers and imams. The government continued implementation of its 2010-2015 national action plan for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor, which includes activities to address child trafficking, including forced labor in Koranic schools and domestic servitude. The government continued to fund a toll-free emergency line for reporting crimes to assist in the identification of victims of child abuse and exploitation. Comoran officials in Anjouan intercepted Malagasy women intending to travel illegally to the French island of Mayotte to board flights to the Middle East—where they often endure domestic servitude—and coordinated their return to Madagascar. The government did not make efforts to reduce reported demand for commercial sex acts. The government attempted to reduce the demand for forced labor in domestic service by publicly denouncing the practice of sending poor children to richer families for educational opportunities. Despite one unconfirmed report of a Comoran child sex tourist in Madagascar, the government did not make efforts to address this phenomenon. The Comoros is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.