BENIN: Tier 2
Benin is a source, transit, and destination country 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 practice of vidomegon, which traditionally provided educational or vocational opportunities to children by placing them in the homes of wealthier families, is 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. A 2013 study cited over 7,800 children subjected to labor exploitation in the markets of Cotonou, Porto-Novo, and Parakou. Children from neighboring countries 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 in Mono and on the shores of the Bight of Benin have been reported in previous years. In northern Benin, children in Koranic schools, known as talibe, are exploited in forced begging by Koranic teachers known as marabouts. The majority of child trafficking victims are from the northern regions, and many are recruited and transported to neighboring countries, 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 exploited within the country. Benin is the largest source country for trafficking victims in the Republic of the Congo. West African women are exploited in 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 traffickers and to identify and provide protective services to child victims. During the reporting period, the government identified 220 potential child trafficking victims and convicted ten offenders for the illegal movement of these children. However, authorities continued to focus on intercepting traffickers and victims in transit rather than rescuing persons from exploitation in the country. Anti-trafficking legislation—including prohibitions and penalties for the trafficking of adults—remained pending review by the Ministry of Justice for the third consecutive year. 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 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 (MOF), and the Ministry of Labor (MOL). During the year, allegations of official complicity resurfaced.
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 complicit officials, via existing statutes to prosecute sex and labor trafficking of adults and children; 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 OCPM, MOL, and MOF 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 it 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. 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, prescribing 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. The labor code prohibits forced labor and prescribes punishments of two months’ to one year’s 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—investigated 102 cases of child trafficking, in addition to four cases of exploitative child labor. The government continued to fail to systematically investigate the trafficking of adults. OCPM referred 19 suspects to the courts for prosecution. The government convicted 10 offenders for child trafficking and the illegal movement of children under act 2006-04, an increase compared with six convicted in 2013, but a decrease from 20 convicted in 2012. Sentences ranged from six months’ to three years’ imprisonment; however, traffickers were held in pre-trial detention until sentenced and then released on suspended sentences. Two cases were dismissed for insufficient evidence; the judge returned three cases to the prosecutor for re-qualification. Prosecutions in 21 cases remained ongoing in courts at the close of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. In partnership with an international organization and NGOs, the government trained law enforcement officials, judges, social workers, foster families, and market vendors. The government, with the assistance of an international organization, extended OCPM child protection services to Benin’s 12 geographical departments; prior to 2015, OCPM was only present in Cotonou and did not maintain personnel nationwide. The government put a plan in place to create local offices throughout the country and to provide gendarmes and police with specialized training for addressing abuses against children.
During the year, allegations of official complicity involving Beninese diplomatic personnel resurfaced. Instead of assisting in the placement of child trafficking victims among care providers, consular staff colluded with complicit officials in a destination country to return victims to a trafficking network. Immigration officials in Cotonou also allegedly supplied falsified travel documents to facilitate the illegal movement of children as adults.
The government sustained efforts to protect potential forced child labor victims during the year. OCPM identified 220 potential trafficking victims in 2014, compared with 173 in 2013. Of the 220, 136 were girls and 84 were boys. OCPM provided the children temporary shelter, as well as legal, medical, and psychological services. 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. Officials with the Ministries of Family, Justice, and Interior worked in partnership with an international organization 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 MOF, offered basic social services, food, and temporary shelter to trafficking victims throughout the country, particularly in rural areas where such services were scarce, and reintegration of victims into their home communities. 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 government failed 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. 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 modest efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The anti-trafficking coordinating body—the Trafficking and Exploitation Technical Working Group of the National Monitoring and Coordination Working Group for Child Protection—met twice during the year and organized awareness campaigns on human trafficking; however, its six affiliated working groups did not meet during the reporting period. The government engaged local authorities and traditional leaders in child trafficking prevention. With support from a foreign donor, the MOF held a one-day session to educate the general population on the root causes of human trafficking, which was attended by law enforcement, social workers, and other relevant officials. In November and December 2014, the MOL held educational sessions on the legal framework for the prevention of child labor in Benin for 150 stakeholders, including vendors and merchants, in the markets of Cotonou, Parakou, and Port-Novo. Labor inspectors generally imposed administrative penalties, resulting in fines, even for serious labor violations, some of which likely included trafficking crimes. The government took no systematic steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor both within the country and abroad during the reporting period. It provided Beninese troops with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, though a foreign donor conducted the training. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.