Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons


Somalia remains a Special Case for the thirteenth consecutive year. During the reporting period, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) maintained control primarily of Mogadishu, but extended some influence outside the capital city through the federal state-formation process. The self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland and semi-autonomous Federal State of Puntland retained control of security and law enforcement in their respective regions. The Interim Juba Administration and the Interim South West Administration partially controlled their jurisdictions. The FGS focused on capacity-building and securing Mogadishu and government facilities from attacks by the terrorist organization al-Shabaab, which retained control of some towns and rural areas in southern and central Somalia. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) conducted military operations in 2014 to recover additional al-Shabaab-controlled territory, pushing terrorist elements away from their last port and into a more compressed area centered on the Juba Valley. Military courts often adjudicated serious cases, including those related to terrorism, and tried many civilian cases. Due to capacity constraints, Somali authorities struggled to address human trafficking, thereby yielding minimal results in prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in all regions. In addition, officials across Somalia lacked an understanding of trafficking crimes, which they often conflated with smuggling.

Scope and Magnitude:

Somalia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Information regarding trafficking in Somalia remains extremely difficult to obtain or verify. Victims are primarily trafficked within the country from Somalia’s southern and central regions to the regions of Puntland and Somaliland in the north. In Somaliland, women act as recruiters and intermediaries to take victims to Puntland, Djibouti, and Ethiopia for domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Despite the decline of piracy in 2014, reports indicate these criminal groups continue to subject Somali women and girls to domestic service and sexual servitude as alternative income sources. In Somali society, Somali ethnic Bantus and Midgaan remain marginalized and sometimes kept in servitude by more powerful Somali clan members as domestic workers, farm laborers, and herders. Due to poverty and an inability to provide care for all family members, some Somalis willingly surrender custody of their children to people with whom they share familial ties and clan linkages; some of these children may become victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. Most child laborers work within their own households or family businesses. Children may be forced into labor in agriculture, domestic work, herding livestock, selling or portering khat (a mild narcotic), crushing stones, or in the construction industry.

During the reporting period, an international NGO released a report documenting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of Somali women and girls, including trafficking victims, by Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM personnel. An African Union investigation into the allegations concluded there was evidence of the existence of sexual exploitation and abuse by AMISOM personnel.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain vulnerable to trafficking for sex and labor. “Gatekeepers” in control of some IDP camps, at times allegedly in collusion with Somali officials, reportedly force girls and women to provide sex acts in exchange for food and services available within the camps. They continue to charge rent or fees for otherwise-free basic services and sell the area they control within a camp to other “gatekeepers,” establishing a cycle of debt for IDPs that makes them vulnerable to inherited bondage. Traffickers and smugglers reportedly prey on women and children, mostly IDPs from southern and central Somalia already vulnerable to trafficking, at times using false promises of lucrative jobs in Europe and North America.

Traffickers transport Somali women, sometimes via Djibouti, to the Middle East, particularly Yemen and Syria, where they frequently endure domestic servitude or forced prostitution. Somali men experience conditions of forced labor as herdsmen and workers in the Gulf States. Traffickers transport children to Saudi Arabia through Yemen and force them to beg on the streets. Dubious employment agencies facilitate human trafficking by targeting individuals desiring to migrate to the Gulf States or Europe for employment. Federal government officials allegedly sell falsified travel documents to travel brokers and traffickers. NGOs and international organizations report Somalis increasingly seek to move to other African destinations, including Kenya and South Africa. Authorities in Somaliland report an increase in the transporting or kidnapping of children and unemployed university graduates, who later move through Ethiopia and Sudan and perhaps are held hostage by networks in Libya en route to Europe and other destinations in the Middle East. Members of the Somali diaspora use false offers of marriage to lure unsuspecting victims, many of whom include relatives, to Europe or the United States, where they force them into prostitution and domestic servitude.

Traffickers reportedly subject Somali children fleeing al-Shabaab and seeking refuge in Kenya to forced labor or sexual exploitation. Trucks transporting goods from Kenya to Somalia return to Kenya with young girls and women; traffickers acquire these young girls and women and place them in brothels in Nairobi or Mombasa or send them to destinations outside Kenya. Somali traffickers known as “makhalis” control the networks, but truck drivers also exploit these girls in prostitution. The estimated 20,000 undocumented Ethiopians in northern Somalia also remain vulnerable to trafficking as they seek employment in Puntland and Somaliland to fund subsequent travel to the Middle East. Traffickers smuggle Ethiopian women through Somalia to Yemen and other destinations in the Middle East, where they subsequently force them into domestic servitude and prostitution. Ethiopian children travel to Somaliland seeking employment but may instead be forced to beg on the streets.

Child Soldiers: During the year, there were continued reports of the Somali National Army (SNA) and allied militia, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab using child soldiers. The FGS expressed its commitment to eliminating the use of child soldiers among the ranks of the SNA and promulgated a code of conduct in 2014 prohibiting recruitment of children. The SNA made limited but incremental progress to implement the action plan on the recruitment and use of child soldiers signed in 2012. In February 2014, the federal government signed standard operating procedures for the reception and handover of children separated from armed groups and later established a child protection unit (CPU). International organizations and CPU staff gained access to the Jazeera training camp to monitor for the presence of minors in 2014. While screenings of soldiers conducted during the year did not identify child soldiers among new recruits, the UN continued to report the SNA and allied militias used child soldiers during the reporting period, including to man and inspect vehicles at checkpoints. The government referred some children to an international organization for assistance; however, reports indicated the SNA continued to arrest and detain children allegedly associated with al-Shabaab, and the UN expressed concern over a lack of transparency and personal liberty in the referral process. Most Somalis lacked birth certificates, and without an established birth registration system or standardized method for recruitment, verifying claims of child soldiering remained difficult. In addition, unverified reports indicated anti-al-Shabaab militias may recruit former al-Shabaab child soldiers.

Throughout areas beyond state control, al-Shabaab frequently recruited children for use by its militias, typically through abduction and deception. This terrorist group forced recruitment at mosques, Koranic schools, and facilities for neglected children. Al-Shabaab used children for direct participation in hostilities and other support functions in southern and central Somalia, including for planting roadside bombs and other explosive devices, serving as human shields during incursions, carrying out assassinations, providing intelligence, portering, and working in domestic service. The UN reported al-Shabaab’s recruitment, from April to September 2014, of 150 children. Al-Shabaab also forcibly recruited young girls, exploited them in sexual servitude, and bound them in marriages with militants.

Government Efforts:

Somaliland and Puntland authorities made minimal efforts to combat trafficking during the reporting period. The FGS continued to lack sufficient training, resources, and capacity to effectively prosecute trafficking offenses, protect victims, or prevent the crime, partly due to civil unrest and the ongoing campaign to degrade al-Shabaab and secure Mogadishu. The pre-1991 penal code (applicable at the federal and regional levels) outlaws forced labor and other forms of trafficking in persons. Article 455 prohibits and penalizes slavery, prescribing penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment. Article 464 prohibits forced labor, prescribing penalties of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. Article 457 prohibits the transferring, disposing, taking possession, or holding of a person, and prescribes penalties of three to 12 years’ imprisonment. All of these penalties appear sufficiently stringent. Article 408(1) prohibits compelled prostitution of a person through violence or threats, prescribing penalties of two to six years’ imprisonment, which appears sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The constitution, which remains provisional until the holding of a national referendum for a permanent version, prohibits slavery, servitude, trafficking, and forced labor under article 14. Article 29(6) prohibits the use of children in armed conflict, and article 405 prohibits all forms of prostitution. The Somali National Police retained responsibility for investigating and enforcing such laws; however, they remained understaffed, undertrained, and lacked capacity to enforce them effectively. The FGS did not investigate or prosecute trafficking crimes during the reporting period, including those involving officials alleged to be complicit in the facilitation of sex and labor trafficking.

The Puntland State administration and Somaliland possessed functioning legal systems and some law enforcement capacity; however, the regional governments reported no reliable data on trafficking investigations or prosecutions during the reporting year. In Puntland, the Ministry of Women’s Development and Family Affairs oversaw anti-trafficking efforts, and the police force in Garowe operated an anti-trafficking unit, though it lacked proper training. Provisions under Islamic law in Puntland criminalize the murder of smuggled or trafficked persons, prescribing penalties of between one and five years’ imprisonment. Laws in Somaliland prohibit forced labor, involuntary servitude, and slavery. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Somaliland operated a specialized unit to respond to suspected trafficking cases, and police and immigration officers played an active role in anti-trafficking efforts.

No governmental entity utilized formal procedures for the proactive identification or referral of trafficking victims. In Puntland, however, international organization staff trained officials on victim identification and referral procedures. The FGS, Puntland, and Somaliland authorities did not provide protective services to trafficking victims and relied fully on international organizations to provide victim reintegration services. During the reporting year, the Puntland government provided security to one externally-funded shelter; however, neither the federal nor regional governments provided financial support to organizations assisting victims. There were no legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims from Somalia to countries where they may face hardship or retribution; however, government officials identified no foreign victims during the year.

Somaliland authorities continued to work with an international organization and the Migration Response Center in Hargeisa to establish a mobile health clinic for the IDPs surrounding the Mahamed Mooge settlement and a rehabilitation center for street children. Somaliland officials generally appeared overwhelmed with humanitarian cases and illegal immigration from Ethiopia, which often hindered identification and protection of potential trafficking victims. Government officials provided no data clarifying whether children who involuntarily engaged in prostitution or the commission of crimes across Somali territory were protected from criminal penalties under Somali law. Information on FGS efforts to protect trafficking victims remained limited. During the reporting year, federal and regional authorities, with external assistance, oversaw the transfer of former child soldiers associated with al-Shabaab to the custody of an international organization.

Authorities across Somalia demonstrated minimal efforts to prevent trafficking during the year. Somaliland and Puntland authorities facilitated anti-trafficking awareness campaigns; however, the regional campaigns continued to conflate trafficking and smuggling. The FGS did not conduct any awareness campaigns during the reporting period. No government entity provided funding to agencies for labor inspections, and no inspectors were employed to enforce labor laws. Authorities across Somalia did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomats deployed abroad. Somalia is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.