Republic of the Congo
REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Tier 2 Watch List
The Republic of the Congo is a source and destination country for children, men, and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. According to a study released by an international organization in 2013, most trafficking victims in the Congo originate from Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to a lesser extent from other neighboring countries. Experts reported fewer child trafficking victims than in previous years, especially from Benin; however, traffickers may have developed more sophisticated methods to avoid detection. Trafficking victims are subjected to domestic servitude and market vending by other nationals of the West African community living in the Congo, as well as by Congolese nationals in the city of Pointe-Noire. Source countries for adult victims include DRC, Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon, Benin, and Mali. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with most between the ages of 9 and 11 and originating from the Congo and DRC and exploited in Brazzaville. Women and girls are also subjected to sex trafficking by Chinese and Malaysian construction workers building a national highway near Nkayi and Pointe-Noire. Most children subjected to trafficking within the country migrate from rural to urban areas to serve as domestic workers for relatives or family friends. Some child trafficking victims are also subjected to forced labor in stone quarries, bakeries, and the fishing and agricultural sectors, including in cocoa fields in Sangha department. As reported by an international organization in 2013, nationals of the Congo comprise 43 percent of traffickers, 28 percent of adult victims, and 14 percent of child victims in the Congo. Internal trafficking involves recruitment from rural areas for exploitation in cities, and the indigenous population is especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. Traffickers reportedly targeted vulnerable children from Oueme, a small and impoverished village in Benin.
The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government investigated four suspected traffickers during the reporting period, identified five trafficking victims, and provided some protective services. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, the Republic of the Congo is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government did not enact draft anti-trafficking legislation finalized in the previous reporting year, and knowledge of the country’s existing anti-trafficking laws was uneven across the government. While the government investigated four suspected traffickers, it did not demonstrate vigorous efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, failing to initiate any prosecutions of alleged traffickers in 2015 or convict any traffickers from cases that remained pending from up to five years ago. The government has never used existing laws that protect children and make trafficking illegal to secure a conviction. Serious allegations of official complicity persisted during the reporting period, and the government has yet to take action to further investigate such allegations. Harassment of anti-trafficking activists re-emerged as a concern. The lack of an inter-ministerial coordinating body continued to hinder countrywide progress to address internal trafficking and sex trafficking from DRC and other countries. The Republic of the Congo is not a party to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that prohibits adult trafficking; greatly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and punish traffickers, including complicit government officials, under the 2010 Child Protection Code; fund and hold a special session of the high court to hear the trafficking case backlog; increase outreach, victim identification, and law enforcement efforts on sex trafficking and internal trafficking beyond Pointe-Noire, with specific attention to the trafficking of adults and indigenous populations; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among child laborers, illegal immigrants, and women and girls in prostitution, and train social workers and law enforcement officials on these procedures; provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families and anti-trafficking activists and partners; establish a national body that includes all relevant ministries to increase coordination of countrywide anti-trafficking efforts; bolster anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and DRC; and accede to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government made minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, failing to prosecute or convict suspected traffickers, while serious allegations of official complicity emerged during the reporting period. Article 60, chapter 2 of the 2010 Child Protection Code prohibits the trafficking, sale, trading, and exploitation of children, for which article 115 prescribes penalties of hard labor for an undefined period of time and fines. Article 68 prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation of children, for which article 122 prescribes penalties of three months’ to one year’s imprisonment or fines between the equivalent of approximately $110 and $1,080. Article 4 of the country’s labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, imposing fines of the equivalent of approximately $1,300 to $1,900. None of these penalties is sufficiently stringent, and the penalties prescribed for sex trafficking are not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The penal code prohibits forced prostitution. Although Congolese law prohibits some forms of trafficking of adults, it does not outlaw bonded labor or the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. Draft anti-trafficking legislation, completed in partnership with UNODC in the previous reporting period, advanced past Supreme Court review and awaits review by the new cabinet before going to Parliament.
The government investigated four suspected traffickers during the reporting period; however, it did not prosecute or convict any traffickers. All four alleged traffickers appeared before the Directorate of the Department of Social Affairs (DDAS) Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire. Authorities charged one in December 2015 with “threat toward an individual” under article 305 of the criminal code for allegedly forcing a Beninese child into domestic servitude and placed her in detention, where she was held for four weeks before being released without further comment from the judge overseeing her detention. The government charged another with “child abduction” and held her in detention for 27 days before releasing her pending further investigation. The government neither charged nor detained two of the alleged traffickers, but the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee made them pay for the victims’ repatriation and reinsertion in Benin. The government failed to report progress in its prosecutions of at least 23 offenders, some charged nearly five years ago, and has never used existing law that addresses trafficking to make a conviction. As serious crimes, trafficking cases should be heard at the high court; however, cases continued to languish due to a significant backlog from recent years. The Ministry of Labor did not report investigating any cases of forced child labor in 2015. Law enforcement personnel did not undergo any anti-trafficking training during the reporting period due to a lack of funding. Limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors continued to hinder the prosecution of trafficking.
Serious credible allegations of official complicity, reported consistently since 2011, continued in 2015. Allegations resurfaced that judges in Pointe-Noire accepted bribes to drop charges against detained traffickers. However, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict these or other officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. Human trafficking activists faced harassment and threats from traffickers and complicit government officials, including police. There was no evidence during the reporting period to support previous concerns alleging the Consulate of Benin and the leadership of the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in Pointe-Noire were complicit in re-trafficking of rescued victims. Members of the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee strongly denied these allegations.
The government decreased protection services to trafficking victims. The government, in partnership with an NGO, identified 15 trafficking victims during the reporting period, ranging from ages 12 to 19, a decrease from 23 identified during the previous reporting year. The government reported it repatriated two children, returned another to her biological family, and had two others remain with a host family awaiting repatriation. The government relied on partnerships with NGOs and foster families to enable victims in Pointe-Noire to receive access to care; protective services through government-civil society partnerships remained non-existent elsewhere in the country, including the capital, Brazzaville. The quality of care provided to victims varied widely. The foster care system, created in July 2009 and intended to ensure trafficking victims remained safe while the government and NGOs conducted family tracing, weakened during the reporting period due to inconsistent government funding and a decrease in the number of foster families able to receive children, down from five to three. The government allocated approximately 1,000,000 Central African Francs (CFA) ($1,670) to the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee, a decrease from approximately 8,000,000 CFA ($14,000) during the previous reporting period; however, the money was never disbursed during the year. As a result, the committee operated largely on private donations to provide assistance for victims. Law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel did not employ systematic procedures to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups, relying instead on NGOs and international organizations to identify victims. During the year, there were no reports of victims jailed or prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of their having been subjected to trafficking; however, inadequate identification efforts may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Although officials interviewed victims after their rescue—encouraging them to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers—child victims were not expected to testify in court. The government did not deport rescued foreign victims, but it did not issue temporary or permanent residency status to victims and had no legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not carry out joint investigations or extraditions of charged trafficking offenders as part of its bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin, despite the identification of a Beninese trafficking victim during the reporting period.
The government continued limited efforts to prevent trafficking in 2015. The national police in Pointe-Noire began a mapping project in the greater Pointe-Noire area to identify potential trafficking networks. The Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee based in Pointe-Noire organized a day-long conference and undertook a door-to-door campaign to raise awareness among students and adults about the trafficking in persons phenomenon and to equip them with knowledge on how to identify victims within their community and refer them to authorities for help. However, the government’s implementation of the 2014-2017 action plan was slow, and funding was not directly allocated to the plan or the efforts of the Trafficking in Persons Coordinating Committee in general. The government did not establish a national coordinating body to guide its efforts. The government did not take measures to reduce the domestic and transnational demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government has signed the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; however, it has not yet acceded to either of these. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.