CONGO, REPUBLIC OF THE: 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 the DRC, Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon, Benin, and Mali. Both adults and children are victims of sex trafficking in the Congo, with the majority of victims originating from the DRC and exploited in Brazzaville. The majority of 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, nationals of the Congo are among both traffickers and victims in Congo, with 43 percent of traffickers, 28 percent of adult victims, and 14 percent of child victims reported as Congolese. Internal trafficking involves recruitment from rural areas for exploitation in cities. The Congo's indigenous population is especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. Chinese workers in the fishing sector were potentially trafficking victims, as employees of two fishing companies in the Congo endured passport withholding and other abuses.
The Government of the Republic of the Congo does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. 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. 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 prosecutions of alleged traffickers in 2014 or convict any traffickers from cases which remained pending from up to four years ago. Allegations of complicity re-emerged during the reporting period, and the government has yet to take action to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable. The lack of an inter-ministerial coordinating body continued to hinder countrywide progress to address internal trafficking and sex trafficking from the DRC and other countries.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, including provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; greatly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and to convict and punish trafficking offenders, 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; provide adequate security and supervision for victims placed in foster families; conduct government-led training for social workers and law enforcement officials on the use of identification and referral procedures; establish a national body that includes all relevant ministries to increase coordination of countrywide anti-trafficking efforts; increase anti-trafficking law enforcement cooperation with other governments in the region, especially Benin and the DRC; and accede to the 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 the forced labor and prostitution of children, for which Article 122 prescribes penalties of three months' to one year's imprisonment or fines between approximately $110 and $1,080. Article 4 of the country's labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, imposing fines of approximately $1,300 to $1,900. None of these penalties are 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 remained pending with the Supreme Court.
The government investigated four suspected traffickers during the reporting period; three offenders remained in jail awaiting trial. However, complicit officials at a foreign diplomatic mission allegedly tipped off the fourth suspect, who fled the country after allegedly repeatedly selling a child to labor traffickers in the Congo and Gabon. Despite issuing instructions in January 2013 directing officials to file criminal charges in all potential trafficking cases, the government did not to charge any suspected traffickers for the second consecutive year – continuing its failure to demonstrate vigorous efforts to address trafficking crimes. Prosecutions involving at least 23 offenders, some charged nearly four years ago, remained pending at the end of the reporting period. As serious crimes, trafficking cases are to be heard at the high court, which did not meet in regular session during the reporting period; accordingly, cases continue to languish and a significant backlog persists. The Ministry of Labor did not report investigating any cases of forced child labor in 2013. The police and gendarme academies continued anti-trafficking trainings for their staff, reaching an estimated 1,000 police officers and an unknown number of gendarmerie officials in 2014. Nonetheless, limited understanding of the child anti-trafficking law among law enforcement officials, judges, and labor inspectors continued to hinder the prosecution of trafficking crimes.
Serious allegations of official complicity, reported consistently since 2011, continued in 2014. During the year, allegations of official complicity involving the leadership of the Coordination Committee, chaired by the local coordination committee in Pointe-Noire, resurfaced; the previous director of this committee had been reassigned in 2012 following similar reports. Instead of assisting in the placement of child trafficking victims among care providers, complicit officials on the committee allegedly colluded with complicit consular staff at a foreign mission to return victims to a trafficking network. However, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict these or other officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government provided minimal protection services to trafficking victims. The government, in partnership with an NGO, identified 23 trafficking victims during the reporting period, including five children and 18 adults. The government reported its repatriation of two children, one returned to her biological family, and another remained with a host family, awaiting repatriation. To assist victims, the government relied on partnerships with NGOs and foster families to enable trafficking victims in Pointe-Noire to receive access to care. 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, was allegedly undermined by inadequate security and official complicity. This reportedly made the placement of child trafficking victims in foster families – or those pretending to serve this function – tantamount to their re-trafficking during the year. The government allocated foster families approximately $10 per child per day to ensure the victims' basic needs were met. During the reporting period 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 trafficking; however, inadequate identification efforts may have left victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Although officials interviewed victims after their rescue – encouraging their assistance 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 third 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.
The government continued limited efforts to prevent trafficking in 2014. During the year, the government drafted a 2014-2017 action plan based on draft anti-trafficking legislation. The government did not establish a national coordinating body to guide its efforts. The government placed one billboard in Pointe-Noire to raise awareness about trafficking, and held a series of trainings for social workers and neighborhood leaders in the city. The government did not take measures to reduce the domestic and transnational demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. 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 laws. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.