As reported over the past five years, the DRC is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking, and a transit country for children subjected to forced labor. Worsening political and economic conditions throughout the country exacerbated already high levels of instability, insecurity, and political tension and rendered populations more vulnerable to trafficking. Some traffickers were individuals or family members who promised victims or victims’ families educational or employment opportunities but instead forced trafficking victims to work as domestic servants, street vendors, gang members, or prostitutes; most trafficking is internal and involves forced labor in artisanal mining sites, agriculture, domestic servitude, forced prostitution, or child recruitment by armed groups. In February 2018, an international organization estimated that were more than 150 different armed groups in the DRC. In 2017, several armed groups continued to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese men, women, and children as combatants and in support roles, such as guards, porters, cleaners, cooks, messengers, spies, and tax collectors at mining sites; women and girls were forced to marry or serve as sex slaves for members of some armed groups. As reported in 2015, traffickers would force some children to commit crimes for them, such as looting and extortion. In 2017, an international organization reported 1,031 confirmed cases of children who were forcibly recruited and used by armed groups, while at least 2,360 children were separated or escaped from armed groups, a significant increase from the prior year. In 2016, abductions for recruitment by the Lord’s Resistance Army increased slightly, and 16 Burundian child soldiers and one Rwandan child soldier, some recruited from refugee camps, were stopped by government officials while reportedly transiting through the DRC to fight in armed groups in Burundi. Child soldiers separated from armed groups and reintegrated into society remain vulnerable to re-recruitment, as adequate rehabilitation services did not exist for children suffering severe psychological trauma, stigmatization may interfere with community reintegration.
For a third consecutive year, there were no cases of child recruitment by the FARDC. However, there were multiple reports of the FARDC’s collaboration with proxy militias that recruit and use children. For instance, an international organization reported ongoing collaboration between the FARDC and Mai Mai Guidon, also known as Nduma Defense of Congo Renove (NDC-R)—to coordinate battlefield tactics and capture of territory from a foreign illegal armed group with ammunition and support from FARDC officials—which recruited and used at least 42 children in 2017. Local and international organizations, as well as media, reported ongoing collaboration between government officials, the FARDC, and the Bana Mura armed group in Kasai that abducted and used children as child soldiers, porters, and for sexual exploitation in 2017. Reports alleged that government officials supplied the armed group with various weapons and ammunition and that the FARDC led and coordinated operations with the Bana Mura.
Some men, women, and children working in artisanal mines in eastern DRC are subjected to forced labor, including debt bondage, by mining bosses, other miners, family members, government officials, and armed groups. Some children are subjected to forced labor in the illegal mining of diamonds, copper, gold, cobalt, tungsten ore, tantalum ore, and tin, as well as the smuggling of minerals. In January 2016, an international organization reported widespread abuse, including forced labor, of some children in artisanal cobalt mines in southern DRC; some children reported extremely long working hours and physical abuse by security guards employed by the state mining company. Children are also vulnerable to forced labor in small-scale agriculture, domestic work, street begging, vending, and portering. Some street children are suspected to be forced to participate in illicit drug transactions and exploited in sex trafficking. Children from the Republic of the Congo may transit through the DRC en route to Angola or South Africa, where they may be subjected to domestic servitude. Some Congolese women and girls subjected to forced marriage are highly vulnerable to domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Congolese women and children migrate to other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, where some are exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in agriculture and diamond mines. Some women may be fraudulently recruited and forced into domestic servitude abroad through false promises of education or employment opportunities. Some Angolans who enter the DRC illegally to work in Bas Congo province are vulnerable to forced labor.