The government maintained inadequate anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The country’s laws criminalized most forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 60 of the 2010 Child Protection Code criminalized child trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor, for which Article 115 prescribed penalties of hard labor for an undefined period of time and a fine between 1 million to 10 million Central African CFA franc (CFA) ($1,660 to $16,560). Article 68 of the Child Protection Code also criminalized forced child labor and debt bondage, for which Article 122 prescribed penalties between three months and one year of imprisonment or fines of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA ($83 to $830). Article 4 of the country’s labor code criminalized forced or compulsory labor and Article 257 prescribed a fine of 600,000 to 900,000 CFA ($994 to $1,490) as the penalty. None of these penalties were sufficiently stringent, and the penalties prescribed for sex trafficking were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 334 of the penal code criminalized forced prostitution and carried penalties between two and five years’ imprisonment and fines between 1 million and 10 million CFA ($1,660 to $16,560). The penalties for forced prostitution were sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Congolese law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking of adults, including the recruitment, harboring, transport, or provision of a person for the purposes of forced labor. During the year, the government made progress to strengthen its legal framework and criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Draft anti-trafficking legislation, completed in partnership with an international organization in 2014, remained pending without enactment for the sixth consecutive year; however, at the end of the reporting period, the law remained with the Senate for further consideration.
The government initiated the investigation of at least six traffickers in 2018, compared to three the prior year. The government reported prosecuting four and convicting zero suspected traffickers in 2018, compared to one prosecution and conviction in 2017. In one case, the government reported investigating a suspected Cameroonian trafficker who allegedly subjected at least seven children to child sex trafficking; however, the government did not prosecute the suspect, but rather deported him without holding the suspect accountable. In another case, the government reportedly arrested a suspected trafficker of one boy from the DRC, but the government released this suspect from prison and deported him without prosecution. An NGO reported conducting investigations into eight additional trafficking cases during the reporting year; of these, the NGO worked with victims in two cases to reach out of court settlements and the public prosecutor filed charges in at least four cases, but the government did not report arresting any suspects by the end of the reporting period. Frequently traffickers of these children operate in West Africa, making Congolese prosecution action difficult. Additionally, in the prior reporting period, an NGO alleged that a trafficking network fraudulently recruited young children from destitute communities in Benin with the promise of economic opportunities and education in the Republic of the Congo only to face domestic servitude and forced labor in market vending upon arrival; however, the government did not report investigating this network. Despite efforts to address complicit officials the previous year, during the reporting period, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. Low-level corruption and limited intra-governmental coordination limited the government’s ability to investigate, prosecute, and convict suspected traffickers, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating an allegedly bribed Congolese official involved in the facilitation of the escape of a convicted trafficker during the last reporting period. Due to inadequate funding, police continued to require the payment of transportation stipends from NGOs or other stakeholders prior to conducting law enforcement investigations, including those related to human trafficking and removing victims identified by NGOs from situations of trafficking. Many cases continued to languish, some without progress since the courts stopped functioning in 2014 and because of a significant backlog in the high court. The government did not report the outcomes of any languishing cases, making it unclear if older cases had been dismissed.
The government continued to include anti-trafficking training in the standard academy training for new police and immigration officers. The government also conducted two, three-day, high-level anti-trafficking trainings for 50 government officials in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, including law enforcement officers; 10 diplomats; 25 civil society members; and 15 religious officials. However, despite increased training efforts, limited understanding of the anti-trafficking laws among law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and labor inspectors persisted and continued to hinder anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and allowed traffickers to continue operating with impunity. The government did not work to implement the law enforcement provisions within its 2011 bilateral agreement with the Government of Benin or otherwise coordinate with Beninese law enforcement officials on any investigations or the extradition of any suspected traffickers, despite most traffickers and their victims originating from Benin.