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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

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EQUATORIAL GUINEA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Equatorial Guinea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore Equatorial Guinea was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included investigating and—for the first time since 2010–prosecuting a possible trafficking case; developing and implementing formal screening procedures to identify victims within vulnerable populations; proactively identifying a potential trafficking victim; funding and partnering with an international organization to deliver training for more than 700 officials and civil society actors; expanding its awareness campaign to reach all seven of the country’s districts; and providing funding for its 2019-2021 national action plan. Despite these achievements, the government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2004 anti-trafficking law. Additionally, the government’s victim services remained inadequate. Official awareness of trafficking remained low and the government’s anti-trafficking law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers under the country’s laws.Establish as a policy priority the proactive identification of victims of trafficking—separate from fraudulent adoptions or other forms of abuse—including in vulnerable communities such as child laborers in markets; women in commercial sex; domestic and construction workers; undocumented immigrants; and North Korean and Chinese workers.Amend the 2004 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases.Form and provide resources to an independent office mandated to improve the government’s capacity to investigate and prosecute traffickers and identify victims.The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality should coordinate with the Ministries of Interior and Local Corporations, Labor, National Security, and others as appropriate, as well as international organizations and civil society to develop, disseminate, and implement formal procedures for law enforcement and first responders to identify and refer trafficking victims to care.Expand training for law enforcement and judicial officials to increase their capacity to investigate, prosecute, and—following a fair and transparent trial—sentence convicted traffickers under Equatorial Guinea’s anti-trafficking law.Train social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officials on trafficking indicators.Increase funding for victim services and coordinate with civil society and NGOs to provide shelter for all identified trafficking victims.Continue to include local officials in the nation-wide anti-trafficking public awareness outreach campaigns to educate more individuals on trafficking indicators and how they can report potential victims to first responders.Further research the extent and nature of human trafficking within the country according to the national action plan, and draft an annual public report describing the government’s efforts.

PROSECUTION

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Law on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of at least 50 million CFA francs ($86,490) if the offense involved an adult victim; an additional five years would be added to the principal penalty for offenses involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Equatorial Guinea’s law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore it did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Additionally, the law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. The government drafted new penal code articles in 2019 with increased victim protection requirements; however, parliament had not approved the articles at the end of the reporting period.

The government did not maintain comprehensive law enforcement statistics. Officials reported arresting and—for the first time since 2010—initiating prosecutions against two suspected traffickers in late 2019 in a case involving a child from a neighboring country who may have been subjected to human trafficking as defined in international law. However, authorities reported trying the case as illegal adoption due to a lack of training among judicial officials on trafficking crimes and statutes. Officials arrested one suspected trafficker in the previous reporting period, although the government deported the suspect without referring the case for prosecution, a common practice that has undermined holding traffickers accountable. The government has yet to convict a trafficker under its 2004 trafficking law. Judicial officials noted a lack of training resulted in authorities prosecuting and convicting potential trafficking cases under related statutes, such as kidnapping, illegal adoption, or physical abuse. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, although general corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.

For the first time in two years, the government provided anti-trafficking training to its officials. The government funded a nationwide anti-trafficking training program for more than 700 government workers and civil society actors during the reporting period to address a widespread lack of knowledge of trafficking among officials and the general population. The training program—delivered by government officials and international organization partners—included front-line officers from the National Police, Gendarmerie, and military as well as governors, regional government representatives, mayors, civil society, and community leaders.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify victims but demonstrated marginal efforts to provide adequate services to victims. The government proactively identified and provided shelter and basic services for one potential victim from a neighboring country in 2019. During the previous reporting period, the government provided shelter and services for one potential foreign victim who self-identified to an embassy in Malabo. The Ministry of Social Affairs developed and implemented, in coordination with the Ministry of National Security, formal screening procedures involving a checklist of indicators to identify victims within vulnerable populations—an effort that had been stalled for the previous five years. Law enforcement officials did not have formal procedures to guide their victim identification efforts. In 2019, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials reported visiting the country’s three prisons to interview foreign inmates to assess if any were victims of trafficking. The government reportedly screened individuals employed in the regulated commercial sex trade for trafficking indicators; however, officials did not report identifying any victims through these initiatives. Officials established a system to use government housing as temporary shelters for victims of trafficking and domestic violence, although authorities did not report referring any victims to these shelters.

The government increased its funding from $50,000 to $100,000 in 2019 for an NGO to provide services to female victims of trafficking and to raise awareness of the crime among vulnerable populations. The government had no formal policies to provide foreign trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face retribution or hardship. In 2019, there were no reports authorities penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of widely used formal victim identification procedures, some unidentified trafficking victims may have been deported or arrested. Unlike previous years, high-level interest and support for working-level officials led to an increasing understanding of trafficking principles across the government during the reporting period.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. Civil society and government officials’ minimal awareness of the crime and the lack of a leading government entity to coordinate key actors’ efforts historically have impeded the country’s anti-trafficking efforts. To address the awareness deficiency, the government expanded its sensitization campaign in 2019 to all seven of the country’s districts using direct person-to-person sessions, radio, television, and social media to increase Equatoguineans’ understanding of human trafficking, reaching more than 65,000 users on Facebook alone. The Ministry of Labor complemented its existing web-based reporting platform by launching a hotline to increase the channels for individuals to report potential trafficking cases, and the Ministry of National Security created a hotline for victims to contact authorities; the government did not report how many individuals used the hotline or web-based reporting platform.

The government convened its anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee multiple times during the reporting period and coordinated with international organizations, foreign governments, and civil society to begin to implement its 2019-2021 national action plan. Although officials did not disclose the total amount spent in support of the plan, the government allocated at least $149,000 to implement trainings in line with its national anti-trafficking strategy, compared with not funding its plan in the previous reporting period. In November 2019, the Ministry of Interior hosted a televised roundtable with approximately 40 NGO representatives to discuss ways the government could more effectively collaborate with civil society actors to identify victims of trafficking. Additionally, the government established a monthly radio show during the reporting period dedicated to discussing human trafficking. The Ministry of Social Affairs coordinated with an international organization to train approximately 170 individuals—including teachers and community leaders—throughout the country on trafficking indicators and protocols to inform authorities and refer victims to resources.

The Ministry of Labor continued to implement regulations for all companies to sign formal labor contracts with their employees. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor continued to partner with the non-governmental General Director of the National Financial Research Organization to inspect businesses and ensure firms complied with labor laws. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructed diplomats to avoid engaging in trafficking or trafficking-related practices and directed officials stationed abroad to screen for trafficking indicators when adjudicating visas. To decrease the number of undocumented migrants—a population vulnerable to trafficking—the Ministry of National Security increased efforts to more expeditiously issue residency permits. Commercial sex was legal in the country and, in an attempt to decrease exploitation of vulnerable individuals and demand for commercial sex acts, the government continued implementing regulations requiring all commercial sex establishments to register and provide contracts to their workers.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Equatorial Guinea, and traffickers exploit victims from Equatorial Guinea abroad. Most civil society members and government officials lack an understanding of trafficking in persons, hindering the country’s ability to identify victims and address the crime. Equatoguineans exploit the majority of trafficking victims in forced labor in domestic service and commercial sex in the cities of Malabo, Bata, Mongomo, Ebebiyin, and to a lesser extent Oyala, where relative wealth and security attracts Central and West African migrant workers. Equatoguinean traffickers exploit local and foreign women in commercial sex in these cities, with the Malabo neighborhoods of Banapa, Paraiso, and the city center primary areas of concern. Experts noted the sustained economic downturn due to decreasing oil prices and oil production resulted in Equatoguineans in urban centers replacing some foreign domestic workers with children from rural areas in Equatorial Guinea, whom they then exploited in forced labor. Some business owners involved in the hospitality and restaurant sectors exploit hotel and bar workers in forced labor and commercial sex within the country’s urban centers. Experts report LGBTI youth are often left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.

Equatoguinean business owners reportedly exploit children from nearby countries—primarily Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and Gabon—in forced labor as domestic workers, market laborers, vendors, and launderers. Observers reported Equatoguinean traffickers may exploit Latin American women in commercial sex in the country and intermediaries may exploit Equatoguineans in Spain. Traffickers recruit individuals from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and other African countries, as well as temporary workers from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela for work in Equatorial Guinea, and sometimes exploit them in forced labor or sex trafficking. Chinese firms recruit Chinese nationals to migrate to Equatorial Guinea for work or to engage in commercial sex; some of these businesses then confiscate workers’ passports, which increases their vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking. North Koreans working in Equatorial Guinea may have been forced to work by the North Korean government. Companies in the construction sector, among others, also held the passports of foreign workers, increasing their vulnerability to forced labor. Experts reported some corrupt and complicit officials—including senior government officials—participated in trafficking-related crimes during the reporting period.

U.S. Department of State

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