The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country located in Central Africa that is rich in natural resources including copper, gold, silver and petroleum. It has a brutal history of political unrest and violence, leaving millions living in deep poverty and at risk of exploitation. The country struggles with the internal issue of human trafficking, yet many around the globe are unaware that this is a significant problem. Here are some important facts about human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of Congo and what is being done to combat the problem.
Types of Trafficking and Who It Impacts
Human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not isolated to a particular gender or age group, rather the issue impacts men, women and children of all ages.
Men and boys are often subjected to forced labor and debt bondage. They frequently work in unlicensed mines and are exploited through debt bondage. Many Congolese men and young boys are given cash advances, tools, food and other provisions at high prices by mine owners and expected to work to repay their debts. But more often than not, the prices are so high that miners are forced to continue to work, constantly accumulating more debts, making it nearly impossible to repay.
Women and young children are often forced into prostitution, sex slavery and marriages. According to the U.S. State Department, some women are even coerced into prostitution by family members. The issue of sex slavery for Congolese women is not isolated to the country, rather it extends throughout the continent of Africa and beyond. There are numerous reports that indicate Congolese women and children are trafficked by road to South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, the Middle East and parts of Europe, for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation.
Trafficking in Person’s Report
The United States has a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which is the government’s diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments in the fight to end human trafficking. This report is part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that was passed in 2000. Within the TIP Report, the U.S. Department of State places each country into one of three tiers based on each country’s governmental efforts to comply with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a Tier 2 Watch List rating, meaning that the government does not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making efforts to meet the standards. However, because the country has the additional Watch List rating, this means the number of victims is significant and is increasing and there is also a failure to provide evidence of efforts to combat the issue of human trafficking.
What is Currently Being Done?
Over the past several years, the Congolese government has taken significant steps to eliminate human trafficking. The government now holds military and police officials accountable if they are found to be complicity involved with sex slavery and other forms of exploitation. The government has also ceased the recruitment of child soldiers through the assistance and implementation of a United Nations supported action plan that works to end the use of children in armed conflict around the globe.
The Free the Slaves program works extensively to end human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their efforts are geared towards educating the Congolese on their rights, while also strengthening the community’s resistance to slavery. They also work to improve the knowledge, attitudes and practices of key government officials, as these are individuals who play a large role in eliminating human trafficking in the country.
The program has seen extensive results with nearly 120,000 Congolese Villagers educated, nearly 300 liberated from some form of slavery and more than 150 government officials trained on anti-slavery laws.
What Else Can Be Done?
While there has been some progress in the work to end human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is still much more that needs to be done. Greater awareness around the globe is necessary for combating the issue. The United Nations Action Plan to end the recruitment of children in armed conflicts utilizes #childrennotsoldiers to raise awareness through various social media platforms. The Democratic Republic of Congo also needs to address trafficking crimes committed by individuals other than officials and put forth greater efforts to identify victims, as well as provide victims with necessary health care services.
With greater financial assistance, awareness and support from the United States and various countries around the globe, the Democratic Republic of Congo can be equipped with the necessary tools to ultimately end human trafficking in their country.
– Sarah Jane Fraser