Trafficking in Persons Report 2011

TUNISIA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Tunisia is a source, destination, and possible transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Tunisian girls in domestic work in Tunis and other governorates are trafficking victims. In northwest Tunisia, a network of brokers and hiring agencies facilitates child domestic work and domestic servitude, sometimes via weekly markets. One study and information from an NGO indicate that 30 percent of the girls enter domestic work before the age of 14; some enter as early as ages 6 or 7. The majority has no vacation, no work contracts, and the ones who live in their employers’ homes have neither set hours of work nor freedom of movement. Almost all of the girls in the study admitted ill-treatment, including forced starvation and physical abuse; approximately one-fifth of the girls surveyed have been sexually abused as well. Thirty percent were forced to leave school, two-thirds want to change jobs, and almost all were unaware of labor laws. Fathers take and have control of the salary until the girls reach about 16 or 17. These are indicators of potential forced labor.

In 2010 and 2009, seven Tunisian females were rescued from forced prostitution in Lebanon and a female from Cote D’Ivoire was forced into domestic servitude by a senior staff member of the African Development Bank in Tunis. In that same period, an online magazine alleged that dozens of children under 16 were victims of forced labor and prostitution for Libyan tourists. In 2008, two women were rescued from forced prostitution in Jordan and three men from forced labor in Italy.

The Government of Tunisia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last three consecutive years. Tunisia was not placed on Tier 3 per Section 107 of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, however, as the government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. Under the leadership of former Tunisian President Ben Ali, the government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and convicting trafficking offenders, proactively identifying or protecting trafficking victims, or raising public awareness of human trafficking over the last year. Victims of trafficking likely remain undetected because of a lack of the previous government’s effort to identify them among vulnerable groups. However, in January 2011, Ben Ali was removed from power after 24 years of rule as the result of a popular revolution. The interim Government of Tunisia that replaced the Ben Ali regime has indicated their commitment to fight human trafficking through important initial steps. Most notably, the current government has established a National Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons and is drafting comprehensive counter-trafficking legislation.

Recommendations for Tunisia: Pass and enact comprehensive counter-trafficking legislation that prohibits and adequately punishes all forms of human trafficking; use existing criminal statutes on forced labor and forced prostitution to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders; undertake a baseline assessment to better understand the scope and magnitude of the human trafficking problem; and institute a formal victim identification mechanism to identify victims among undocumented migrants and offer them access to protection services.


Under the Ben Ali regime, the government made no discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement progress over the reporting period. Tunisia’s Penal Code prohibits some forms of human trafficking. The Penal Code prescribes punishments of 10 years’ imprisonment for capturing, detaining, or sequestering a person for forced labor, and up to five years’ imprisonment for forced prostitution of women and children. The Penal Code also criminalizes child prostitution. The prescribed penalties for forced labor are sufficiently stringent. The penalty for forced prostitution – five years’ imprisonment – is sufficiently stringent, though not commensurate with penalties prescribed under Tunisian law for other serious offenses, such as rape. In addition to these laws the Penal Code prescribes one to two years’ imprisonment for forced child begging. There were no reported investigations or prosecutions of trafficking offenses, or convictions of trafficking offenders, during the year. There was no information on prosecutions or convictions about the reported investigation of child sex tourism by Libyans, noted in the 2010 TIP Report. There is no evidence that the previous government provided anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials in the reporting period, but neither is there evidence of official complicity in trafficking in persons. The current government is drafting legislation to prohibit and punish trafficking in persons, protect trafficking victims, and prevent human trafficking.


Under the Ben Ali regime, the government did not offer trafficking victims access to shelters or other services during the reporting period. During that time, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as undocumented migrants and those persons detained for prostitution offenses. As a result, persons whose trafficking victim status was not recognized by Tunisian authorities were vulnerable to imprisonment and deportation if caught engaging in illegal activities under Tunisian law. Some sources indicate that the previous government left undocumented migrants to fend for themselves in either the Tunisian or Libyan deserts. It neither undertook efforts to identify trafficking victims among the undocumented migrants in its detention centers, nor did it allow outside parties to screen these detained migrants to determine if any were victims of abuse. Under the former regime, the government detained some child sex trafficking victims in the reporting period. The government’s social workers provided direct assistance to abused migrant women and children – including possible trafficking victims – in two shelters operated by a local NGO. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Family, Children, and Elderly Persons continued to assign a child protection delegate to each of Tunisia’s 24 districts to intervene in cases of sexual, economic, or criminal exploitation of children; these delegates worked to ensure that child sex abuse victims received adequate medical care and counseling. The previous government did not offer trafficking victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.


Under the Ben Ali regime, the government made no discernible efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period; there were no government campaigns to raise public awareness of trafficking. Tunisia took steps to reduce demand for commercial sex acts by enforcing laws against prostitution and arresting “clients” soliciting commercial sex, although these measures also resulted in the detention of women in prostitution, including possible trafficking victims. The current government, however, has established a National Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons, composed of representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs, Health, Finance, and Women’s Affairs, as well as members of civil society.

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