2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Central African Republic


The Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore CAR remained on Tier 2. Officials investigated more trafficking cases and identified more victims. Additionally, the government coordinated with partners to demobilize 855 children associated with non-state armed groups and to provide reintegration services for 963 children recruited by armed groups; launched a public awareness campaign to increase the population’s ability to identify trafficking cases; provided training for more officials; and enacted the country’s Child Protection Code (CPC). However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Victim services remained inadequate, and the government detained some child soldiers in contravention of the CPC. The government has not convicted a trafficker under the country’s trafficking penal code articles since 2017, and official complicity remained a concern, including allegations government security forces may have used children in support roles at checkpoints during the reporting period.


Finalize and disseminate victim identification and referral procedures in coordination with international organizations and NGOs to guide front-line officials’ protection activities and increase efforts to identify trafficking victims within Bangui, including in the informal sector. • Proactively investigate and prosecute individuals sexually exploiting children and adults in maisons de joie (“houses of joy”) within Bangui under Penal Code Article 151. • Provide anti-trafficking training for police and gendarmerie so they can effectively investigate trafficking cases, identify victims, and refer them to care. • Allocate financial and human resources to support the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children’s (UMIRR) operations. • Increase the number of court hearings—separate from informal mediation—for suspected trafficking cases – including for armed groups that recruit and use child soldiers, and expand efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers through independent and fair trials. • Coordinate with international organizations to demobilize and provide reintegration services to child soldiers and increase efforts to minimize their re-recruitment by armed groups. • Develop and formally adopt a national action plan building on the 2020-2021 plan. • Increase referrals of victims to services in partnership with NGOs and international organizations, and ensure trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit. • Expand radio programming in French and Sangho to raise awareness of the crime in Bangui in partnership with civil society, traditional and religious leaders, as well as international organizations to enhance the public’s ability to identify and refer trafficking crimes to law enforcement officers. • Take concrete actions to begin implementing the CPC, beginning with the protection of child soldiers. • Provide additional staff and resources—in coordination with international organizations—to support the government’s anti-trafficking focal point within the Presidency as well as the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Bureau.


The government demonstrated mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Article 151 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as kidnapping. If the offense involved a child victim of sex trafficking or forced labor similar to slavery, the prescribed penalties increased to five to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor.

The pandemic’s impacts on government operations and insecurity across the majority of the country’s territory hindered officials’ ability to conduct law enforcement activities outside of the capital and collect statistics. Authorities reported opening 33 investigations into suspected trafficking cases (sex trafficking and forced labor of adults, as well as children exploited in mines) during the reporting period, compared with three in the previous reporting period. The government did not report initiating any prosecutions, although an NGO reported courts initiated one prosecution for a suspected trafficking case during the reporting period; officials have not convicted a trafficker under Penal Code Article 151 since 2017. In the previous reporting period, the country’s criminal court partnered with an international organization to prosecute and convict 33 militants and armed group leaders for crimes including child soldier recruitment and use. NGOs reported law enforcement officers may have deprioritized investigating owners of brothels known as “houses of joy”—despite their engaging in child sex trafficking—to focus limited resources on addressing the pandemic.

In partnership with a donor-funded international organization, the government facilitated the training of all 24 UMIRR officers during the reporting period in victim identification best practices, exploitation risks to ethnic minorities, sex trafficking indicators, and the importance of working collaboratively with labor inspectors. Additionally, authorities partnered with international organizations to provide training to an unknown number of gendarmerie, police, and army officials on recognizing trafficking victims; given its severe resource limitations, the government contributed facilities and other in-kind donations to support these capacity-building initiatives.

Years of destabilizing conflict exacerbated by worsening violence during the reporting period severely limited formal judicial capacity outside the capital, leading to the frequent use of customary dispute resolution methods through which traditional chiefs or community leaders administered punishment for criminal acts. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, allegations of corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes by judges remained concerns and may have inhibited law enforcement action during the year.


The government demonstrated mixed results on protection; it increased efforts to identify victims, although the dearth of services remained a glaring shortcoming in the government’s response to trafficking. The country’s anti-trafficking committee reported UMIRR officials identified 34 victims (25 adult women, one adult male, and eight girls) of sex trafficking, forced labor of adults, and forced labor of children at mining sites, compared with identifying two child victims in the previous reporting period; as previously unreported, the government had identified a total of 23 victims from 2018 to 2020. UMIRR coordinated with a donor-funded international organization to begin developing victim identification and referral standard operating procedures (SOPs) and trained officials on the procedures; the government did not finalize the SOPs by the close of the reporting period.

Authorities did not report referring victims—separate from child soldiers—to services during the reporting period. To address its deficiency in care, UMIRR contributed funds to open a shelter in March 2021 that would provide psycho-social care for victims; the shelter did not open by the end of the reporting period. International organizations and NGOs continued to provide the majority of care for victims of abuse, including human trafficking. In June, the government enacted the CPC, which strengthened protections for child soldiers, mandated the creation of state institutions to implement child protection initiatives, prescribed diversion for children accused of crimes, and defined child trafficking according to international standards; however, the government did not report fully applying the law to potential violations during the reporting period. In March, the government’s anti-trafficking committee partnered with an international organization to train social workers on victim identification and data collection methods.

Over the course of the reporting period, authorities reportedly dispersed individuals engaged in commercial sex—some of whom may have been sex trafficking victims—without verifying their ages or attempting to identify indicators of trafficking; law enforcement officers allegedly arrested individuals in commercial sex in prior years. During the reporting period, the government partnered with an international organization to demobilize 855 children used by armed groups and—in coordination with the international organization—provided 963 (some of whom were identified in previous reporting periods) shelter, psycho-social services, and reintegration assistance, compared with demobilizing 1,150 child soldiers in 2019. In early 2020, the pandemic disrupted the demobilization process, which restarted in September. Observers reported there was not a specific protocol in CAR for child soldier disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), resulting in children navigating the DDR process with adults. During the reporting period, the government launched a coordination committee and developed a national action plan to address child soldier recruitment and use, although post-election violence throughout the country at the end of 2020 hindered authorities’ progress on this issue.

In December, the government released four children authorities detained for potential use by armed groups as child soldiers; a judge ordered them into a shelter and required weekly check-ins with authorities, but an NGO reported the order was not properly implemented. Observers noted 25 children as young as 14 and including some now in adulthood remained in government detention at the close of the reporting period for crimes related to serving in armed groups, as well as rape. Authorities did not report providing legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution and issued a deportation order for one potential victim during the reporting period. The law allowed victims to file civil suits against the government or their alleged traffickers for restitution; however, there was no information this occurred during the reporting period.


The government increased prevention efforts. The government partially funded and implemented its 2020-2021 national action plan, although worsening conflict throughout the country, severe budgetary constraints, and pandemic-related restrictions on in-person coordination hindered its ability to execute the plan fully. The country’s inter-ministerial committee—established in September 2019 and led by a presidentially-appointed advisor—convened at least four times during the reporting period, compared with five during the previous reporting period. The government continued to dedicate financial and in-kind resources to implement aspects of the plan during the reporting period.

Per the country’s 2020-2021 national action plan, the committee developed and launched an awareness raising campaign in February 2021—funded by the government—using daily radio programs in French and in the local language Sango; these sensitization campaigns helped to address a pronounced lack of understanding of the crime among many Central Africans. In March 2021, officials held a workshop in the capital for community members to educate them on how to report trafficking crimes to UMIRR. Additionally, the government organized a conference in July around the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, leveraging national media coverage to increase awareness of the phenomenon.

In March 2021, the anti-trafficking committee trained approximately 30 deputies from the National Assembly on human trafficking principles and the need for strengthened legal frameworks to address the crime. Also in March, officials from the committee partnered with an international organization to train 30 journalists on best practices for reporting on the crime, trafficking indicators, child soldier recruitment and use, international law, regional issues, and the country’s national action plan.

UMIRR continued to operate its hotline dedicated to gender-based violence staffed by French and local language speakers; during the reporting period, the government initiated a process to expand the hotline’s usage to include reporting of human trafficking cases, but it was unclear whether officials had implemented the hotline’s expansion. Officials did not report taking any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, nor providing anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Ministry of Labor officials conducted inspections in Bangui during the reporting period; however, instability and armed conflict throughout the country limited the government’s ability to observe areas outside the capital, and inspectors did not monitor the informal sector where experts reported child trafficking and hazardous work conditions commonly occurred.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in CAR, and traffickers exploit victims from CAR abroad. Most government officials, as well as civil society, lack an understanding of human trafficking, hindering the country’s ability to identify victims and address the crime. Observers report traffickers primarily exploit CAR nationals within the country and in smaller numbers in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and South Sudan. Perpetrators—including transient merchants, herders, and non-state armed groups—exploit children in domestic servitude, sex trafficking, as well as in forced labor in agriculture, artisanal gold and diamond mines, shops, drinking establishments, and street vending within CAR. Also within the country, some relatives exploit children in domestic servitude, and community members exploit Aka (pygmy) minorities in domestic servitude, especially in the southwest of the country. Authorities’ prejudice against individuals in commercial sex—despite its prevalence—hinders victims’ access to justice and assistance. Some government workers reportedly coerced women into sex in exchange for government employment or documents and services to which they were entitled. Observers note non-state armed groups’ December 2020 to February 2021 closure of the main supply route from Cameroon resulted in rising prices, and a corresponding increase in exploitation of many Central Africans. Fraudulent labor recruiters attract foreigners from nearby countries such as Chad and Libya to enter the country illegally to work in CAR’s mining sector; armed groups capture and exploit some of these irregular migrants in forced labor.

Some relatives or community members coerce girls into forced marriages and subsequently exploit the girls in domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Stemming from severe poverty throughout the country, a government official stated many husbands physically coerce their wives to engage in commercial sex to cover household expenses, with little recourse from authorities. Officials note family members also exploit children in forced labor and sex trafficking to supplement family income.

Observers reported Central African criminal elements engage in the sex trafficking of girls as young as 13 in maisons de joie (houses of joy) throughout Bangui. Maisons de joie are private residences with little official oversight where CAR nationals serve alcohol and food to middle and upper class customers as a cover to exploit girls and women in commercial sex. Criminals reportedly take advantage of abject poverty across the country to recruit women and girls with the promise of money for their children or families.

Violent conflict since 2012 has resulted in chronic instability and the displacement of 1.3 million people, increasing the vulnerability of adults and children to forced labor and sex trafficking. As of February 2021, more than 741,000 IDPs and 647,000 Central Africans sought refuge in neighboring countries. This represents a significant increase from September 2019, in which there were approximately 600,000 IDPs and 592,000 Central African refugees in neighboring countries.

Escalating pre- and post-election violence resulted in armed groups recruiting and using more child soldiers, with nearly 3,000 recruited into combat since the country’s December 2020 elections. The new coalition of six armed groups (Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC), Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R), Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC), Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC), Anti-Balaka Mokom, and Anti-Balaka Ndomate) intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government—the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC)—led a child soldier recruitment campaign near the town of Bambari for children between the ages of 12 and 17 through February 2021. Additionally, individual militias associated with Anti-Balaka; Ex-Seleka; FPRC; Lords Resistance Army; 3R; UPC; and other armed groups continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers in CAR before and after the creation of the CPC. Multiple sources alleged armed groups in southeastern CAR—areas outside of governmental control—kidnapped children and coerced them into serving as child soldiers, in addition to forcing community members into forced labor as porters, cooks, and other support roles, or in illegal mining operations. Additionally, observers reported government security forces may have used children at checkpoints during the reporting period. International organizations reported armed groups recruited children to serve as combatants, servants, child brides, and sex slaves in 2020; armed groups also subjected children to forced labor in the mining sector. Since the conflict began in 2012, armed groups have recruited more than 17,000 children; during the reporting period, militias primarily recruited and used child soldiers from the prefectures of Vakaga, Haute-Kotto, Haut-Mbomou, Nana-Grebizi, Nana-Mambere, and Basse-Kotto; these areas were outside of government control during the reporting period. Although some children initially join locally organized community defense groups to protect their families from opposifng militias, many commanders maintain influence over these children even after they are demobilized, increasing their risk of re-recruitment. Inadequately funded reintegration programming, continuing instability, and a lack of economic opportunity throughout the country exacerbate the risks of re-recruitment among former child soldiers. Some demobilized child soldiers face violent—and at times deadly—reprisals from their communities following reintegration.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has 14,921 civilian and military staff in CAR—as of January 2021—to protect civilians, provide security, support humanitarian operations, and promote and protect human rights, among other objectives. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, an international organization reported there were 21 allegations of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers with trafficking indicators in the 2020 reporting period, compared with 30 allegations in the 2019 reporting period, of which four cases were unsubstantiated.