2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Guinea-Bissau


The Government of Guinea-Bissau does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Guinea-Bissau was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including initiating more investigations and continuing to identify child forced begging victims. However, the government has never convicted a trafficker, and authorities did not prosecute any alleged traffickers for the second consecutive year. The government did not have formal procedures to identify victims and refer them to care, while draft victim identification procedures and a national referral mechanism begun in previous reporting periods remained unfinished. The government continued to lack resources and political will to comprehensively combat human trafficking.


Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including corrupt Quranic teachers who subject boys to forced begging and hotel staff who facilitate child sex tourism in the Bijagos; sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms prescribed in the law. • Cease using extra-judicial or administrative remedies to resolve human trafficking cases. • Hold government officials accountable for trafficking-related complicity, including failure to investigate alleged trafficking offenses and interference in ongoing investigations. • Provide resources to the Judicial Police to expand its area of operation, such as in the Bijagos and Catió, and enable criminal investigations. • Develop and train law enforcement on standard procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to services. • Train officials—including local police, the National Guard, and judicial officials—on the 2011 anti-trafficking law and procedures to refer trafficking cases to the Judicial Police. • Increase funding and in-kind support for NGOs to ensure all identified victims—especially child victims of forced begging—receive services and foreign victims are safely repatriated to minimize the potential for re-trafficking. • Allocate sufficient financial and in-kind resources to implement the anti-trafficking national action plan and hold regular anti-trafficking committee meetings. • Increase efforts to coordinate repatriation of trafficking victims with the Government of Senegal and effectively monitor the return and reintegration of victims, especially child victims. • Significantly increase efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking, especially forced begging and child sex trafficking. • In collaboration with NGOs, allocate adequate space and facilities for a victim shelter in Bissau and expand shelter services for adults. • Strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate cases of child sex tourism.


The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. Public Law 12/2011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 15 years’ imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In February 2019, the government drafted amendments to the Code of Child Protection that would harmonize it with international laws on human trafficking, but the legislature had not yet adopted the amendments by the end of the reporting period.

The government investigated 34 trafficking cases during the reporting period, including eight forced begging and 26 sex trafficking cases. This compared with investigating nine cases of child forced begging during the previous reporting period. The government did not report any prosecutions for the second consecutive year. The government has never convicted a trafficker under the anti-trafficking law. During the previous reporting period, the Judicial Police cooperated with the Government of Morocco to investigate a case of fraudulent recruitment for forced labor in domestic service after Moroccan authorities identified two Bissau-Guinean women in Morocco; the government did not report continuing this investigation during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, official corruption and complicity in trafficking remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Guinea-Bissau’s judicial system lacked sufficient human and physical capital to function effectively, and corruption remained pervasive. The government did not demonstrate political will at the highest levels of government to address trafficking.

The Judicial Police had a specialized unit that investigated trafficking cases; however, it did not have nationwide coverage or a dedicated budget. The police, National Guard, judiciary, and prosecutors all suffered from a chronic lack of funding, which hindered their efforts to combat human trafficking. The Judicial Police were largely absent outside the capital. The National Guard and local police in rural areas had neither the training nor the capacity to investigate trafficking crimes and did not always refer such cases to the Judicial Police, which impeded investigations into forced child begging in eastern regions and child sex trafficking in the Bijagos. Police and judges often resolved intra-familial labor and abuse cases—which could include forced child labor and child sex trafficking by family members—through non-judicial means or tried them as domestic violence cases. When parents broke non-judicial agreements and police transferred the cases to court, officials noted community leaders often pressured courts to drop the cases. Due to pandemic-related gathering restrictions, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training to law enforcement or judicial officials during the reporting period, and some law enforcement and judicial officials remained unaware of the 2011 anti-trafficking law. During the previous reporting period, the government supported an international organization in training police officers and civil society actors on the 2011 anti-trafficking law, national referral mechanisms, trauma-informed care, and data management.


The government decreased already insufficient efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified and referred to care 75 child forced begging victims and 24 child forced marriage victims, including potential trafficking victims. This compared with identifying and referring to care 158 child forced labor and child forced begging victims and 22 forced marriage victims during the previous reporting period. In addition, an NGO reported assisting 65 vulnerable children, including potential trafficking victims. The government did not have formal procedures to identify trafficking victims or refer them to care; draft victim identification procedures written in a previous reporting period with the assistance of an international organization remained unfinished. During the reporting period, the Institute for Women and Children (IMC) began implementing a victim identification form developed with an international organization. High illiteracy rates, including among security services, hampered the government’s ability to develop and implement written victim identification procedures. The government did not implement the national referral mechanism adopted in the previous reporting period, which was developed with funding from a foreign donor and the assistance of local facilitators. The IMC was responsible for victim services and coordination of services among various entities; however, it had no operating budget or vehicles. The government did not have a specific fund for victim services and relied on international organizations and local NGOs to provide nearly all victim services; these NGOs subsequently relied on international donors for funding. The government did not provide financial or in-kind assistance to NGOs providing assistance to trafficking victims for the second consecutive year. Three NGO shelters were accessible to child trafficking victims but were severely overcrowded and underfunded; one was unable to receive victims due to a lack of funding, and some shelter volunteers used their own homes to house victims temporarily. Shelter was only available for child victims, and only one NGO shelter provided trafficking-specific services.

The government did not have formal procedures to encourage victims to participate in investigations or prosecutions against their traffickers. Victims could not obtain restitution or file civil suits against their traffickers. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. There were no reports the government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, some victims may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system. The government collaborated with the Senegalese government to repatriate 18 child trafficking victims from Senegal. However, observers noted that more coordination was needed between the Governments of Guinea-Bissau and Senegal in repatriating child forced begging victims.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The inter-ministerial committee—led by the IMC and including government agencies, NGOs, and religious groups—met seven times during the reporting period, compared with four meetings held during the previous reporting period. However, the committee lacked funding for anti-trafficking activities, which weakened its capacity to respond to trafficking and coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts. The government adopted a new national action plan to address human trafficking but did not report allocating any resources to its implementation. NGOs and the National Guard sometimes duplicated efforts due to lack of communication and coordination between government and civil society actors. The government did not report conducting awareness campaigns during the reporting period. IMC and the Ministry of Tourism maintained a code of conduct against sexual exploitation in the tourism sector in the Bijagos islands, Bubaque, Sao Domingos, and Bissau. The code included provisions for raising public awareness of child sex trafficking and increasing awareness of hotel workers and tourism labor inspectors to combat these crimes; although the code remained in effect, the government did not report conducting any of the activities described during the reporting period, in part due to the pandemic’s impact on the tourism sector and gathering restrictions. The labor inspectorate, housed within the Ministry of Labor, Civil Service and Public Administration, lacked funding, personnel, material resources, and training to investigate forced labor nationwide. The government did not have the means to inspect local daaras (Quranic schools) to ensure they did not force children to beg. Domestic workers were not covered by labor laws, which left them vulnerable to trafficking; amendments to the labor code that would extend protections to domestic workers have been pending in the national assembly since 2015. The government began issuing birth registrations to all trafficking victims and child victims’ parents. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Guinea-Bissau, and traffickers exploit victims from Guinea-Bissau abroad. Many Bissau-Guinean boys attend Quranic schools led by corrupt Quranic teachers. Some exploitative Quranic teachers force or coerce their students, called talibés, to beg and do not provide an education, including at some schools in Bissau’s Afia neighborhood. The traffickers are principally men from the Bafata and Gabu regions—often former talibés or men who claim to be working for a Quranic teacher—and are generally well-known within the communities in which they operate. Corrupt Quranic teachers increasingly force Guinean, Gambian, and Sierra Leonean boys to beg in Bissau and exploit Guinea-Bissau’s weak institutions and porous borders to transport large numbers of Bissau-Guinean boys to Senegal—and to a lesser extent Mali, Guinea, and The Gambia—for forced begging in exploitative daaras.

Traffickers force Bissau-Guinean boys into street vending and forced labor in the agricultural and mining sectors in Senegal, especially in the southern cities of Kolda and Ziguinchor. Traffickers force West African boys to harvest cashews during Guinea-Bissau’s annual harvest, and some boys recruited for work in the harvest are then forced to beg. Traffickers exploit some Guinean boys for forced labor in shoe shining in Guinea-Bissau. Traffickers exploit Bissau-Guinean girls in sex trafficking and forced labor in street vending and domestic work in Guinea, The Gambia, and Senegal, as well as in Spain. Senegalese trafficking networks recruit Bissau-Guinean girls for modeling jobs or traveling football clubs but subject them to sex trafficking. Bissau-Guinean girls are exploited in domestic servitude and in sex trafficking in bars, nightclubs, and hotels in Bissau. Bissau-Guinean girls from the Bijagos—and to a lesser extent mainland girls and boys—are exploited in child sex tourism in the Bijagos, an archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau that is far from the mainland and largely devoid of government and law enforcement presence. Although the extent of child sex tourism is unknown, it is widely acknowledged among civil society, NGOs, and mid-level government officials. In most cases, French nationals own hotels on the islands and use Bissau-Guinean intermediaries to exploit island girls 13-17 years old for French and Belgian child sex tourists. International sources report these same hotel owners provide jobs and significant support to the island community, wielding influence that can deter victims from notifying law enforcement. Some families may encourage their children to endure such exploitation for financial gain. Bissau-Guinean men from the mainland fuel local demand for commercial sex on the islands. During previous reporting periods, there were reports of official complicity in human trafficking among island officials and in the judiciary. According to an international organization, Guinea-Bissau’s birth registration rate is less than 25 percent, increasing vulnerability to trafficking, especially among children. Cuban nationals working in Guinea-Bissau on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government; however, the doctors left the country in November 2020.