Guinea-Bissau: Pass Anti-Trafficking Law

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Guinea-Bissau: Pass Anti-Trafficking Law

DAKAR - Guinea-Bissau's National Assembly should act quickly to pass a law
criminalizing human trafficking, Human Rights Watch, SOS Talibé
Children, and the Association of the Friends of Children said today. The
draft law, which the Assembly recently placed on its agenda for its
October-November session, would empower police, judicial officials, and
civil society to improve protection of the country's children, thousands
of whom are trafficked from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal and other
countries each year.

Guinea-Bissau, a West African country of 1.5 million people,
currently has no law against human trafficking. Child trafficking is a
serious problem, which appears to be growing in Guinea-Bissau, where
thousands of children are moved each year both internally and across
borders for the purpose of exploitation, including for agricultural
labor and forced begging.

"This important piece of legislation is the first step to combat the
serious problem of child trafficking from Guinea-Bissau," said Corinne
Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"Guinea-Bissau's National Assembly would finally send the right signal
to human traffickers that the country intends to protect its children."

The draft law would harmonize domestic law with the country's
international obligations, including the United Nations Protocol to
Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which Guinea-Bissau
ratified in 2007. Past attempts to place the current draft law on the
National Assembly's agenda - and pass it into law - have repeatedly
stalled.

SOS Talibé Children (SOS Crianças Talibés) and the
Association of the Friends of Children (Associação dos Amigos da
Criança
) are both Guinea-Bissau-based child-assistance
organizations with operations across the country. They have worked to
ensure passage of the anti-trafficking law.

Human Rights Watch documented in an April 2010 report how each year thousands
of boys are brought north from Guinea-Bissau to Senegal by their
teachers or an intermediary, purportedly to study in daaras, or
residential Quranic schools. Some boys described to Human Rights Watch
being taken by clandestine routes between border villages at night,
sometimes on foot, to evade detection.

Once in Senegal, most are forced to beg and suffer conditions akin to
slavery by their Quranic teachers in the daaras. Many of these boys
suffer severe physical and psychological abuse for failing to meet daily
quotas of money, rice, and sugar demanded by their teachers. They also
suffer from severe malnutrition and frequently from disease as a result
of long hours on the street, abysmal conditions in the daara, and a lack
of medical care.

Many of these cases clearly meet the international definition of
trafficking, the organizations said. Trafficking between Guinea-Bissau
and neighboring countries may also occur under other circumstances,
including taking children to work in cotton or cashew fields, and
transporting women to be forced into sexual exploitation.

The organizations have interviewed police and border officials
working to improve anti-trafficking efforts and have assisted in
training for border officials and forming community groups to monitor
clandestine border crossings involving children.

Those working to stem trafficking suffer from a crippling lack of
resources. In each of the two main border regions in eastern
Guinea-Bissau, police and border officials have only one car and one
motorbike to monitor a combined 250-kilometer stretch of border with
Senegal and Guinea-Conakry.

"Improved training and resources for border officials could help
reduce the flow of children at risk of being taken across the border,
and we need that," said Malam Baio, director of Bafatá-based SOS Talibé
Children. "But passing this law is essential. The lack of a domestic
legal framework to address trafficking prevents officials from tackling
the root problem."

At present, traffickers from Guinea-Bissau face minimal consequences,
if any. Even when suspects are stopped and lack the necessary documents
for moving a child across the border, there are no laws that enable the
government to charge or prosecute them effectively. Without fear of
penalty, traffickers often make repeated attempts until they succeed,
police officials and children have told the organizations. If the
proposed law is passed, law enforcement and judicial authorities would
at least be able to arrest, charge, and prosecute suspects for acts of
trafficking.

Police officers, prosecutors, and children's rights advocates have
told the groups that current laws that might apply to trafficking - the
crimes of "abuse of confidence" or "harming the welfare of another" -
are too vaguely worded to prosecute trafficking effectively.

A police commissioner in an eastern region of Guinea-Bissau from
which many children are trafficked to Senegal described the problem to
Human Rights Watch in June: "We can't do our jobs because there isn't a
law against trafficking ...We can stop the movement of children across
the border, but to charge the offender, it's impossible. It's also
difficult to sensitize families, because we can't clearly point to a law
against what is happening."

SOS Talibé Children and the Association of the Friends of Children
indicated that the problem of trafficking continues to grow and that
more children in particular are being forced into abusive or
exploitation situations in Senegal and other neighboring countries every
year.

"Well-intentioned law enforcement authorities trying to combat
trafficking in Guinea-Bissau currently have their hands tied," said
Fernando Cá of the Association of the Friends of Children. "Traffickers
left at liberty to ply their ugly trade cannot be held accountable until
this law is passed."

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