"Nobody comes to your rescue," said Blessing, wiping tears from her cheeks during a recent interview. However in late 2019 just before Christmas, Blessing was finally able to escape with the help of nearby residents, she and several other women escaped from the camp to safety. They were able to make it to a United Nations transit center for migrants in the capital city of Ouagadougou.
More than a million women and girls in Burkina Faso are facing increased sexual violence, hunger and water shortage as a result of the coronavirus pandemic on top of the existing conflict, said Oxfam today.
In its report "Women in Burkina Faso's crisis: survivors and heroines", Oxfam reveals that women and girls are exposed to unprecedented risks including daily harassment and aggression, especially in the fields and at water points. "We often hear screaming in the tents at night," said one displaced woman. "Five young girls were raped by armed groups. One girl was raped in front of the whole village and left for dead, another saw her husband and son murdered before her eyes," said another woman in Dori, in the north of the country.
Papa Konaté Sosthène, Oxfam's Country Director in Burkina Faso said: "Girls and women are incredibly vulnerable and exposed to the worst consequences of this double crisis and we need to better protect and respond to their needs, but there are huge funding gaps making the humanitarian response insufficient or non-existent in some places."
In addition to the traumas endured during attacks on their villages or when women were forced to flee their homes, there is also the stress of losing livelihoods, as well as the daily struggle of having to live in new and unfamiliar conditions. These are often incredibly challenging, and women told us that they lack privacy and are forced to depend on the little aid they receive. In the face of poverty, women are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, prostitution and recruitment into armed groups.
The Government of Burkina Faso does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Burkina Faso was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by reporting law enforcement data for the first time in two years, convicting 61 traffickers; identifying adult and child trafficking victims and referring them to care; removing children from exploitative conditions in the mining sector; and increasing collaboration between government ministries and NGOs on victim protection. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. All sentences imposed on convicted traffickers were below the minimum penalties set forth in the 2008 anti-trafficking law. The government did not adequately fund the police anti-trafficking unit or protective services, nor did it make efforts to address child forced begging by unscrupulous marabouts in Quranic schools.
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers – including corrupt marabouts and traffickers posing as marabouts who exploit children in forced begging, and complicit officials – and apply terms of imprisonment as prescribed in the 2008 anti-trafficking law; increase funding for police and security force units charged with investigating trafficking crimes; increase funding and in-kind support for victim services, including long-term services and social reintegration; train law enforcement to identify victims among vulnerable populations, including women in prostitution and children in agriculture and mining, and refer them to protective services; train law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials on investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, including cases that do not involve movement; investigate recruitment agencies suspected of fraudulently recruiting women for exploitation abroad; strengthen the system for collecting law enforcement and victim identification data; increase the availability of shelter and services for all victims, including adults; work with NGOs to raise awareness of trafficking, especially forced begging in Quranic schools and trafficking that does not involve movement; draft a national action plan to combat trafficking; and improve coordination among the anti-trafficking and child protection committees through funding, convening regularly, and sharing data.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2008 anti-trafficking law criminalized labor and sex 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 crimes, such as rape. The government began revising its penal code to increase the terms of imprisonment for human trafficking crimes from five to eleven years; the revisions were awaiting approval from the Council of Ministers at the end of the reporting period.
For the first time in two years, the government reported data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Between March 2016 and March 2018, 25 courts investigated, prosecuted, and convicted 61 traffickers. Courts reported data in different formats, so it was unclear exactly how many additional investigations and prosecutions were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. This was a significant increase from the previous reporting period, when the government reported 78 investigations but did not report data on prosecutions or convictions. Among the 61 convictions, 16 traffickers received prison sentences of between three months and three years imprisonment. Judges sentenced 45 traffickers to either a fine or a suspended sentence, which was inconsistent with the penalties prescribed in the 2008 anti-trafficking law. The government did not report if it continued to investigate the 78 investigations pending at the close of the previous reporting period, including investigations into debt bondage, forced begging in Quranic schools, sex trafficking, and the fraudulent recruitment of more than 47 women for domestic servitude in various Middle Eastern countries. While at least one court from all 13 administrative regions reported data, the courts that reported data only represented 25 of 45 sub-regional provinces. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for forced begging in Quranic schools, despite the prevalence of this form of trafficking in the country. Due to a lack of funds, the police did not complete any investigations into child forced labor in artisanal mines, despite reports of exploitative child labor. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption remained a concern. Authorities alleged some officials exerted pressure over police and judiciary to drop labor trafficking cases, especially in the mining sector. An international donor provided anti-trafficking training for some law enforcement officials. The government did not provide funding to police specifically for anti-trafficking activities, which impeded law enforcement and security forces' investigation of trafficking offenses.
The government increased efforts to identify trafficking victims. With data from all 45 provinces, the government reported identifying 1,740 trafficking victims, an increase from 1,407 potential victims identified in 40 provinces the previous reporting period. Among the victims identified, the government reported Nigerian girls in sex trafficking within Burkina Faso and Burkinabes exploited abroad in forced labor in Libya and sex trafficking in Lebanon. This is a contrast from previous years, when the government primarily identified Burkinabe and West African children intercepted while being transported, sometimes in large numbers on trucks or buses, to destinations where they could have faced exploitation, typically in gold mines or in city centers as domestic servants or street beggars. The government also identified and removed 1,284 child laborers from 86 artisanal gold mining sites in six provinces, some of whom might have been trafficking victims, and provided food, clothing, shelter, health care, and legal assistance to 25 of these children. An international organization provided assistance and repatriation to 22 additional female sex trafficking victims from Nigeria, some of whom the government had identified and referred to the organization for care. A second NGO identified 12 Malian girls in domestic servitude and provided care. The government had standard victim identification and referral procedures; in regions where authorities and front-line responders had been trained, such procedures worked efficiently. In addition, the government validated and disseminated throughout the country a case management guide for law enforcement and social services personnel to facilitate the uniform referral of child victims of crime, including trafficking, to care, and distributed 1,000 copies of a children's rights guide to social service actors to improve their knowledge of the care options available for vulnerable children.
The government operated and staffed one shelter in Ouagadougou; the shelter was open 24 hours per day and could accommodate long-term stays for both adults and children; the government referred 250 trafficking victims to the shelter during the reporting period, and they received shelter, food, and medical assistance. Outside of the capital, the government operated 35 regional protection offices that could provide psychological, social, and food assistance. These offices provided short-term services, but usually not shelter, to at least 108 Burkinabe and foreign child trafficking victims; the offices only operated during weekly business hours and when they had sufficient funding. The government and NGOs disbursed 61 million West African CFA francs to these offices during the reporting period for health care, education, vocational training, family reunification, and social workers; this was in addition to the funding the government provided for the shelter and office staffs' salaries. The protection offices relied heavily on local NGOs and international organizations for the majority of support. When trafficking victims outside of Ouagadougou required shelter, authorities and NGOs nearly always placed victims with host families or an NGO. Outside of Ouagadougou, there were no shelters or services specifically for adults; however, the government shelter and regional protection offices could accommodate adults when necessary. Long-term care for all victims remained inadequate. The government acknowledged victim services were insufficient, and service providers lacked the funding and resources to support victim protection, rehabilitation and reintegration, which resulted in many victims being subjected to re-trafficking. The 2015 law on the prevention and repression of violence against women and girls mandated measures for victim support, including the establishment of free emergency integrated support centers to offer comprehensive support services for women and girl victims of violence, including sexual slavery, and the creation of a government support fund for victims. The government had one such center during the reporting period and allocated 5 million FCFA to it in 2017, a significant increase from 1.68 million FCFA allocated in 2016. The ministry did not report how many victims it referred to this center during the reporting period.
The government did not have a formal policy to encourage victims to participate in trials against their traffickers but encouraged victims to do so by providing protection through the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family; a regional human rights office; or foreign victims' embassies. The government did not report if victims could legally file civil suits against their traffickers or otherwise obtain restitution. Foreign victims who face hardship or retribution in their country of origin could apply for asylum, but there were no reports trafficking victims applied for asylum during the reporting period. The government provided travel documents to facilitate repatriation of foreign trafficking victims identified in Burkina Faso and Burkinabes exploited in Lebanon. It transported Burkinabe trafficking victims repatriated from Libya, Nigeria, and Lebanon to the Ouagadougou shelter for care and, with an international donor, provided shelter, food, medical care, psychological support, and family reunification. There were no reports of trafficking victims penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, without uniform implementation of victim identification measures, including among vulnerable populations, some victims could have been left unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family led the national anti-trafficking committee, which coordinated government anti-trafficking efforts. The committee met once during the reporting period but continued to lack the resources to plan future initiatives or take proactive measures to combat trafficking. The hybrid government-NGO working group for child protection functioned more effectively, so the government used this body to coordinate and share information on child protection and child trafficking issues. The anti-trafficking committee had sub-committees at the regional, provincial, and departmental levels to coordinate locally; subcommittees were composed of police, social workers, transit companies, NGOs, and other regional stakeholders, and they coordinated administrative efforts to support anti-trafficking law enforcement activities and victim protection and collected anti-trafficking data for the national committee's annual report. These groups, also responsible for intercepting traffickers and identifying victims, lacked resources for day-to-day operations, and the government did not report how many groups met during the reporting period. The government did not report allocating any funding to these committees, compared to allocating 300,000 FCFA to each of the 24 networks in the previous reporting period. Despite the existence of the various anti-trafficking committees and child protection working groups, inter-governmental communication on anti-trafficking issues remained lacking and inhibited progress. The government did not have or begin drafting an anti-trafficking national action plan. Some regional and provincial directorates of the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family organized awareness-raising campaigns on the signs and dangers of trafficking and child labor.
The government identified and removed children from mining through its 2015-2019 national program to combat child labor in artisanal mines, although the government did not devote any funding or resources to implement other tenets of the plan. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, and Family continued to provide monitoring services and assistance to 20,000 freed child miners to reduce their vulnerability to additional child or forced child labor. The government continued to operate a hotline to report cases of violence against children, including trafficking, and allocated 4 million FCFA to the hotline during the reporting period. The hotline operated during weekdays and did not receive any reports of trafficking during the reporting period. Unlike previous years, the government did not allocate any funding for vocational training for the social reintegration of young street children vulnerable to trafficking.
The government did not report any policies to prevent the fraudulent recruitment or exploitation of Burkinabes abroad, despite reports that such exploitation occurred. The Labor Inspectorate increased its number of labor inspectors from 154 to 169 during the reporting period, all of whom received basic training on child labor laws, although it did not report the number of inspections carried out or any child labor violations detected. The government did not make any efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government, in partnership with foreign donors, provided Burkinabe troops with anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions.
As reported over the past five years, Burkina Faso is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers promise families educational opportunities but instead force Burkinabe children to labor as farm hands, gold panners and washers in artisanal mines, street vendors, and domestic servants. In some cases, parents know their children will be exploited in domestic servitude but allow the exploitation to supplement the family income. Unscrupulous marabouts force children to beg in Quranic schools, sometimes with parents' knowledge. Girls are exploited in sex trafficking in Ouagadougou and in mining towns. Burkinabe children – including orphan street children – are transported to Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking. To a lesser extent, traffickers recruit women for ostensibly legitimate employment in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and – to a lesser extent – Europe and subsequently subject them to forced prostitution. Burkinabe women are also exploited in domestic servitude in the Middle East. During the reporting period, an international organization repatriated approximately 895 Burkinabe adults from Libya, some of whom were exploited in forced labor in construction and agriculture and forced prostitution in Libya. Burkina Faso is a transit country for traffickers transporting children from Mali to Cote d'Ivoire and women and girls from Cote d'Ivoire to Saudi Arabia, and it is a transit county for Ghanaian migrants traveling to Libya and Italy, some of whom are trafficking victims. Children from neighboring countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Women from other West African countries are fraudulently recruited for employment in Burkina Faso and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude. Nigerian girls are exploited in sex trafficking in Burkina Faso. In past years, authorities have identified Nepalese traffickers subjecting Tibetan women to sex trafficking in Burkina Faso and Sri Lankan citizens transiting Burkina Faso allegedly en route to forced labor in a third country.
Meanwhile, the women whose lives have been upended are pleading with the traffickers to stop.
Blessing wants to start a business selling sugar and flour with her mother in Nigeria, where she has returned. She knows others have lost hope.
"Many girls that had good dreams of becoming something meaningful in life. use this stuff to damage their thinking, to damage their hopes," she said.