Sudan is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked internally for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Sudan is also a transit and destination country for Ethiopian women trafficked abroad for domestic servitude. Sudanese women and girls are trafficked within the country for domestic servitude. Local observers report the recruitment – sometimes by force – of Darfuri girls to work in private homes, including those occupied by soldiers from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), as cooks or cleaners; some of these girls are subsequently pressured by male occupants to engage in commercial sexual acts. Sudanese women and girls are trafficked to Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar, for domestic servitude and to European countries, such as Poland, for sexual exploitation. Sudanese children are trafficked through Yemen to Saudi Arabia for forced begging. Sudanese gangs coerce other young Sudanese refugees into prostitution in nightclubs in Egypt.
Sudanese children are unlawfully conscripted, at times through abduction, and exploited by armed groups – including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), all Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) factions, the Popular Defense Forces, Janjaweed militia, and Chadian opposition forces – in Sudan’s ongoing conflict in Darfur; the Sudanese Armed Forces, associated militias, and the Central Reserve Police also continue to unlawfully recruit children in this region. There were confirmed reports of forcible child recruitment in 2008 by the JEM in several refugee camps in eastern Chad, as well as villages in Darfur. Forcible recruitment of adults and particularly children by virtually all armed groups involved in Sudan’s concluded north-south civil war was previously commonplace; thousands of children still associated with these forces await demobilization and reintegration into their communities of origin. Although the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) high command committed to preventing recruitment and releasing the remaining children from its ranks, reports suggest some local commanders continue recruiting children. In certain states, the SPLA also persists in using children for military activities, even after these children have been formally identified for demobilization and family reunification.
A recently released report by a consortium of NGOs found that government-supported militia, like the Janjaweed and the Popular Defense Forces, together with elements of the SAF, have systematically abducted civilians for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labor as part of the Darfur conflict. This practice was far more common, however, at the beginning of the conflict in 2003 than during the reporting period, when the conflict in Darfur had largely subsided. Some were released after days or weeks of captivity, while others escaped after a number of months or even years. The vast majority of those abducted are from non-Arabic speaking ethnic groups like the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa. Abducted women and girls are subjected to rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery, as well as forced domestic and agricultural labor. Abducted men and boys are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, herding, portering goods, and domestic servitude.
Thousands of Dinka women and children were abducted and subsequently enslaved by members of the Missiriya and Rizeigat tribes during the north-south civil war. An unknown number of children from the Nuba tribe were similarly abducted and enslaved. A portion of those who were abducted and enslaved remained with their abductors in South Darfur and West Kordofan and experienced varying types of treatment; others were sold or given to third parties, including in other regions of the country; and some ultimately escaped from their captors. While there have been no known, new abductions of Dinka by members of Baggara tribes in the last several years, inter-tribal abductions continue in southern Sudan between warring African tribes, especially in Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria States; Murle raids on Nuer villages in Jonglei State resulted in the abduction of an unknown number of children.
The terrorist rebel organization, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continues to harbor small numbers of enslaved Sudanese and Ugandan children in southern Sudan for use as cooks, porters, and combatants; some of these children are also trafficked across borders into Uganda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN/OCHA reported 66 LRA-related abductions in southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria Province in 2008 and early 2009.
The Government of National Unity of Sudan (GNU) does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. This report discusses the problem of human trafficking as it impacts the country in its entirety and analyzes the efforts of the national government, the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), and the state governments to combat the problem. Sudan’s Tier 3 ranking reflects the overall lack of significant anti-trafficking efforts demonstrated by all levels of the country’s governing structures, each of which bear responsibility for addressing the crime. While the GNU and the GOSS took greater steps to demobilize child soldiers, combating human trafficking through law enforcement or significant prevention measures was not a priority for any Sudanese government entity in 2008. The national government published neither data nor statistics regarding its efforts to combat human trafficking during the year; it did not respond to requests to provide information for this report.
The government’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts were negligible during the reporting period; it did not investigate or prosecute any suspected trafficking cases. Sudan is a large country with porous borders and destitute hinterlands; the national government had little ability to establish authority or a law enforcement presence in many regions. Sudan’s criminal code does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, though its Articles 162, 163, and 164 criminalize abduction, luring, and forced labor, respectively. No trafficker has ever been prosecuted under these articles. In May 2008, the Council of Ministers received the Child Act 2008 for review; the act must be approved by the council and ratified by the parliament before it can be implemented. The Act prohibits the recruitment of children under the age of 18 into armed forces or groups and ensures the demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child victims of armed conflict. Several states subsequently drafted their own Child Acts based on the national act; in November 2008, Southern Kordofan State ratified its Child Act. In December 2008, Sudan’s National Assembly approved the Sudan Armed Forces Act of 2007, which establishes criminal penalties for persons who recruit children under 18 years of age, as well as for abduction and enslavement; the act prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for child recruitment and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for enslavement. In August 2008, the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly passed the Southern Sudan Child Act of 2008, which prohibits the recruitment and use of children for military or paramilitary activities and prescribes punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for such crimes. The President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) signed the act into law in October 2008. The Southern Sudan Penal Code Act, enacted in July 2008, prohibits and prescribes punishments of up to seven years’ imprisonment for unlawful compulsory labor, including abduction or transfer of control for such purposes; the Act also criminalized the buying or selling of a minor for the purpose of prostitution and prescribes a punishment of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In December 2008, the Minister of Justice issued a decree establishing offices with specialized children’s attorneys in Southern Darfur, Gedaref, Southern Kordofan, Sennar, Blue Nile, Western Darfur, and Kassala States to supervise investigations. The government neither documented anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts nor provided specialized anti-trafficking training to law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial personnel during the year. At the request of the Sudanese Police, in January 2009, UNPOL trained 122 women police officers who staff gender desks in child protection. UNPOL also conducted a five-day training program on human rights, gender, and child protection for 25 police officers in Aweil.
Sudan’s Government of National Unity (GNU) made only minimal efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the past year, and these efforts focused primarily on the demobilization of child soldiers. The government continued to demonstrate extremely low levels of cooperation with humanitarian workers in the Darfur region on a broad spectrum of issues, including human trafficking. The GOS and GOSS provide little to no protection for victims of trafficking crimes; Sudan had few victim care facilities readily accessible to trafficking victims and the government did not provide access to legal, medical, or psychological services. The government did not publicly acknowledge that children are trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude in Sudan or take steps to identify and provide protective services to such victims. The Khartoum State Police’s child and family protection unit, which offers various services such as legal aid and psychosocial support, assisted an unknown number of child victims of abuse and sexual violence in 2008 and could have potentially provided these services to trafficking victims. In 2008, similar units were established with UNICEF’s support in Western Darfur, Northern Darfur, Southern Kordofan, Northern Kordofan, and Gedaref States. The government did not have a formal referral process to transfer victims to organizations providing care or a system of proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations.
In January 2008, the government and its UN counterparts established a forum to share information and coordinate an appropriate response to children affected by armed conflict; the group met three times during the year. In May 2008, the Northern Sudan DDR Commission (NSDDRC) and the Southern Sudan DDR Commission (SSDDRC), with support from UNICEF and the Integrated UNDDR Unit, demobilized 88 children formerly associated with the SPLA in Kurmuk, Blue Nile State. In December 2008, the SSDDRC demobilized 46 children from the SPLA training academy in Korpout, Upper Nile State; they were part of a group of 68 children registered for demobilization in July 2007. Identification and registration programs were ongoing for remaining children still serving under the SPLA in Unity and Jongley States, as well is in South Kordofan. In July 2008, NSDDRC in Blue Nile State and UNICEF commenced an interim program to monitor demobilized children’s participation in reintegration opportunity programs; in October 2008, the program provided training to NSDDRC’s child DDR workers on DDR standards and communicating effectively with children. In August 2008, the GOSS opened a child protection unit to ensure that no children are part of the SPLA’s ranks. In December 2008, the Sudan Armed Forces, the National Council for Child Welfare, and UNICEF signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen the protection of children in Sudan and prevention of recruitment into the armed forces.
During the reporting period, the government punished trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Following the May 2008 clash between JEM and government forces in Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum, Sudanese authorities arrested 110 children on charges of attempted violent overthrow of the state and held them with adults for several days. The government then established a Presidential High Committee to care for the children under the leadership of the Humanitarian Aid Commissioner. The National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW) took custody of 100 children, placed them in a National Security detention center, and provided medical care and psychosocial support; international NGOs certified the quality of the center as good and in keeping with international standards. However, 10 children were not sent to the separate facility and remained in detention with adults and an estimated 30 children were used as witnesses in trials of JEM combatants. The government pardoned and released 103 children for family reunification; tried, acquitted, and released four children; and sentenced one child to death, pending appeal. The whereabouts of one child is unknown.
The Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC), established in 1999 to facilitate the safe return of abducted and enslaved women and children to their families, was not operational during the reporting period. Its most recent retrieval and transport missions took place in March 2008 with GOSS funding; since that time, neither the GNU nor the GOSS provided CEAWC with the necessary funding for the transport and reunification of previously identified abductees with their families. The government made no efforts to address issues of abduction and enslavement in Darfur during the reporting period.
The U.S. State Department ranks Sudan on Tier 3, meaning that the human trafficking prevention, protection, and prosecution there is about as stable and functional as the rest of their infrastructure. Of course, they would probably love to prevent the various armed factions from recruiting and abducting child soldiers, if for no other reason than to reduce the insurrectionists’ ranks. The brutal combination of ongoing conflict, poverty, and a lack of rule of law and infrastructure has meant Sudan is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking victims.
So does Sudan have the political and economic stability to truly tackle trafficking? Trafficking prevention efforts in Sudan are, to use my favorite euphemism, a bit of a fustercluck. The ongoing conflict makes it nearly impossible for the government to get a handle on human trafficking and the significant child soldier problem. Not that they’ve shown much serious effort.
Who Are the Victims and What Are They Doing?
The image of Sudanese children being lured or kidnapped from their homes to become child soldiers has become a cliche, but one steeped in a painful reality for many Sudanese families. Several different rebel factions use child soldiers in Sudan, as well as the Sudanese army and affiliated groups. Less-publicized but also a significant issue is the rampant use of Sudanese men, women, and children for forced labor within Sudan. This is especially true for women and girls, who are often forced into domestic servitude in private homes and sometimes used for sex there. Women and girls are also forced into commercial sex, and children are forced into begging on the streets.
Where Are They Coming From and Where Are They Going?
A significant portion of human trafficking in Sudan is internal, but it is also a source and destination country. Sudanese women and girls are trafficked to the Middle East and Europe for commercial sexual exploitation, where they can fetch a higher price. Children are also trafficked to the Middle East, primarily Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to beg. On the flip side, children from other African countries have been trafficked to Sudan — girls usually as domestic servants and boys usually as soldiers.
What’s Gotta Happen?
Sudan won’t be able to seriously address human trafficking until they address the conflict, poverty, and displacement which seriously exacerbate the problem. They recently took a good first step by enacting anti-trafficking legislation, but have yet to really enforce it. They need to arrest people for forcing others into labor and make an effort to identify cases when that happens. They also need to demobilize all the child soldiers in the country and work to reunite them with their families or find them other shelter. And yes — that means the child soldiers in the Sudanese Armed Forces and affiliated militias.