Trafficking in Persons in South Sudan: Prevalence, Challenges and Responses – An Action Research

Executive Summary

Chapter 1: Introduction

Against a backdrop of conflict, related governance challenges and mixed migration, including forced displacement and transit migration, corroborated reports and anecdotes suggest that the following forms of internal and transnational trafficking in persons (TiP) are perpetrated in South Sudan: forced recruitment by armed forces and armed groups, forced marriage, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, and labour exploitation. This assessment, which captures TiP based on the United Nations (UN) TiP Protocol definition, represents the country’s first dedicated study into TiP and all its forms. It aims to: 1) determine the prevalence of TiP; 2) evaluate the characteristics and push and pull factors of TiP; and 3) set the baseline for evidence-based prevention, prosecution and protection action plans.

Chapter 2: National context

TiP in South Sudan is influenced by the young country’s unique experiences with conflict, governance and migration, as well as its diversity of cultural practices. The weak legal justice system, particularly as regards law enforcement, means TiP often goes underreported or unpunished when it is reported. Conflict has displaced millions and migrants move across the country in search of protection, work and grazing pastures; some in the hope of reaching North Africa and Europe. These factors heighten the vulnerabilities to exploitation, including TiP.

Chapter 3: Forms of trafficking in persons

Several forms of TiP were identified:

  • Forced recruitment into armed forces or armed groups: some adults are forcibly recruited into armed forces and groups, which also recruit children into combat and non-combat roles. Women and girls are recruited as well, particularly for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
  • Forced marriage: women and girls are abducted and forcibly married in exchange for a bride price – at times without the prior knowledge of the victim or parents. After being forcibly married, the victim may be subjected to domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.
  • Domestic servitude and sexual exploitation: women and children are deceived into migrating to pursue employment or education, only to be forced into domestic servitude or sexually exploited.
  • Labour exploitation: South Sudanese and foreign nationals are deceived into accepting coercive employment in the hospitality, entertainment and construction sectors. Children are abducted for the purposes of working in the community, where they have limited means to refuse work and may be restricted from accessing education. Children are also forced to beg by parents or other adults, while both men and boys are forced to mine gold or traffic cannabis.

Chapter 4: Vulnerability factors

Many individual, household, community and structurallevel factors render people vulnerable to TiP. At the individual level, sex, gender, age and nationality all dictate susceptibility to different forms of TiP. For instance, women and girls more likely to be forcibly married and subjected to domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, while forced recruitment into armed forces and groups, meanwhile, disproportionately affects men and boys. At the household and community levels, the loss of a family head can make the remaining members more vulnerable to being trafficked, while less access to livelihood opportunities can increase the potential benefit of selling off members of the household as brides or workers. Finally, at the structural level, conflict has weakened South Sudan’s young institutions, increased human rights violations and displaced millions, weakening protective structures in communities, increasing TiP-related human rights violations (including sexual slavery and forced recruitment), inducing displacement, and weakening rule of law. Displacement heightens vulnerabilities to TiP, while weak law enforcement and corruption allow TiP to be perpetrated in an environment of relative impunity.

Chapter 5: Legal, institutional and policy frameworks

South Sudan has signed up to several international conventions related to TiP, although it has not yet acceded to the UN TiP Protocol. It is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community but has not adopted key regional frameworks on mutual legal assistance and extradition. At the national level, the country has criminalized certain TiP practices in the Penal Code, Child Act and Labour Act – although it does not explicitly recognize many such practices as TiP. While the legal framework criminalizes certain elements of TiP crimes like forced labour and the worst forms of child labour, it does not clearly define TiP and criminalize all its forms. Moreover, it provides lenient penalties for most TiP offences and delegates forced marriage cases to customary law. South Sudan’s policy framework includes a draft National Comprehensive Migration Policy and standalone policies and action plans addressing gender-based violence and child marriage – which contain provisions relating to TiP. Policy implementation and coordination, however, remain persistent challenges across the board.

Chapter 6: Counter-trafficking response


No TiP prosecutions were made between 2016–2019, with the last five prosecutions being made in 2015. However, some investigations have been carried out into abduction for forced marriage. TiP crimes are underreported due to the normalization of TiP within cultural practices, public distrust of law enforcement, stigmatization of victims, and a low awareness of TiP among criminal justice actors. Law enforcement agencies do not screen for TiP victims and often conflate TiP with migrant smuggling. In addition, the Ministry of Labour, Public Service and Human Resource Development’s (MOLPSHRD) has limited inspection capacities and its few labour inspectors only cover formal economy workplaces where TiP is less likely to occur. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies often fail to open investigations into crimes like TiP, fail to conduct proactive investigations into organized crime, and detain potential TiP victims. In addition, the Government has not prosecuted any military officers for the recruitment of use of children. That said, the national armed forces Directorate of Child Protection has made some efforts to identify perpetrators. Finally, customary courts hear the majority of criminal cases, including potential TiP cases like forced marriage. Their judgements focus on mediation and dispute resolution, as opposed to discharging justice in favour of victims themselves.


The Government provides minimal protection and assistance directly to potential victims of TiP, with no TiP-adapted protection frameworks. Children associated with armed forces or armed groups are the only potential TiP victims who receive some form of State-sanctioned assistance, although the Government also deploys some social workers at the state level. The Government has cooperated with other organizations to release and reintegrate 3,677 children associated with armed forces and groups between 2013–2019. Humanitarian organizations provide some support to other potential victims of TiP, particularly women and children, in the framework of their gender-based violence and child protection interventions, although this support is not adapted to the specific needs of TiP victims. Support provided may include basic medical assistance, counselling and legal assistance.


Aside from IOM-implemented awareness-raising activities, no activities specifically aim to prevent TiP. Trafficking awareness remains low among all stakeholders, including the general public. The Government and other stakeholders have raised awareness about genderbased violence, early marriage and children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The Civil Registry Act, 2018 aims to enhance the verification of age and promote marriage registration, which could help prevent some forms of child trafficking.


The Technical Taskforce on Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons has been established as the interministerial platform to coordinate the national TiP response. Collaboration and information sharing between immigration and security services take place on an ad hoc basis. There is little collaboration between the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare (nominally responsible for victim protection) and departments coming into contact with potential victims of trafficking, including immigration and security services. Collection of crime statistics is patchy and not systematized. When law enforcement agencies intercept a case of TiP involving a foreign national, they work with embassies and migrant associations to arrange for deportation or repatriation.
In addition, South Sudan has concluded agreements covering deportation and mutual legal assistance with Uganda and Rwanda. The country also participates in East African Community police cooperation platforms and raises and receives INTERPOL alerts.

Chapter 7: Recommendations

Strategic next steps

Strategic step 1: Accede to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and related protocols.

Strategic step 2: Draft a counter-TiP/SoM strategy and action plan.

Strategic step 3: Strengthen the national legal framework – including using the UN TiP definition, criminalizing all forms of TiP, outlining protection arrangements, and designating sufficiently stringent penalties.

Specific recommendations


Recommendation 1: Build capacities of law enforcement agents and labour inspectors to screen for victims of trafficking – by developing guidelines and procedures, along with training on their use, on victim screening.

Recommendation 2: Train law enforcement agents, prosecutors and judges on investigation methods and victim care – through agents’ foundational training and existing capacity-building activities, using active participation and situational application, such as ongoing mentoring.

Recommendation 3: Enforce the Labour Act and build the capacities of labour inspectors to identify trafficking in persons offences – including extending inspections to cover workplaces where TiP is more prevalent, integrating indicators of TiP into labour inspection questionnaires, and developing clear referral processes for victims of labour exploitation.

Protection Recommendation 4: Adapt assistance to the specific needs of trafficking victims – by mainstreaming TiP into existing protection responses (provided by humanitarian protection actors or the government), which should begin with the elaboration of a TiP strategy paper for protection actors, with a view to determining more detailed adaptation of assistance to the needs of TiP victims.

Recommendation 5: Enhance reintegration options for victims of trafficking – building the capacities of assistance providers to identify re-trafficking vulnerability factors, providing shelters for TiP victims, and supporting sustainable reintegration.

Recommendation 6: Utilize safe spaces for women, girls and children and hotlines to enhance reporting – establishing spaces where those vulnerable to trafficking can feel physically and emotionally safe and receive information and assistance.

Recommendation 7: Build the capacities of civil society organizations to provide legal assistance to victims of trafficking – providing victims with information on court and administrative proceedings, and assisting victims to present their views at all stages of criminal proceedings against offenders.

Recommendation 8: Train diplomatic personnel on trafficking in persons, victim identification and provision of assistance to South Sudanese victims of trafficking abroad – strengthening the evidence base on the diaspora and supporting diplomatic personnel to respond to cases of exploitation.


Recommendation 9: Raise awareness of trafficking in persons – among all stakeholders, especially policymakers, criminal justice practitioners, traditional and faith-based authorities, and the general public, with a focus on integrating TiP into existing campaigns.

Recommendation 10: Regulate private employment agencies to prevent labour trafficking – which may require the MOLPSHRD to take a more proactive regulatory approach on labour migration and to issue additional regulations.

Recommendation 11: Strengthen civil registry as a means to promote more effective age verification and marriage regulation – enforcing the Civil Registry Act, especially with respect to birth and marriage certificates.


Recommendation 12: Include all trafficking in persons stakeholders in the Technical Taskforce on Anti-Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons – including the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, the Ministry of Health, and a parliamentarian.

Recommendation 13: Strengthen international cooperation to counter transnational trafficking by signing bilateral and multilateral agreements with key origin and destination countries – including acceding to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s conventions on mutual legal assistance and deportation.

Source: International Organization for Migration