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End of mission statement by Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences on her country visit to Togo (27-31 May 2019)


31 May 2019

Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official visit to Togo, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 27 to 31 May 2019.

The objective of my mission was to assess the situation of forced labour and child labour in the country, with a focus on the worst forms of child labour such as domestic servitude. The following statement outlines my preliminary findings based on the information gathered during my visit. My final report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of Togo for the invitation to visit and for the hospitality extended to me and my delegation. I am grateful to the representatives of governmental authorities at the national level who took time to meet with me, as well as to interlocutors from civil society organizations, trade unions, international organizations and – last but not least – the National Human Rights Commission (Commission nationale des droits de l’homme) . I also met with some children victims of child labour themselves and appreciated their openness to speak about their situation with me.

I am equally grateful to the focal point for my visit at the Ministry of Human Rights for all the assistance and support provided.

Over the past five days, I visited Lomé, Sokodé and Tabligbo.

During my visit, I witnessed thatin Lomé, children continue to work in markets as porters and vendors, and in rural areas they perform worst forms of child labour in agriculture.  The continued prevalence of child marriage and children in domestic servitude, both of which constitute contemporary forms of slavery, requires immediate and increased attention if Togo is to overcome the legacy of poverty and inequality that continues to prevail.

Key areas of the legal and institutional framework providing protection against contemporary forms of slavery

Togo has ratified all core international human rights instruments except for the Convention for the protection of Migrant Workers and their families and it has in place a comprehensive framework to comply with its obligations under international human rights law. The Penal Code of 2015 explicitly prohibits forced labour and other forms of exploitation and under Article 338, “any person, by whatever means, who commits the offence of forced labour or services shall be punished by a penalty of five (05) to ten (10) years' imprisonment and a fine of five million (5,000,000) to twenty million (20,000,000) CFA francs.

The Penal Code prohibits working and living conditions contrary to human dignity: Article 351 of the Penal Code prohibits working conditions contrary to the dignity of the person: obtaining from a person, whose vulnerability or state of dependence is apparent or known to the author, the provision of unpaid services or in exchange for remuneration clearly unrelated to the importance of the work performed. This practice is subject to severe penalties.

The Penal Code also prohibits the exploitation of begging and punishes to serious terms of imprisonment or heavy fines.

Article 341 of the Penal Code prohibits forced or servile marriage, including of children. It also creates severe penalties for these affects.

Forced labour is also specifically prohibited in the Labour Code which defines it in accordance with ILO Conventions.

In order to protect children from labour exploitation, the Children’s Code of 2007 translates Togo’s international obligations to protect the rights of the child into domestic law. Alongside this, there is a ministerial declaration (No. 1464) which specifically prohibits work that is hazardous and should not be done by children between the ages of 15 and 18. Children under the minimum age of 15 are prohibited at all under Togolese law which is in line with Togo’s international obligations.

In order to implement the legal framework, we were informed that a number of national institutions are working actively to end child labour including worst forms of child labour, as well as child marriage. This includes the National Committee on the Rights of the Child as established under the Children’s Code. The Ministry of Social Action, Promotion of Women and Literacy has established a Directorate General for Child Protection which we were told works together with the labour units established by the Ministry of Labour at district level to monitor child labour. The Labour Inspectorate created under the Ministry of Labour also plays a key role in identifying children who are exploited or subjected to contemporary forms of slavery. We were told that the number of labour inspectors is insufficient and that they are not permitted to access private homes, and cannot impose penalties against violators.

Togo has also set up a National Steering Committee against Child Labour which is part of its obligations under the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labour, especially its worst forms, but it still needs to finalise its national action plan to end child labour, including the worst forms of child labour.

Preliminary conclusions of the visit

We were informed that labour and sexual exploitation of children often occur as a result of human trafficking at a national and regional level which is related, inter alia, to a lack of development and to the challenging security situation in the broader region.

Child marriage and other harmful traditional practices

We were informed by the Ministry of Social Action that in 2015, 453 girls victims of child marriage were removed for which the Ministry was taking mitigating measures. Most likely, the total number of girls in forced marriage is much higher.

Reducing child marriage through the national programme to fight against forced and child marriage, protecting victims, and sensitizing parents remains a key priority. In this context, we were informed about the Declaration of Notsé signed on 14 June 2013 under which a group of religious leaders committed to removing girls from fettish houses which will reduce their vulnerability to child marriage, child labour and various harmful practices. On 1 March 2016, the Declaration of Togblékopé was signed by traditional leaders as a complement to the Notsé Declaration, focusing specifically on ending child marriage.

Although the declaration remains symbolically important, it does not effectively deter religious leaders from continuing to exploit children in domestic servitude and other forms of child labour. Civil society organizations were also concerned about the non-binding nature of the declaration as well as its limited geographic applicability. We were also informed of other cultural practices such as witchcraft accusations against children. We were shocked to hear that accusations of witchcraft are often used as an excuse to expel undesired children from their families and communities. The ostracized children become vulnerable to exploitation in the worst forms of child labour.

Domestic servitude

I have been informed that despite the prohibition on child labour and the worst forms of child labour, domestic servitude of children remains a national problem: The cultural practice of confiage consists of children being placed with families to perform work in exchange for the opportunity to receive an education but often, these children are subjected to abuse and exploitation, including in the worst forms of child labour. Most domestic servants are girls. Although boys are also subjected to forced labour in construction, mining, agriculture and in mechanic shops, girls are disproportionally affected by domestic servitude. This situation is consistent with social norms which continue to discriminate against women.

We spoke to various civil society organizations which relayed their experiences of removing children from the situations, including children who had been trafficked outside Togo under the guise of the confiage practice.

Tribunals exist in every district in order to ensure that reported cases are investigated and prosecuted. We did not obtain precise data of the number of prosecutions and convictions made of such cases which emphasizes the need for increased data collection and reporting to enable government to monitor whether progress is being made or not.

There are non-governmental efforts to professionalize the domestic worker’s sector through proper registration of domestic workers and through awareness raising of their rights.

Domestic servitude remains an invisible problem and the fact that labour inspectors can under applicable law not access private homes contributes to continued impunity in such cases. Also, complaints against the employers of domestic servants are rarely filed because they are family members. Corruption was mentioned as another factor which in certain instances avoids that perpetrators of child labour are brought to justice.

A toll free hotline called the “green line” was established by the Ministry for Social Action in 2009 with the objective of protecting children by providing them with a reporting mechanism in case of abuse or exploitation. The “Allo 10-11” phone line is a public service supervised by a steering committee with a control centre and about a dozen organisations from civil society partners are in charge of referrals. This service is a key initiative allowing children at risk to call in to denounce perpetrators anonymously and to seek counselling and legal assistance. It is only operational in Lomé, however, which leaves a gap in rural areas. I have further been told that children in remote areas may experience difficulties accessing the phone line and that more awareness of it needs to be rolled out.

Civil society plays generally an important role in partnering government efforts to ensure that the rights of the child are addressed, and children are removed from labour and sexual exploitation.

Access to education

Under Togolese law, primary education is compulsory and free. In practice, however, there are significant indirect costs related to schooling, for example children need to pay for their desks. Even if school fees have been abolished at the primary level and reduced at the secondary level, the indirect costs continue to represent a major obstacle for poor families, increasing the risk of children being put to work instead of ensuring their access to education. Therefore, the government needs to give increased priority to this issue in order to ensure that all children have access to affordable and quality education. Investment in education is an investment in the future of Togo. Education is also one of the corner stones of preventing child labour and therefore, it deserves urgent government action.

Although we were told that attention is paid to it, increased attention to vocational rehabilitation is an important component of ensuring the permanent removal of children from situations of slavery.

Ending child labour and gender inequality as part of Togo’s commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals

Social acceptance of child labour, including the worst forms of child labour prevails in the country. According to many stakeholders both governmental and non-governmental, cultural norms and practices condone child labour including in its worst forms and they are socially accepted as a way of educating a child. Child labour remains a survival strategy for many families, as well as for the children themselves. Therefore, a shift in the mindset of the Togolese society is needed to recognize children as rights-holders and as significant contributors to sustainable economic growth and development.

As per target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, child labour in all its forms needs to be eliminated by 2025. I have, however, noticed that this does not seem to be an urgent imperative for the government. Much more priority needs to be given to this issue if Togo is to achieve this ambitious global target. Key development priorities which need stepped up attention and action by the government of Togo include the eradication of poverty, education and gender equality. Political will is a pre-requisite to achieve sustained progress in these areas, for example by creating decent work opportunities and increasing full and productive employment through securing development opportunities. This remains an important paradigm for the government of Togo but during my visit, I have heard little about concrete steps which are planned in this regard.

Social inclusion is essential to ensuring social stability and development. Development, however, needs to be sustainable and inclusive in order to be beneficial for everyone, including the most vulnerable ones. And exactly this is at the heart of the 2030 agenda: It calls upon States to “leave no one behind”. This also comes with responsibilities for the business sector, including as regards extractive industries: Private or State-owned companies need to ensure that they do not condone child labour and other exploitative practices, as stipulated in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that laws alone are not enough to protect all children from forced labour, domestic servitude and other forms of contemporary slavery. Laws need to be effectively enforced which means that they need to be supported by political will, strengthened capacity and material resources in order to be effective at delivering on the rights entrenched in those laws. Although Togo has a comprehensive national framework in place and institutional mechanisms to support law enforcement, effective law enforcement needs to be ensured particularly for children alongside strengthened prevention measures.

I will present a detailed report to the Human Rights Council in due course but in the meantime, I urge the government of Togo to consider implementation of the following measures which would prevent and address child labour, including in its worst forms:

Initial recommendations

  • Take immediate and effective measures to end domestic servitude and to remove children from domestic work. More specifically, protect girls and boys from exploitative child labour, in particular in domestic service, through increased inspections and fines for employers, in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182 (1999) concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour;
  • Regulate and monitor the working conditions of domestic workers and consider ratifying ILO Convention No. 189 (2011) concerning decent work for domestic workers;
  • Strengthen inter-institutional cooperation amongst all relevant government ministries by increasing the effectiveness of the already existing structures;
  • Apply the Labour Code and social legislation within the informal sector, in particular by opening it up to labour inspection services;
  • Adopt and implement a comprehensive National Plan of Action to Combat Child Labour and ensure that it is adequately funded;
  • Increase data collection on the number and nature of cases reported; on the number of investigations, convictions, prosecutions and the nature of the penalties imposed;
  • To  collect disaggregated data on children removed from the worst forms of child labour and steps taken for their social reintegration and rehabilitation;
  • Expand the geographic coverage of the “green line” to the entire territory of Togo and increase budgetary and human resources to this public service;
  • Increase efforts to end harmful traditional practices such as witchcraft accusations which expose children to the worst forms of child labour, in addition to harming their development, well-being and overall integrity;
  • Increase the financial support provided to the National Human Rights Commission;
  • Consider ratifying Protocol 29 to the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention.

I thank you for your attention and once again extend my gratitude to all stakeholders and individuals who contributed to the successful mission. I look forward to engaging further with the Government of Togo on these and other issues related to my mandate.