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Equatorial Guinea

The first inhabitants of the region that is now Equatorial Guinea are believed to have been Pygmies, of whom only isolated pockets remain in northern Rio Muni. Bantu migrations between the 17th and 19th centuries brought the coastal tribes and later the Fang. Elements of the latter may have generated the Bubi, who immigrated to Bioko from Cameroon and Rio Muni in several waves and succeeded former Neolithic populations. The Annobon population, native to Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via Sao Tome.

The Portuguese explorer, Fernando Po (Fernao do Poo), seeking a route to India, is credited with having discovered the island of Bioko in 1471. He called it Formosa ("pretty flower"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The Portuguese retained control until 1778, when the island, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the mainland between the Niger and Ogoue Rivers were ceded to Spain in exchange for territory in South America (Treaty of Pardo). From 1827 to 1843, Britain established a base on the island to combat the slave trade. The Treaty of Paris settled conflicting claims to the mainland in 1900, and periodically, the mainland territories were united administratively under Spanish rule.

Spain lacked the wealth and the interest to develop an extensive economic infrastructure in what was commonly known as Spanish Guinea during the first half of this century. However, through a paternalistic system, particularly on Bioko Island, Spain developed large cacao plantations for which thousands of Nigerian workers were imported as laborers. At independence in 1968, largely as a result of this system, Equatorial Guinea had one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa. The Spanish also helped Equatorial Guinea achieve one of the continent's highest literacy rates and developed a good network of health care facilities.

In 1959, the Spanish territory of the Gulf of Guinea was established with status similar to the provinces of metropolitan Spain. As the Spanish Equatorial Region, a governor general ruled it exercising military and civilian powers. The first local elections were held in 1959, and the first Equatoguinean representatives were seated in the Spanish parliament. Under the Basic Law of December 1963, limited autonomy was authorized under a joint legislative body for the territory's two provinces. The name of the country was changed to Equatorial Guinea. Although Spain's commissioner general had extensive powers, the Equatorial Guinean General Assembly had considerable initiative in formulating laws and regulations.

In March 1968, under pressure from Equatoguinean nationalists and the United Nations, Spain announced that it would grant independence to Equatorial Guinea. A constitutional convention produced an electoral law and draft constitution. In the presence of a UN observer team, a referendum was held on August 11, 1968, and 63% of the electorate voted in favor of the constitution, which provided for a government with a General Assembly and a Supreme Court with judges appointed by the president.

In September 1968, Francisco Macias Nguema was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was granted in October. In July 1970, Macias created a single-party state and by May 1971, key portions of the constitution were abrogated. In 1972 Macias took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President-for-Life. The Macias regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror; this led to the death or exile of up to one-third of the country's population. Due to pilferage, ignorance, and neglect, the country's infrastructure--electrical, water, road, transportation, and health--fell into ruin. Religion was repressed, and education ceased. The private and public sectors of the economy were devastated. Nigerian contract laborers on Bioko, estimated to have been 60,000, left en masse in early 1976. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left.

In August 1979, Macias' nephew from Mongomo and former director of the infamous Black Beach prison, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, led a successful coup d'etat; Macias was arrested, tried, and executed. Obiang assumed the Presidency in October 1979. Obiang initially ruled Equatorial Guinea with the assistance of a Supreme Military Council. A new constitution, drafted in 1982 with the help of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, came into effect after a popular vote on August 15, 1982; the Council was abolished, and Obiang remained in the presidency for a 7-year term. He was reelected in 1989. In February 1996, he again won reelection with 98% of the vote; several opponents withdrew from the race, however, and international observers criticized the election. Subsequently, Obiang named a new cabinet, which included some opposition figures in minor portfolios.

Despite the formal ending of one-party rule in 1991, President Obiang and a circle of advisors (drawn largely from his own family and ethnic group) maintain real authority. The President names and dismisses cabinet members and judges, ratifies treaties, leads the armed forces, and has considerable authority in other areas. He appoints the governors of Equatorial Guinea's seven provinces. The opposition had few electoral successes in the 1990s. By early 2000, President Obiang’s PDGE party fully dominated government at all levels. In December 2002, President Obiang won a new seven-year mandate with 97% of the vote. Reportedly, 95% of eligible voters voted in this election, although many observers noted numerous irregularities.

Equatorial Guinea nominally is a multiparty constitutional republic; however, in practice President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and the Mongomo sub-clan of the majority Fang ethnic group, which has ruled since the country's independence in 1968, dominated the Government. President Obiang, who has ruled since seizing power in a military coup d'etat in 1979, was re-elected with 97.1 percent of the vote and 98 percent of registered voters participating in a December 2002 election marred by extensive fraud and intimidation. The President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) controlled the judiciary and the legislature; the latter was chosen in elections in April that were criticized widely by the international community as seriously flawed. There was an attempted coup d'etat in March; 19 mercenaries in the capital city of Malabo and 70 mercenaries in Harare, Zimbabwe were arrested in conjunction with the plot. In November 14, were convicted by a court in Malabo at a hearing open to international observers. The judiciary was not independent.

ECONOMY

Oil and gas exports have increased substantially and will drive the economy for years to come. Real GDP growth reached 18% in 2000, 66% in 2001, 20% in 2002, 10% in 2003 and 24.1% in 2004. Per capita income rose from about $590 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000 and $5,300 today. The energy export sector is responsible for this rapid growth. Oil production has increased from 81,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 1998 to more that 400,000 bpd by 2004. Production of 500,000 bpd is projected by 2005. This is based on existing commercially viable oil and gas deposits. Exploration efforts continue in search of further potential offshore concessions.

Equatorial Guinea has other unexploited human and natural resources, including a tropical climate, fertile soils, rich expanses of water, deepwater ports, and an untapped, if unskilled, source of labor. Following independence in 1968, the country suffered under a repressive dictatorship for 11 years, which devastated the economy. The agricultural sector, historically known for cocoa of the highest quality, never fully recovered. In 1969, Equatorial Guinea produced 36,161 tons of highly bid cocoa, but production dropped to 4,800 tons in 2000 and 3,430 tons in 2002. It increased slightly from 2003 levels to 2,906 tons by 2004. Coffee production was 126,000 metric tons in 2002, up from 67000 tons 5 years earlier. Timber is the main source of foreign exchange after oil, though it now only accounts for 2% of total export earnings. Timber production increased steadily during the 1990s; wood exports reached a record 789,000 cubic meters in 1999 as demand in Asia (mainly China) gathered pace after the 1998 economic crisis. Since 1998, production of timber has fallen closer to a sustainable level. 530,500 cubic meters were sold in 2002. Most of the production (mainly Okoume) goes to exports, and only 3% is processed locally. Bioko Island has already suffered permanent damage due to earlier exploitation. Consumer price inflation has declined from the 38.8% experienced in 1994 following the CFA franc devaluation, to 7.8% in 1998, and 4.0% in 2000, according to BEAC data. Consumer prices inflation has remained steady at around 6% since 2002.

Equatorial Guinea's economic policies, as defined by law, comprise an open investment regime. Qualitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted in 1992 when the government adopted a public investment program endorsed by the World Bank. The Government of Equatorial Guinea has sold some state enterprises. It is attempting to create a more favorable investment climate, and its investment code contains numerous incentives for job creation, training, promotion of nontraditional exports, support of development projects and indigenous capital participation, freedom for repatriation of profits, exemption from certain taxes and capital, and other benefits. Trade regulations have been further liberalized since Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) reform codes in 1994. This included elimination of quota restrictions and reductions in the range and amounts of tariffs. The CEMAC countries agreed to the introduction of a value added tax (VAT) in 1999.

While business laws promote a liberalized economy, the business climate remains difficult. Application of the laws remains selective. Corruption among officials is widespread, and many business deals are concluded under nontransparent circumstances. A newly introduced wage law now regulates separate wage levels for the petroleum, private and government sector.

There is little industry in the country, and the local market for industrial products is small. The government seeks to expand the role of free enterprise and to promote foreign investment but has had little success in creating an atmosphere conducive to investor interest. The Equatoguinean budget has grown enormously in the past 5 years as royalties and taxes on foreign company oil and gas production have provided new resources to a once poor government. The 2002 government revenue was about 414.5 billion CFA francs (about USD805 million), up about 135% from 2000 levels. Oil revenues account for more than 81% of government revenue; Value Added Tax and trade taxes are other large revenue sources for the government.

The Equatoguinean Government has undertaken a number of reforms since 1991 to reduce its predominant role in the economy and promote private sector development. Its role is a diminishing one, although many government interactions with the private sector are at times capricious. The government is anxious for greater U.S. investment. Beginning in early 1997, the government initiated efforts to attract significant private sector involvement through cooperative efforts with the Corporate Council on Africa visit and numerous ministerial efforts. In 1998, the government privatized distribution of petroleum products. There are now Total and Mobil stations in the country. The maritime border with Nigeria was settled in 2000, allowing Equatorial Guinea to continue exploitation of its oil fields. In October 2002, the government launched a national oil company, GEPetrol, under the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons.

The government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. Several ports and a new terminal were built to accommodate the needs of the oil industry. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise. Most of the new infrastructure has not reached the average Equatoguinean living on the mainland. Agriculture, fishing, livestock, and tourism are among sectors the government would like targeted.

Equatorial Guinea's balance-of-payments situation has improved substantially since the mid-1990s because of new oil and gas production and favorable world energy prices. Exports totaled $2.23 billion in 2002. Crude oil exports now annually accounts for more than 97% of export earnings. Timber exports, by contrast, now represent only about 2% of export revenues. Imports into Equatorial Guinea also are growing very quickly. Imports totaled USD635 million in 2002.

Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s and 1990s received foreign assistance from numerous bilateral and multilateral donors, including European countries, the United States, and the World Bank. Many of these aid programs have ceased altogether or have diminished. Spain, France, and the European Union continue to provide some project assistance, as do China and Cuba. The government also has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.

Equatorial Guinea operated under an International Monetary Fund-negotiated Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) until 1996. Since then, there have been no formal agreements orarrangements. However, since 1996, the IMF has held regular held Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations). After the 2003 consultations, IMF directors stressed the need for further improvements in governance and transparency, the attainment of a sustainable fiscal position, implementation of structural reforms to bolster the non-oil sector, the development of a transparent framework for saving and managing part of the country’s oil wealth and a comprehensive effort to reduce poverty.

President Obiang forfeited some of his power through cabinet reforms in June, but he still exercised de facto control over the police and security forces. The new Ministry of National Security controls the police and gendarmes while the new Ministry of National Defense oversees the military. In a cabinet reshuffle in June, the President again named a member of the Bubi ethnic group as Prime Minister; the President also named one of his brothers as Minister of Defense; another brother as Senior Delegate of National Security; and his uncle as Minister of National Security, all positions previously held by the President himself. Ultimately, the cabinet reforms resulted in only a slight dilution of the President's power. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces; however, there were some instances in which security forces acted independently of government authority.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

Violent crime is rare and the overall level of criminal activity is low in comparison to other countries in the region. However, there has been a rise in non-violent street crime and residential burglaries. It is not uncommon for a uniformed member of the security forces to stop motorists on the pretext of minor or nonexistent violations of the local motor vehicle regulations in order to extort small bribes.

POLICE

Responsibility for policing is divided between the police, who are primarily responsible for security in urban centers, and the gendarmes, who have responsibility for the areas outside the cities and for special events within cities. Both are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. Corruption was endemic within these forces. Citizens who were not police officers were allowed to arrest persons suspected of being illegal residents, increasing the frequency of arbitrary arrests based on xenophobia. Members of the security forces were rarely held accountable for abuses; impunity for police officers and gendarmes was a problem. In 2002, the then-U.N. Special Representative noted that some executive officials closely related to the security apparatus of the Government were treated as being above the law. There were no known reforms of the security forces proposed or enacted during the year 2004. By law, arrests do not require warrants. Police can detain persons whom they arrest for up to 5 days before a hearing; however, in practice, the length of such detentions was usually much longer. The lack of a published penal code allows for frequent abuses by security forces. Police routinely detained prisoners and held them incommunicado.

DETENTION

There were nominal legal procedural safeguards regarding the protection of citizens' rights, including provisions concerning detention and the obtainment of search warrants; however, security forces systematically ignored these safeguards and continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily and with impunity. Security forces often detained individuals "on orders from superiors" without any further formality.

Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem. Local authorities singled out foreigners from neighboring countries for arbitrary arrest, harassment, and deportation, especially following the coup attempt in March. For example, in November 2003, police arbitrarily detained and handcuffed a Nigerian in his residence. The Nigerian embassy had to provide him with guards, and visitors had to provide basic necessities. The arresting police officer was later criticized by his superiors and issued an apology but was allowed to continue working. During the security forces' roundup of foreigners following the March coup attempt, police arbitrarily detained and questioned two foreign humanitarian volunteers vacationing in Luba before placing them under house arrest at their hotel for 2 days. In addition, police arbitrarily arrested and detained for several days a foreign missionary couple in Malabo. During the year 2004, security forces continued to arbitrarily harass oil company employees, primarily by delaying them at checkpoints and demanding small bribes. Security forces detained relatives of prisoners and criminal suspects in an attempt to force the prisoners or suspects to cooperate.

Pretrial detention was a problem. The majority of inmates had not been charged, and their cases had not been heard in court. Prisoners often remained in detention at police stations awaiting hearings for longer than the 5 days prescribed by law because of judges who were absent from their posts. During the year 2004, authorities reportedly detained members of political opposition parties for short periods. Some political detentions lasted more than a few months. It remained difficult to estimate the number of political detainees, although it was believed to be fewer than 100 persons. The Government used arrest, reported beatings and other forms of harassment to intimidate opposition party officials and members.

COURTS

The Constitution provides for judicial independence; however, the judiciary was not independent. Judges served at the pleasure of the President, and they were appointed, transferred, and dismissed for political reasons. Judicial corruption was widespread. The court system is composed of lower provincial courts, two appeals courts, a military tribunal, and a Supreme Court. The President appoints members of the Supreme Court, who report to him and take their orders from him in practice. At least two military generals, neither of whom was a lawyer, served on the Supreme Court. The President was the most powerful influence on the judicial branch. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to undertake periodic inspections and name judges. There were approximately 60 judges in the country, about 20 percent of whom were trained lawyers. Some judges were regularly absent from their posts, resulting in delays in judicial proceedings.

In December, upon the recommendation of the president of the Supreme Court, President Obiang fired a Malabo Court of First Instance judge and two of his clerks for incompetence and inaction in cases on his docket. The Parliament's Complaints Commission was a de facto judicial authority, although it had no formal legal jurisdiction. According to local media, the Parliament's president acted as a court of last resort. Tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts in the countryside. The Constitution and laws provide for legal representation in trials and the right to appeal; however, in practice the authorities often did not respect these provisions. There were about 100 practicing lawyers, approximately one-quarter of whom practiced full-time and had no other profession. The Ministry of Education grants certificates to practice law, and the minimum requirement of having a law degree from any university worldwide can often be circumvented. Civil cases rarely came to public trial.

Cases involving national security were tried by a military tribunal. Cases that essentially were political in nature frequently were referred to military courts, even when the defendants were civilians and the charges were not related to the military. The Code of Military Justice permits persons who disobey a military authority to be tried in a military tribunal whether or not they are military personnel. Military courts did not provide due process or other procedural safeguards, and proceedings were not made public.

In February, nearly 120 civil and military officers were convicted in a 1-day secret trial of "crimes against state security" that allegedly concerned theft of public funds. Most of the defendants received sentences of 6 to 10 years in prison. No additional information was available at year's end. On August 23, the 19 mercenaries arrested in March went on trial before 3 civilian criminal court judges. On August 31, the prosecution asked for the indefinite suspension of the trial following the acquittal in Zimbabwe of 66 persons who had also been accused of involvement in the same plot to overthrow the President. On November 24, the trial resumed when the Prosecutor General presented cases against 9 additional men, all members of the Progress Party, living in exile in Spain. On November 26, three South Africans were acquitted while the other defendants, including two citizens, received prison sentences of between 1 and 62 years. Both Amnesty International and the International Bar Association stated that the trial did not meet international fair-trial standards, particularly with regard to the absence of interpreters for foreign defendants.

The Government continued to hold political prisoners, and it was estimated that there were fewer than 100 by year's end. These prisoners were all members of opposition parties or persons the Government accused of involvement in coup attempts. During the year 2004, only the ICRC was permitted to visit them.

CORRECTIONS

The law does not specifically prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Although the law mandates respect for the liberty and dignity of persons, members of the security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, and opposition politicians. In July, Amnesty International reported that torture was "routine" in the country's places of detention, and in 2002, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) Special Representative Gustav Gallon described the use of torture as a "normal means of investigation." Senior government officials told foreign diplomats during the year 2004 that human rights did not apply to criminals and that torture of known criminals was not a human rights abuse. There was one report of a prisoner's death due to torture and abuse by prison authorities.

There were reports that officials tortured political opposition activists and other persons during the year 2004. For example, in March, police arrested Weja Chicampo, leader of the Bioko Island Movement, an opposition party. Prison officials reportedly tortured him in prison and denied him access to medical treatment and food brought by his family. At year's end he remained in jail. Five persons arrested in late May after the alleged attack on Corisco Island appeared on television before they went before a judge; small sections appeared to have been cut out of their ears. There were reports that one of the five individuals arrested, Alfredo Asumu, was suspended from the ceiling and beaten. At least two of the five individuals were reportedly denied medical treatment. On June 27, security forces shot Marcelino Manuel Nguema Esono, leader of the outlawed Progress Party, prior to his arrest and subsequent detention in Malabo's Black Beach Prison, where he was denied medical attention and placed in solitary confinement. At year's end he remained in jail.

There continued to be unconfirmed reports that torture was used to extract forced confessions, particularly from the group of 19 persons arrested on March 9 for plotting a coup. For example, after a brief visit with her son in Black Beach Prison, a mother of one of the accused coup plotters claimed that her son's legs were broken due to torture during interrogation and that he had been chained to the wall and denied medical treatment. However, when the trial began in August, all the prisoners walked into the courtroom unaided and without obvious signs of pain.

In November, there were unconfirmed reports that government agents arrested and tortured Lieutenant Colonel Maximiliano Owono Nguema, Military Chief of Einayong, in Bata. No action was taken against members of the security forces responsible for the use of torture in June and July 2003 to extract confessions from Felipe Ondo Obiang, leader of the Republican Democratic Forces, and 30 other prisoners belonging to a group of 144 alleged coup plotters arrested in 2002. There was no action taken against security forces responsible for beatings and torture reported in 2002.

During the year 2004, local authorities singled out foreigners from neighboring countries for harassment such as verbal intimidation and arbitrary arrest. Police routinely extorted money from citizens of Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Beginning in March, following a coup attempt led by foreigners, the Government increasingly and arbitrarily harassed, arrested, and deported foreigners of African nationalities. Police in Bata and Malabo often used excessive force, including beatings, and looted property during the arrests and deportations; in addition, some deportees said that police had raped them; however, those claims had not been independently verified by year's end. The Government accused the deportees of being accomplices to the mercenaries arrested during a coup attempt in March. Approximately 300 Cameroonian nationals were expelled out of a total of 400 foreign deportees.

The conditions of jails and prisons in the country remained harsh and life threatening; inmates were not provided with food, medical care, working toilets, drinkable water, clean and healthful living space, or minimum equipment, such as beds. There were credible reports that conditions at Black Beach Prison continued to improve; however, there were also credible reports that prison authorities tortured prisoners. Family members of prisoners reported that they were only allowed visits of several minutes and that guards would not distribute food brought for the inmates. Medical attention was routinely denied to prisoners with gangrene, broken bones, infections, and fatal illnesses.

Prison authorities and male prisoners sexually assaulted female prisoners. There were credible reports that police gang-raped female prisoners in Malabo. Prisoners were used habitually as labor and as workers on construction projects for certain officials, without pay or other compensation. There were unconfirmed reports that judges used prisoners as domestic workers. Male and female prisoners were not held in separate facilities, nor were juveniles held separately from adult prisoners. Pretrial detainees and political prisoners were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited detainees and prisoners at prisons and police stations multiple times during the year 2004. The Red Cross was allowed visits in accordance with its standard modalities--meetings with prisoners without third parties and regular, repeated visits. The ICRC made recommendations to the Government, but did not release them publicly. Prison conditions have marginally improved, but remained harsh and well below international standards. In October, the U.N. and the Government began a series of seminars to raise awareness of human rights among prison employees.

WOMEN

Domestic and other societal violence against women, particularly wife beating, was common. The public beating of wives was forbidden by government decree; however, violence in the home generally was tolerated. The Government did not prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, except for one ongoing case concerning a government official who allegedly shot and killed his wife during the year 2004.

Prostitution is illegal; however, the massive influx of unaccompanied foreign men in the petroleum sector contributed to an increasing prevalence of prostitution. During periodic crackdowns, police arrested prostitutes but allowed their clients--generally expatriates--to go free. Although the Constitution provides for equal rights, women largely were confined by custom to traditional roles, particularly in agriculture. Polygyny, which was widespread, contributed to women's secondary status, as did limited educational opportunity.

There was no discrimination against women in formal inheritance and family law; however, in the Fang, Ndowe, and Bisio cultures, primogeniture was practiced. Because women become members of their husband's family upon marriage, they usually were not accorded inheritance rights. When the husband dies, a widow either remains with his family in a dependent, marginalized position, or she returns the dowry and leaves with nothing. For an estimated 90 percent of women, including virtually all ethnic groups except the Bubi, tradition dictates that if a marriage is dissolved, the wife (or her father or brother) must return the dowry given to her family by the bridegroom at the time of marriage. Tradition also dictates that if a girl's family accepts a dowry from a man, she must then marry him, regardless of her wishes. If the marriage does not take place, the family is required by tradition to return the dowry, and failure to pay the debt can result in the imprisonment of the bride or a family member. The law protects women from imprisonment for not repaying the dowry following divorce; however, in practice, many divorced women faced intense family pressure to repay the dowry. If a marriage dissolves, the husband also automatically receives custody of all children born after the marriage, while the wife maintains custody of all her children born prior to the marriage. According to the law, women have the right to buy and sell property and goods; however, in practice, the male-dominated society permitted few women access to sufficient funds to engage in more than petty trading or to purchase real property beyond a garden plot or modest home.

CHILDREN

The Government devoted little attention to children's rights or their welfare and had few set policies in this area. In September the Parliament passed a trafficking in persons law, focused almost exclusively on trafficked children; however, no other provisions for the welfare of children were legislated.

Education was compulsory through primary school, but the law was not aggressively enforced. In practice, boys were expected either to complete an additional 7 years of secondary school or to finish a program of vocational study following primary education. For girls, pregnancy and the requirement to assist in agricultural or other work made attainment of this level of education less likely. Many rural families were unable to afford school fees and book expenses for children over 10 years of age. A UNICEF report noted that net primary school attendance from 1992 to 2002 was 60 percent for boys and 61 percent for girls; however, secondary school enrollment was much lower, particularly for girls. From 1997 to 2000, the gross secondary school enrollment ratio was 43 percent for boys and 19 percent for girls. Women generally have only one-fifth of the educational level of men. During the year 2004, new schools were opened; however, they were reported to lack basic materials such as books and desks. The Government cooperated with a foreign government to provide textbooks to all schools. Teachers could be political appointees and often received no training. Children suffered poor health and a high mortality rate. The 2005 national budget, passed by the Parliament in September, allocated increased expenditures to education. Child prostitution existed but was rare.

According to a 2001 child labor study by UNICEF, the most recent information available, child labor existed primarily in the form of children working as farmhands and market vendors in family businesses. In addition, during the year 2004, there were unconfirmed reports that foreign children were used as market vendors by non-relatives and had no access to schooling. The legal minimum age for employment was 14 years, but the Ministry of Labor did not enforce this law, and child labor was common particularly on family farms and businesses. Underage youth performed both family farm work and street vending. While the Ministry of Labor was responsible for the enforcement of labor legislation, the Government did not have a comprehensive policy on child labor.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

In September, Parliament passed a law criminalizing trafficking in persons; however, there continued to be reports that the country increasingly was a destination and transit point for trafficked persons. Children, mostly from Benin and Nigeria, primarily were trafficked into the agricultural and commercial sectors in Malabo and Bata. Nigerian boys worked in market stalls in Bata, often without pay or personal freedom. The country was both a destination and a transit point for trafficked girls and boys, mostly from Cameroon, Benin, and Nigeria. Women were trafficked for prostitution, especially to Malabo, where they worked for clients in the country's oil sector. There was evidence that lower-level law enforcement officials such as border guards and immigration officers facilitated trafficking in persons in exchange for bribes.

By year's end 2004, the Government had not established a system to conduct systematic monitoring or reporting of trafficking; however, toward the end of the year, the Government made efforts to address trafficking. In July, with guidance from a foreign government and UNICEF, the Government organized an inter-ministerial committee to explore ways of addressing the problem of trafficking in persons. In October, a second inter-ministerial meeting was held to begin designing an action plan to address the problem, and at a conference on trafficking during the year 2004, the Government asked regional governors and local government authorities to monitor trafficking and report any cases to the Ministry of Justice. A trafficking in persons technical working group was established in November. In addition, during the year 2004, the Government conducted a radio campaign to raise awareness of the new law against trafficking, and UNICEF co-hosted three human rights conferences involving government officials in which trafficking was a central issue.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Anabel Becerril and Meigan Fukushima

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