Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for women, men, and children from Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, and other West African countries who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some victims transit Gabon en route to Equatorial Guinea. The majority of victims are boys forced to work as street vendors or mechanics. Girls are subjected to domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. West African women are forced into domestic service or prostitution in Gabon. Some foreign adults seek the help of smugglers for voluntary labor migration, but are subsequently subjected to forced labor or prostitution after arriving in Gabon without the proper documents for legal entry. During the reporting period, reports indicated adult men were subjected to forced labor on cattle farms in Gabon. Traffickers appear to operate in loose, ethnic-based crime networks, with female traffickers, some of whom may have been trafficking victims in the past, recruiting and facilitating the transportation of victims in countries of origin. In some cases, child victims report their families turned them over to intermediaries promising employment opportunities in Gabon. There is evidence some traffickers operate in other areas of the country to avoid detection in Libreville. Reports indicate the involvement of Nigerian syndicates in bringing trafficking victims to Gabon.
The Government of Gabon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increased protection efforts by identifying more trafficking victims, referring them to care, and working with several governments in the region to repatriate 30 foreign victims following their stay in shelters operated by the government or in government-supported NGO facilities. It also re-activated the Inter-Ministerial Committee to Monitor Child Trafficking, which organized various trainings for law enforcement, magistrates, labor inspectors, and social workers; conducted a national awareness campaign on child trafficking; and assisted in the drafting of amendments to extend the 2004 trafficking law to adults. The government did not report any convictions during the reporting period and failed to identify or provide protective services to any adult victims during the reporting period.
Recommendations for Gabon:
Increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders, including those involved in adult trafficking; enact provisions criminalizing all forms of adult trafficking; expand training for social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors and judicial staff to include adult trafficking; develop a system to track trafficking cases and provide relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics; increase financial or in-kind support to government-run shelters and government-supported NGO shelters; develop an inter-ministerial committee to address adult trafficking or expand the existing inter-ministerial committee’s mandate to include adult trafficking; and expand national awareness-raising campaigns to include information on adult trafficking.
The Government of Gabon maintained modest law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of human trafficking; for example, they do not criminalize bonded labor. Law 09/04, “Concerning the Prevention and the Fight Against the Trafficking of Children in the Gabonese Republic,” enacted in September 2004, prohibits child trafficking for both labor and sexual exploitation and prescribes penalties of up to a maximum of 40 years’ imprisonment, along with a possibility of a fine of up to the equivalent of approximately $20,000-$40,000; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Penal code Article 261 prohibits the procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribes a sufficiently stringent penalty of two to five years’ imprisonment. Law 21/63-94 prohibits forced prostitution of adults and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment, which are commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Penal code Article 48 prohibits the use of children in illegal activities, prescribing penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Title 1, Article 4 of the Gabonese labor code (Law 3/94) criminalizes all forms of forced labor, prescribing penalties of one to six months’ imprisonment, which are not sufficiently stringent and do not reflect the serious nature of the offense. During the reporting period, the government drafted an amendment to Law 09/04 to extend its provisions to the trafficking of adults—which is now covered by separate forced prostitution and forced labor provisions—and includes more severe penalties. However, the government did not pass the proposed amendment by the close of the reporting period.
The government reported 50 investigations, at least nine prosecutions, and zero convictions during the reporting period, compared to 30 investigations, 10 prosecutions, and 9 convictions from the previous reporting period. The government, in partnership with an international organization, provided training to 80 magistrates, 120 law enforcement officers, 10 labor inspectors, and 60 social workers throughout the country; the trainings focused on how to investigate and prosecute child trafficking cases, identify victims, and provide victims with protective services. The government did not provide training related to adult trafficking during the reporting period. The government investigated a local chief and a prosecutor for alleged complicity in a child labor trafficking case; the investigation was ongoing at the close of the reporting period, and the government did not report any additional investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of public officials for complicity in human trafficking offenses.
The Government of Gabon sustained modest efforts to ensure victims of trafficking received access to necessary protective services during the reporting period. Government personnel employed procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant children, and systematically referred them to government or NGO shelters. Government officials identified 50 child trafficking victims during the year, all of whom were referred to care facilities for assistance; this demonstrates an increase from the previous reporting period, when the government identified 19 victims. The Ministry of Family and Social Affairs assisted in the repatriation of 30 of these victims; 20 of the children were repatriated to Benin, and the remaining 10 were repatriated to Togo, Mali, and Nigeria.
The government provided an unknown amount of funding to support four centers that offered shelter, medical care, education, and psycho-social services to orphans and vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims, in Libreville and Port Gentil, as well as a short-term center in Mouila. Two centers were government-funded, while the other three were NGO centers supported partly by the government through in-kind donations, as well as the provision of service support, including social workers. Neither the government nor NGO-run transit centers were specifically designated for adult victims, but in practice, they could provide shelter and services to adults; however, no adults were identified during the reporting period.
If victim repatriation was not an option, the Ministry of Social Affairs could provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon; an unknown number of victims availed themselves of this legal alternative during the reporting period. Victims were encouraged to testify during the prosecution of their traffickers. Testimony is routinely taken by prosecutors, police, and magistrates at the time of arrest of the suspected traffickers or rescue of the victim. The Ministry of Justice worked with other ministries and agencies to provide victims with protective services in Gabon until prosecutors and investigators could present their cases in court. In cases where financial restitution for support and repatriation, where appropriate, could not be obtained from the trafficker or the country of origin, the Government of Gabon absorbed the costs or sought the assistance of NGOs. There were no reports of the government detaining, fining, or jailing victims due to acts committed as a result of their being trafficked.
The Gabonese government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee to Monitor Child Trafficking—the focal point for coordinating government anti-trafficking activities—held its first meeting in early 2013 after 12 months of inactivity. The committee met regularly during the reporting period and drafted a national action plan to combat trafficking for 2014; however, the plan was not finalized at the close of the reporting period. In addition to coordinating aforementioned trainings and protection efforts, the committee organized a national awareness campaign on child trafficking. The campaign not only alerted potential child trafficking victims to trafficking risks and how to seek assistance, but also informed employers of the legal penalties for trafficking crimes. The government did not make any other discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the reporting period.