Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women from Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Guinea, 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 hawkers 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 forced into situations of labor or prostitution after arriving in Gabon without the proper documents for legal entry. During the reporting period, there was a slight increase in labor trafficking of Gabonese children to villages in the northern province of Woleu Ntem. Traffickers appear to operate in loose, ethnic-based crime networks, with female child traffickers serving as intermediaries in the victims’ countries of origin. In some cases, child victims report that their families turned them over to intermediaries promising employment opportunities in Gabon. There is evidence some traffickers operate out of Lambarene 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 maintained strong law enforcement efforts during the year by initiating the prosecutions of 10 alleged trafficking offenders and by obtaining the first nine convictions under Gabon’s 2004 child trafficking law. The government also continued efforts to protect victims, working with several governments in the region to repatriate seven foreign victims following their stay in shelters operated by the government or in government-supported NGO facilities. Despite these significant efforts, the Government of Gabon failed to conduct any new prevention efforts, due to inactivity by the Inter-Ministerial Committee to Monitor Child Trafficking, and failed to address trafficking of adults.
Recommendations for Gabon: Continue efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; draft and enact provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; continue to strengthen cooperation between police, immigration, and gendarmerie to address trafficking cases jointly; develop a system to track trafficking cases and provide relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics; provide a regular and sufficient budget for the Inter-Ministerial Committee to Monitor Child Trafficking; develop an inter-ministerial committee to address adult trafficking, or expand the existing inter-ministerial committee’s mandate to include adult trafficking; and revitalize prevention efforts through the provision of training for social workers, law enforcement, and judicial staff and the launching of national awareness-raising campaigns.
The Government of Gabon maintained strong law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of human trafficking, including 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 five to 15 years’ imprisonment, along with fines of the equivalent of approximatley $20,000 to $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.
In February 2013, nine individuals were convicted of child trafficking by a Gabonese criminal court for attempting to traffic two children within Minvoul, a northern city near the border with Equatorial Guinea; two of these trafficking offenders were Equatoguinean citizens who were also convicted of illegal immigration for paying a bribe to border police to enter Gabon. The remaining seven offenders were Gabonese, including the chief of Doumassi village and his wife, and the four parents of the two children. All nine were sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine the equivalent of approximately $2,000. These are the first convictions obtained using Gabon’s child trafficking law. Authorities also convicted a trafficking offender on non-trafficking charges related to forced child labor, sentencing the offender to two years in prison and approximately the equivalent of a $1,000 fine.
The Government of Gabon reported the investigations of 30 additional individuals suspected of committing trafficking offenses. In November 2012, five Beninese women were arrested for the suspected labor trafficking of eight Beninese children. However, they were released the following day. An investigation into allegations of bribery against two officials involved in the case remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period; both officials were removed from their posts and three of the released alleged traffickers were subsequently arrested and detained pending investigation. The status of the remaining 15 investigations is unknown. The government did not report any additional investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. Furthermore, it did not provide any training to law enforcement officials to improve their effectiveness in investigating or prosecuting trafficking offenses.
The Government of Gabon sustained modest efforts to ensure victims of trafficking received access to necessary protective services during the reporting period. In 2012, it provided an unknown amount of funding to support five 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; the government has allocated approximately the equivalent of $272,700 to the operation of these shelters in 2013. Two centers were government-funded, while the other three were financed partly by the government through financial and in-kind donations, as well as the provision of service support, including social workers. The government could shelter trafficked adults in these government- and NGO-run transit centers, though it did not identify any adult victims during the reporting period.
Government officials identified 19 trafficking victims during the year, all of whom were children. Two victims were repatriated to Togo, four to Benin, and one to Mali, after receiving shelter and care prior to their departures. Eight Beninese child victims remained in a government-supported shelter in Libreville at the end of 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; no victims availed themselves of this legal alternative when offered 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. 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. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Social Affairs did not have the funds necessary to transport eight Beninese victims to a shelter in Libreville and relied on funds provided by private citizens. The government did not detain, fine, or jail victims due to acts committed as a result of their being trafficked.
The Gabonese government made negligible efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Monitor and Combat Trafficking serves as the focal point for coordinating government anti-trafficking activities but, due to a reorganization of the President of Gabon’s cabinet, no activities took place for six months in 2012. Although the committee’s new president was appointed in October 2012, the committee’s budget had been reauthorized to other government ministries by that time. The committee began developing a national action plan for 2013, but the plan was not finalized by the end of the reporting period.