The Gambia is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Women, girls, and boys from West African countries—mainly Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Benin—are recruited for commercial sexual exploitation in The Gambia, in particular to meet the demands of European tourists seeking sex with children. Observers believe organized networks use both European and Gambian travel agencies to promote child sex tourism. Many Gambian boys attend Koranic schools led by religious teachers, known as marabouts; some corrupt or unscrupulous marabouts sometimes force such boys into begging and street vending. Gambian trafficking victims have been identified in neighboring West African countries, as well as in the United Kingdom.
The Government of The Gambia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking since the previous reporting period; therefore, The Gambia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. The Gambia was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. Although it opened some investigations into potential trafficking crimes, the government failed to initiate any prosecutions of alleged trafficking offenders or to formally identify any victims. Sixty potential foreign child trafficking victims were referred to a government-run shelter and the government demonstrated increased prevention efforts relating to the practice of forced begging and street vending by unscrupulous marabouts.
Recommendations for The Gambia: Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and ensure adequate sentencing for convicted trafficking offenders; train law enforcement personnel to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as boys in street vending, unattended children in tourist resorts known to be sex tourism destinations, and women in prostitution, and refer them to protective services; engage with anti-trafficking counterparts in the region to enable the safe repatriation of victims to and from The Gambia; provide adequate funding and resources to the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons so that the agency can effectively implement the anti-trafficking national action plan; and increase efforts to raise public awareness about the dangers of trafficking.
The Government of The Gambia sustained modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act prohibits all forms of trafficking, and an October 2010 amendment increased the prescribed penalties to 50 years to life imprisonment for all forms of trafficking. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Gambia’s 2005 Children’s Act also prohibits child trafficking—though it does not include forced labor in its definition of trafficking—prescribing a penalty of life imprisonment. The 2003 Tourism Offenses Act explicitly prohibits child sex trafficking, prescribing a penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The government investigated several cases of suspected trafficking during the year. For instance, a Lebanese national was arrested for attempting to recruit 23 Gambian women, between the ages of 18 and 23, to work as maids in Lebanon, with the intent to subject them to forced prostitution once they arrived; however, in December 2012, the Ministry of Justice dropped the case due to a lack of evidence. In January 2013, police and immigration officers conducted a raid of a number of unfinished buildings in the Greater Banjul Area in January 2013 that lead to the identification of 77 Senegalese and two Gambian suspected trafficking victims; the individuals, the majority of whom were children, were working as housemaids and street vendors. Authorities arrested 18 individuals—17 Gambians and one Senegalese national—who were released on bail while the investigation continued; the government has not yet established whether the case involves elements of trafficking. Law enforcement efforts remained hindered by a lack of resources, training, and organization among various agencies. The government, in partnership with NGOs and international organizations, trained law enforcement officers to identify trafficking victims, interview victims, and prevent trafficking. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The government efforts to protect victims of human trafficking were limited during the reporting period, as it did not formally identify any trafficking victims. Of the 77 aforementioned potential Senegalese victims, 60 were children and were all referred to a government-run shelter; the children stayed at the shelter for 10 days prior to their repatriation to Senegal. The government did not provide any shelter to the adult victims identified in this case, and instead deported them back to Senegal after an initial screening. The two Gambian adult victims were returned to their home villages without receiving shelter or services. The Department of Social Welfare operated a 24-hour multi-purpose hotline and allocated the equivalent of approximately $11,500 to operating a shelter and drop-in center; the government did not report the number of trafficking victims it may have cared for in these facilities. The department continued to maintain an electronic child protection database, which includes information on trafficking cases, although no cases were identified in 2012. The Trafficking in Persons Act allows foreign victims to obtain temporary residence visas for the duration of legal proceedings; the government offers no other legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked; however, the lack of a formal identification procedure likely resulted in some victims remaining unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government demonstrated increased prevention efforts during the reporting period. The Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Education launched a program that provided financial support and resources to 12 Koranic schools on the condition that their students are not forced to beg; over 1,000 children benefitted from the program during the reporting period, and reports indicate that the number of Koranic students who were previously subjected to forced begging or street selling has decreased dramatically since the launch of the program. The Gambian government contributed the equivalent of approximately $3,000 each month during the reporting period to fund the program. The National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons (NAATIP)—the coordinating body for governmental anti-trafficking efforts—met with border officials in the Upper River Region, a region vulnerable to transnational trafficking, to educate them on trafficking in persons and the need to report any suspected cases directly to NAATIP. The agency continued to receive modest funding from the government, but relied on NGOs and international organizations for additional support. The NAATIP taskforce met four times during the reporting period. In January 2013, the Gambia Tourism Board, in collaboration with a local NGO, organized a one-day orientation for 50 members of the Tourism Security Unit to discuss trafficking and how to curb the local sex trade, including child sex tourism. Authorities continued to enforce the 2005 ban on unattended children in resort areas, but this effort did not lead to the referral of any child trafficking victims to protective services or the apprehension of any suspected traffickers or child sex tourists. The government did not make any discernible efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor during the reporting period. The government provided anti-trafficking training to Gambian troops before their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.