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GABON: Tier 3

The Government of Gabon does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore Gabon was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including identifying more child victims compared with the previous reporting period and referring them to care, and providing resources to some shelters, particularly those that serve children at higher risk of becoming trafficking victims. However, the government did not convict any traffickers and, for the fifth consecutive year, it did not enact a proposed amendment to criminalize adult trafficking. It also decreased for the fourth consecutive year the amount of funding allocated for victim services; did not increase efforts to identify, refer, or provide services to adult victims; and did not conduct any public awareness raising campaigns.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GABON

Increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and sex traffickers; use existing penal code articles criminalizing forced labor to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers who exploit adults in forced labor; draft and enact legislation to criminalize all forms of trafficking; expand training for social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and judicial staff to include the identification and investigation of adult trafficking; increase financial or in-kind support to government-run and NGO shelters; increase communication among ministries to facilitate improved case management and data collection; reinvigorate collaboration with foreign governments to investigate transnational trafficking cases and repatriate foreign victims; train social workers and service providers on best practices in the provision of care for trafficking victims; expand the existing inter-ministerial committee’s mandate to include adult trafficking, and include efforts to address adult trafficking in the next national action plan; expand awareness-raising campaigns to include information on adult trafficking; and develop a system to track cases and publicize relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics, including on trafficking offenses prosecuted under other articles of the penal code.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Existing laws did not criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Law 09/04 to Prevent and Combat Child Smuggling criminalized selling children, subjecting them to debt bondage, and bringing them into the country and unlawfully employing them, and prescribed penalties of a “custodial sentence” and a fine of 10 million to 20 million Central African CFA francs (CFA) ($17,610 to $35,220). Title 1, article 4 of the Gabonese labor code criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of one to six months imprisonment or a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 CFA ($530 to $1,060). Neither law provided sufficiently stringent sentences. Penal code article 261 criminalized adult and child sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of two to five years imprisonment and a fine. Law 21/63-94 also criminalized forced prostitution of adults and prescribed penalties of two to 10 years imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. For the fifth consecutive year, the government did not pass the 2013 draft amendment to law 09/04 to criminalize the trafficking of adults and explicitly criminalize sex trafficking.

The government reported investigating one trafficking case but did not report initiating any prosecutions, a decrease from eight investigations and prosecutions in the previous reporting period. The government did not convict any traffickers for the fifth consecutive year. Only the high court was authorized to hear trafficking cases because it is a crime equivalent to murder; however, the high court was backlogged with cases and did not routinely meet, in part because of a shortage of funding. In addition, due to a lack of training and widespread corruption, the prosecutorial judges tasked with investigating trafficking cases often did not investigate cases brought to their attention, creating significant obstacles to prosecuting trafficking crimes. Furthermore, data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts was limited, in part due to poor communication between ministries. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. Some judges received bribes from alleged traffickers and actively delayed or dismissed trafficking cases. The government did not report efforts to investigate a Gabonese diplomat posted to the United Kingdom in 2016, alleged to have exploited a worker in domestic servitude. During the reporting period, the inter-ministerial committee conducted a two-day training for immigration officials on identifying and investigating trafficking cases. In contrast with previous years, the government did not report cooperation with foreign law enforcement on transnational trafficking cases.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify and assist child victims, while efforts to protect adult victims remained negligible. Officials identified and referred 65 child labor trafficking victims to shelters that provided medical, legal, and psychological care, compared with 15 in 2016. The government did not report identifying any adult trafficking victims, and provided no specific trafficking-related services. The government decreased funding to NGOs that provided shelter and services to victims for the fourth consecutive year, and there continued to be a lack of shelter space to accommodate all trafficking victims. The government continued to fund two NGO-run shelters offering services to orphans and street children vulnerable to trafficking, providing an unknown amount of funding and in-kind support, including funding for social workers, medical support, psychological services, legal assistance, tuition, and food and furniture vouchers. However, the government did not report referring any child trafficking victims to these facilities. Other NGOs assisting trafficking victims relied primarily on donations from churches and private companies to finance their services, and some government workers used personal funds to assist victims. The same services were available for male, female, foreign, and Gabonese victims, including those repatriated from abroad. There were no government or NGO-run shelters specifically designated for adult victims, although adult victims could potentially access government services for victims of domestic abuse or other forms of violence; however, the government did not report such victims doing so during the year. Some shelters could have provided services to adults and some allowed child trafficking victims to remain after they reached 18 years of age; however, the government did not report referring any adults to such facilities during the reporting period. Officials have the authority to permit adult male victims to leave shelters unchaperoned but not adult female victims, allegedly for their safety.

The Ministry of Family, Social Protection, and National Solidarity, in coordination with foreign embassies, assisted in the repatriation of 42 foreign child trafficking victims. Gabonese authorities reported that a lack of cooperation with source-country governments on funding the repatriation of foreign victims identified in Gabon greatly lengthened the repatriation process; foreign trafficking victims remained in Gabonese shelters on average between six months and three years before repatriation. If victim repatriation was not an option, the Ministry of Social Affairs could provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon, but the government did not report any victims utilizing this legal alternative. The government encouraged victims to cooperate with authorities to provide testimony for the prosecution of alleged traffickers. Prosecutors, police, and magistrates routinely took victims’ testimony at the time of the arrest of the suspected traffickers or identification of the victim, an approach that is neither victim-centered, nor considered the most effective. While the government has sought restitution for trafficking victims in the past, it did not report doing so during the reporting period. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, but there were no known cases of such action, in part due to lack of knowledge of the option. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to negligible effort to identify adult trafficking victims, some victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system.

PREVENTION

The government decreased prevention efforts. The inter-ministerial child trafficking committee continued to investigate child trafficking offenses, but insufficient funding severely hampered its efforts. The government drafted a five-year action plan to combat child trafficking in 2016, but the government has not validated it. The plan did not include actions to address adult trafficking. Unlike in previous years, the government did not conduct any awareness-raising campaigns to sensitize the public on the dangers of trafficking. Unlike the previous year, the government collaborated with an international organization to prevent trafficking through the training of border officials. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government, with foreign donor support, provided anti-trafficking training to approximately 450 Gabonese troops prior to their deployment abroad on an international peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. The government investigated 37 Gabonese peacekeepers who allegedly sexually exploited civilians. In addition to receiving military disciplinary action, the government referred suspects in eight cases to the civilian court system for prosecution. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for West and Central African men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and—to a lesser extent—a source country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Boys are forced to work as street vendors, mechanics, or in microbus transportation and the fishing sector. Girls are subjected to domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Gabonese children are exploited as market vendors in eastern provinces of the country. West African women are forced into domestic servitude or prostitution in Gabon. Some foreign adults seek the help of smugglers for voluntary labor migration to Gabon but are subsequently subjected to forced labor or prostitution after arriving via plane or boat with falsified documents. Some victims transit Gabon en route to Equatorial Guinea. Traffickers appear to operate in loose, ethnic-based criminal networks, at times involving female traffickers—some of whom are former trafficking victims—in the recruitment and transportation of victims from their countries of origin. In some cases, families willingly give children to intermediaries who fraudulently promise education or terms of employment they ultimately do not provide, instead subjecting the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Some traffickers procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims to make them appear older than 18 years old to avoid prosecution under the child trafficking law. Some traffickers operate outside the capital to avoid detection by law enforcement.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future