The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government used a Trafficking in Persons Procedural Manual, developed in coordination with an international organization that defined standard procedures for the identification, extraction from exploitive situations, short-term care, and repatriation of child victims. Experts described the referral process as appropriate for children, although the government did not have standard procedures for identifying adult victims. The government reported identifying and referring to care 41 child victims of forced labor (37 girls and four boys) during the reporting period. Officials reported identifying 30 child trafficking victims and one adult victim 2019.
The government contributed inadequate funding to NGOs providing shelter and services to victims, and a lack of shelter space to accommodate trafficking victims persisted. During the reporting period, observers stated shelters were operating over capacity. The dearth of shelter space resulted in some law enforcement officers declining to pursue trafficking cases due to their belief they would not be able to place victims in suitable facilities, according to experts. The government continued to fund two NGO-run shelters offering holistic services to child trafficking victims, orphans, and homeless children, providing financial and in-kind support, including funding for social workers, medical support, psychological services, legal assistance, and tuition. Authorities suspended repatriations in 2020 due to the pandemic, resulting in some children staying in shelters longer, which exacerbated longstanding overcrowding issues.
Some shelter and law enforcement personnel used their own money to fill gaps in government funding 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 NGOrun shelters specifically designated for adult victims, although adult victims could potentially access government services for victims of domestic abuse or other forms of maltreatment. The government did not report any adult victims using these services during the reporting period. Shelters provided services to adults of other forms of abuse 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 had the authority to permit adult male victims to leave shelters unchaperoned, but not adult female victims, based on concerns related to safety and a risk of re-trafficking.
Officials did not disclose how many victims the government repatriated during the reporting period, although authorities suspended the return process in 2020 as one measure to slow the pandemic’s spread. The Ministry of National Solidarity coordinated with foreign embassies to repatriate 12 child victims in 2019. The government could provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon if the victim faced threats to their safety in their country of origin, but officials did not report any victims utilizing this legal alternative during the reporting period.
While the government encouraged victims to cooperate with authorities to provide testimony for the prosecution of alleged traffickers, law enforcement officers admitted they sometimes took victims’ testimony at the time of the arrest of the suspected traffickers or identification of the victim, acknowledging this approach was neither victim-centered, nor the most effective. Some police officers in Libreville reported they had modified their approach to interviewing victims, causing them to delay questioning until the victim was prepared to cooperate, after receiving training in prior years from the government and an international organization.
While the government had sought restitution for trafficking victims in the past, it did not report doing so during this 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 authorities detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to nascent efforts to identify adult trafficking victims, some may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.