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Gabon (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Gabon does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included investigating more trafficking crimes and convicting more traffickers. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. For the third consecutive year, the government did not adopt its anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP) and continued to lack a functioning national inter-ministerial commission to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. The government identified fewer potential trafficking victims and efforts to provide justice for, identify, and protect adult trafficking victims remained inadequate. The government did not amend its law to ensure penalties for adult sex trafficking where commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes. Further, authorities did not report investigating allegations of judicial corruption related to trafficking crimes. Therefore Gabon was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

  • Finalize, resource, and implement the NAP and create a national inter-ministerial anti-trafficking commission to coordinate government efforts.
  • Increase efforts to proactively identify adult and child victims of trafficking, including among key sectors such as domestic service, markets, and individuals in commercial sex, and refer victims to care.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including complicit officials, and adequately sentence convicted traffickers.
  • Amend the penal code to define trafficking in line with the international definition and ensure penalties for adult sex trafficking are commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes, such as rape.
  • Provide training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges on the penal code and victim-centered, trauma-informed investigations.
  • Increase financial or in-kind support to government and NGO shelters.
  • Develop and implement standard operating procedures for identifying and referring adult trafficking victims to care.
  • Regularly convene the Special Criminal Session to increase the number of trafficking cases heard.
  • Develop and institute a course on victim-centered trafficking investigations in Gabon’s National Magistrate School to increase judicial officials’ ability to prosecute trafficking cases.
  • Conduct a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of trafficking in markets and domestic service.
  • Develop an information management system to capture nationwide investigation and victim identification data in partnership with international organizations.

The government made mixed law enforcement efforts. Articles 225 to 225-7 of the 2020 revised penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million Central African francs (CFA) ($172,940) for trafficking crimes involving adult victims, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million CFA ($172,940) for those involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but with respect to adult sex trafficking, not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the penal code established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; penalties were increased to up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million CFA ($172,940) if such factors were involved. Finally, the penal code conflated the crimes of migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons.

A lack of high-level coordination between ministries exacerbated the government’s limited capacity to collect and manage anti-trafficking law enforcement data. The government reported initiating 10 investigations, compared with zero investigations in 2020 and three in 2019. The government initiated prosecution of seven alleged traffickers, compared with 16 alleged traffickers in 2020. Courts convicted six traffickers, compared with three in 2020 and one in 2019; while all but one of the convicted traffickers received partially suspended sentences, all received a sentence of at least one year imprisonment even accounting for the period of suspension. The more lenient sentences weakened deterrence and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. Only the country’s Special Criminal Session court was authorized to hear trafficking cases. The court only met once during the reporting period, as the planned second session was postponed because of lack of funding.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Due to alleged corruption and a lack of training, prosecutorial judges tasked with investigating trafficking cases did not always investigate cases brought to their attention. Experts alleged some traffickers bribed judges to actively delay or dismiss trafficking cases, while the government stated delays were the result of insufficient knowledge of trafficking laws. The government reported pandemic restrictions hindered law enforcement operations and courts operated at reduced capacity. The government did not have a victim-centered approach to investigations. Officials did not report providing any anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials during the reporting period.

The government made negligible efforts to identify and protect victims. The government reported identifying and referring to care seven potential child trafficking victims, compared with 41 child trafficking victims identified and referred to care during the previous reporting period. The government used a Trafficking in Persons Procedural Manual, developed in coordination with an international organization, that defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) for child trafficking victim identification and referral to care. Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs had a referral process to transfer child trafficking victims to government and NGO-run shelters for assistance. While the government referred children to care, NGOs had inadequate funding to effectively care for these victims. The government did not have SOPs for the identification and referral to care for adult trafficking victims.

The government did not report whether it contributed any funding to NGOs providing shelter and services to victims; a lack of shelter space to accommodate trafficking victims persisted. Observers reported limited shelter space may have hindered support for some law enforcement investigations due to concerns victims would not have access to long-term shelter. The government continued to fund two NGO-run shelters offering holistic services to child trafficking victims, orphans, and children experiencing homelessness, providing financial and in-kind support, including funding for social workers, medical support, psychological services, legal assistance, and tuition. In partnership with local NGOs, the government funded a shelter with the capacity to care for 80 children. 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 national, and Gabonese victims, including those repatriated from abroad. There were no government- or NGO-run shelters specifically designated for adult trafficking victims, although adult victims could potentially access government services for victims of domestic abuse or other forms of maltreatment. The pandemic reduced staff capacity to operate the shelters. Officials permitted adult male victims to leave shelters unchaperoned, but not adult female victims, based on concerns related to safety and a risk of re-trafficking.

The Gabonese government, foreign governments, and local NGOs reported repatriating 33 trafficking victims during the reporting period. Victims were eligible for immigration relief to remain in Gabon if they faced threats to their safety in their country of origin; officials did not report any victims utilizing this legal alternative during the reporting period. While the government previously sought restitution for trafficking victims, 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. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures for adults, authorities may have detained some unidentified trafficking victims.

The government maintained insufficient prevention efforts. The government’s anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee has not met since 2019. For the third consecutive year, the government did not finalize the pending NAP, which among other things, would designate the Ministry of Justice as the lead agency to coordinate the inter-ministerial committee. The government did not conduct any public awareness raising campaigns during the reporting period. Officials did not disclose funding levels for Gabon’s anti-trafficking programming. Pandemic-related constraints on convening in person, state budgetary impacts resulting from decreasing oil revenue, and multiple ministerial reshuffles in 2020 contributed to a lack of high-level coordination, which hindered the government’s ability to support law enforcement officers, social welfare officials, and civil society representatives.

The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were 20 open cases of alleged sexual exploitation by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions (with the dates of the incidents as follows: seven in 2021, nine in 2020, three in 2019, and one in 2018. All of these allegations concerned Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), leading the Secretary-General to repatriate the entire Gabonese contingent in MINUSCA in September 2021. Investigations remained open and the government had not yet reported accountability measures taken, if any, at the end of the reporting period. The government did not provide training specifically on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel, although it does explicitly require diplomats to adhere to the local laws of their assigned countries.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Gabon, and traffickers exploit victims from Gabon abroad. Gabon is a primary destination and transit country for West and Central African men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Intended to slow the spread of the pandemic, travel restrictions, lockdowns, and school closures likely increased the vulnerability of Gabonese children, informal sector workers, and immigrants to exploitation. Poverty continues to represent a key risk factor in forced labor and sex trafficking in the country.

Traffickers exploit girls in forced labor in domestic service, markets, or roadside restaurants; force boys to work as street vendors, mechanics, microbus transportation assistants, and laborers in the fishing sector; and coerce West African women into domestic servitude or commercial sex within Gabon. Criminals may exploit children in illegal gold mines and in wildlife trafficking in the country’s interior. NGOs reported Cameroonian and Gabonese labor recruiters associated with large agricultural firms exploit English-speaking Cameroonians displaced by the Anglophone crisis. The recruiters force some Cameroonians to labor on rubber and palm oil plantations around Bitam in northern Gabon. West African traffickers reportedly exploit children from their countries of origin to work in Libreville markets, such as N’Kembo, Mont Bouët, and PK7, as well as in other urban centers, including Port-Gentil. In Gabon’s eastern provinces, shopkeepers force or coerce Gabonese children to work in markets. In some cases, smugglers who assist foreign adults migrating to Gabon—or through the country to Equatorial Guinea—subject those economic migrants to forced labor or commercial sex after they enter the country via plane or boat with falsified documents. In some cases, families willingly give children to intermediaries who fraudulently promise education or employment and instead subject the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Roadside bars—or “Macquis”—are a common sector where traffickers sexually exploit women, and the Libreville neighborhood of Lalala is an area where some brothel owners reportedly exploit children in child sex trafficking. NGOs reported illicit actors operate “baby factories,” which recruiters work with enforcers to control women through childbirth; traffickers then sell the children. Some criminals procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims identifying them as older than 18 years of age to avoid prosecution under the child trafficking law. Traffickers often operate outside the capital to avoid detection by law enforcement and take advantage of Gabon’s porous borders and unguarded beaches to import victims by car or boat, often using falsified identity documents.

U.S. Department of State

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