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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 increasing funding and capacity at one NGO-run shelter providing services to victims, as well as increasing prosecutions and convictions of alleged 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.  The government did not report referring any trafficking victims to services.  It did not report on specific efforts to provide justice for, identify, and protect adult trafficking victims, which have remained inadequate for several reporting periods.  For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not adopt its anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP) and the anti-trafficking commission, though renamed, did not formally meet to coordinate national efforts.  Authorities did not report investigating allegations of judicial corruption related to trafficking crimes.  Therefore Gabon remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

  • Finalize, resource, and implement the NAP and formally convene the 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 trafficking 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-run shelters. 
  • Finalize and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs) for identifying and referring adult trafficking victims to care.  
  • Regularly convene the Special Criminal Session to increase the number of trafficking cases heard. 
  • Implement and consistently enforce strong regulations and oversight of labor recruitment companies, including training labor inspectors to identify and report trafficking crimes and holding fraudulent labor recruiters criminally accountable. 
  • 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. 
  • Implement a systemic victim-witness assistance program to increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process. 
  • Strengthen rules and regulations to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking detection, criminal law enforcement, or victim protections.

The government maintained 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) ($162,920) for trafficking offenses involving adult victims, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million CFA ($162, 920) 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 ($162,920) if such factors were involved.  Finally, the penal code conflated the crimes of migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons.

The government did not investigate any trafficking crimes during the reporting period, compared with 10 investigations in 2021 and zero in 2020.  The government initiated prosecution of 10 alleged traffickers, compared with seven in 2021 and 16 in 2020.  Courts convicted 10 traffickers, compared with six in 2021 and three in 2020.  The government did not report sentencing data.  Only the country’s Special Criminal Session court was authorized to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases.  The court did not have an adequate budget to operate regularly and 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.  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, in partnership with an international organization, provided anti-trafficking training to judicial officials in June 2022.

The government maintained protection efforts.  The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims, compared with seven child trafficking victims identified and referred to care in 2021, and 41 in 2020.  An NGO, however, identified 20 potential child labor trafficking victims and referred them to social services for care.  In addition, the government repatriated 10 trafficking victims and an unknown number of child trafficking victims, compared with 33 repatriated in 2021.  The government continued to use a trafficking procedural manual, developed in coordination with an international organization, that outlined SOPs for identification and referral to care of child trafficking victims.  The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs continued to have a referral process to transfer child trafficking victims to government and NGO-run shelters for assistance.  The government continued to lack robust SOPs for identification and referral to care of adult trafficking victims.

Observers reported limited shelter space 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 education. In partnership with local NGOs, the government increased funding for the Angondje shelter to 150 million CFA ($244,380) and increased its capacity to care for 120 children, up from 80.  The government reported it provided shelter service to 20 children during the reporting period.  NGOs reportedly had inadequate funding to effectively care for 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 crime, including domestic violence, or other forms of maltreatment.  The government reported shelter and protection services returned to normal operations in March 2022 with the lifting of all pandemic restrictions.

Victims were eligible for immigration relief to remain in Gabon if they faced threats to their safety in their country of origin; however, officials did not report any victims utilizing this legal alternative during the reporting period.  The government allowed restitution for trafficking victims; however, the government did not report if victims received any amount of restitution 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 awareness of the option.

The government maintained insufficient prevention efforts.  The government’s anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee has not met since 2019.  After four years of inactivity, the Ministry of Justice renamed the inter-ministerial committee as the National Commission for the Prevention and Fight Against Human Trafficking; it did not conduct any formal meetings but convened informally during the reporting period.  For the fourth 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 had a hotline for abuse victims, in partnership with an international organization, but did not report numbers of calls received and if any led to victim identification and referrals.  The government did not conduct any public awareness raising campaigns.  The government did not have effective laws or policies regulating labor recruiters.  Officials did not disclose funding levels for Gabon’s anti-trafficking programming.  Officials initiated a bilateral agreement with Burkina Faso to cooperate on anti-trafficking efforts; however, it remained incomplete at the close of the reporting period.

The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.  The government did not provide any updates on the 30 open cases of alleged sexual exploitation by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions (with the dates of the incidents as follows: 10 in 2022, 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 anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

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.  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 violence and insecurity in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions.  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 “maquis” – 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 actors operating illicit adoption rings, either through women pretending to be mothers of newborn children and paying off the birth mothers, or through tricking birth mothers into thinking their newborn died in childbirth and then selling 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 identify documents.

U.S. Department of State

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