2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Gabon
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||27 June 2011|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Gabon, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee7c2d.html [accessed 2 August 2015]|
Gabon (Tier 2)
Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women from Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some victims transit Gabon en route to Equatorial Guinea. The majority of victims are boys forced to work as street hawkers or mechanics. Girls are subjected to conditions of domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Increased coastal surveillance, especially following the October 2009 arrival of the M/S Sharon carrying 34 child trafficking victims, reportedly caused traffickers to change their routes to estuaries and rivers when transporting children. The majority of victims aboard the M/S Sharon were young girls, a departure from previous patterns of trafficking in the region. Traffickers appear to operate in loose ethnic-based crime networks. Most child traffickers are women, who serve as intermediaries in their countries of origin. In some cases, child victims report that their families had turned them over to intermediaries promising employment opportunities in Gabon. There is also evidence that some traffickers have moved their operations to Lambarene to avoid detection in Libreville, as well as of the involvement of Nigerian syndicates in bringing trafficking victims into Gabon. West Africans between the ages of 18 and 25 are forced into domestic servitude or prostitution in Gabon.
The Government of Gabon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government showed a marked improvement in its anti-trafficking performance, particularly by investigating trafficking in Libreville and Port Gentil, rescuing and protecting an unprecedented number of victims during the reporting period, and initiating the prosecutions of several cases. Nonetheless, it produced no convictions during in 2010. The government continued to provide care to child trafficking victims through government-funded and government-run shelters. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Inter-Ministerial Committee also sent delegations to source countries and worked with foreign embassies in Libreville to address victims' needs and raise awareness.
Recommendations for Gabon: Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders by allocating resources to convene the High Court; enact provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; continue to strengthen cooperation between law enforcement, immigration, and gendarmerie to jointly address trafficking cases; and develop a system to track trafficking cases and provide relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics.
The Government of Gabon demonstrated clear improvement in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of human trafficking. Law 09/04, "Concerning the Prevention and the Fight Against the Trafficking of Children in the Gabonese Republic," enacted in September 2004, prohibits child trafficking for both labor and sexual exploitation and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years' imprisonment, along with fines of $20,000 to $40,000; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Penal Code Article 261 prohibits procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribes two to five years' imprisonment and a fine, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent. Law 21/63-94 prohibits forced prostitution of adults and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties of two to 10 years' imprisonment, which are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Title 1, Article 4 of the Gabonese labor code (Law Number 3/94) criminalizes all forms of forced labor, prescribing penalties of one to six months' imprisonment, with possible fines of $700 to $1400, which are not sufficiently stringent. The High Court is required to hear trafficking cases since they are a crime equivalent to murder; however, the High Court is backlogged with cases filed from as early as 2001 and has not met in three years, presenting a significant obstacle to prosecutions of trafficking crimes. During the reporting period, several ministries put forth a proposal to the Council of Ministers to change the court venue for the hearing of trafficking cases to a lower court; internal discussion continues on this and other approaches to address this obstacle.
Despite the arrest of over 68 suspected trafficking offenders between 2003 and 2010, there have been no convictions under the 2004 child trafficking act, though the government investigated trafficking offenders for potential prosecution under this law in December 2010. The government requested INTERPOL assistance in a joint operation, dubbed "Operation Bana," that resulted in the identification and rescue of 20 child labor trafficking victims from markets and the arrest of 38 alleged trafficking offenders. The three magistrates and three investigative prosecutors overseeing the operation began preparing 17 cases, involving 20 victims, for trial under Laws 09/04, while the suspected trafficking offenders remain in jail. Families of victims who were found not to be sending their children to school are facing fines. During Operation Bana, the Gabonese government worked with UNICEF, as well as government ministries and security services in the countries of origin, to verify documents and the identities of trafficking victims and suspected offenders. In advance of the operation, Gabon's police chief, in cooperation with INTERPOL, led three days of training for 133 law enforcement, social service and judicial officials, magistrates, and NGOs. The government co-hosted with a foreign government, as well as provided the venue and food, for a training on trafficking victim identification and care for 160 police, gendarmerie, immigration, and other government officials in March 2010.
The Government of Gabon improved on past efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary protective services during the reporting period. It provided approximately $270,000 to support four centers offering shelter, medical care, education, and psychosocial services to orphans and vulnerable children, including child trafficking victims, in Libreville and Port Gentil. One center is completely government-funded, while the other three are financed partly by the government through in-kind donations and financial and service support, including social workers. Following Operation Bana, the government specifically assigned social workers to the two Libreville-based NGO shelters to care for the rescued children; the government shelter had a social worker on staff. During the operation, authorities recovered 142 children; 24 were released to their families and the remaining 118 were placed in the three shelters in Libreville. Authorities identified 20 of these children as trafficking victims and continued to provide them with assistance. Following the operation, however, government social workers expressed concern that some of the children released to parents appeared back in the markets. An NGO in Port Gentil provided assistance to 12 victims with the support of government social services personnel; thus, during the reporting period, a total of 130 suspected child trafficking victims were accommodated in the government- and NGO-run shelters. Working with officials in the countries of origin, the government coordinated the repatriation of 16 victims. During the reporting period, the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) distributed the government's National Procedural Manual for Assisting Trafficking Victims to all relevant ministries, vigilance committees, NGOs, and foreign embassies. The IMC provided specialized training on the manual for social workers. The government could shelter adult victims in transit centers, though none were identified during the reporting period.
Government personnel employed procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant children, and referred them systematically to government or NGO shelters. Security forces routinely took testimony at the time of arrest of the trafficker or recovery of the victim and prosecutors, with social workers present, had access to the children at shelters for follow up questions. The government reported it could provide temporary residency for trafficking victims; if repatriation or resettlement is not an option, the Ministry of Social Affairs could normalize victims' immigration status and places them in a community in Gabon; such provisions were not provided during the reporting period, as victims were repatriated or remained in shelters as their cases were under investigation.
Following Operation Bana, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called together the ambassadors of the source countries of the suspected victims to share information, invite them to visit the children, and play a role in their repatriation. In December 2010, six members of Gabon's Inter-Ministerial Committee traveled to Mali, Benin, and Togo to meet with the foreign and social affairs ministries, as well as judicial officials, to share information on anti-trafficking efforts and begin finalizing formal bilateral partnerships on victim repatriation. Benin and Gabon already have in place bilateral procedures to facilitate the repatriation of victims.
The Gabonese government made strong efforts to prevent human trafficking over the last year. The IMC, created by Law 09/04 and under the direction of the Ministry of Labor, conducted a "door-to-door" public awareness campaign in Libreville, in cooperation with UNICEF. In Lambarene, the committee coordinated an awareness campaign that targeted market women and ordinary citizens who might employ child domestics, and in November 2010, stood up a local vigilance committee. Vigilance committees in five regional capitals, four of which were launched during the reporting period in an effort to implement the National Action Plan, focused on combating trafficking in persons and child labor. In December, the government launched a billboard campaign "Be Vigilant" to target those who might exploit trafficking victims. During Operation Bana, magistrates manned telephone lines to guide in the rescue. The Ministry of Labor trained 72 labor inspectors on monitoring informal sector labor, including in markets, car repair shops, workshops, and homes, to look for evidence of child labor and trafficking. The government formed an anti-sex trafficking task force to prepare for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament, which will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. In September 2010, Gabon ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.