Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Gabon
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||14 June 2010|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Gabon, 14 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c1883f32d.html [accessed 23 December 2014]|
GABON (Tier 2 Watch List)
Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children from Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Some victims transit Gabon en route to exploitation in Equatorial Guinea. According to UNICEF, the majority of victims are boys who are forced to work as street hawkers or mechanics. Girls generally are subjected to conditions of involuntary domestic servitude, or forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Stepped-up coastal surveillance over the past year – especially following the October 2009 arrival in Gabonese waters of a sea vessel, the M/S Sharon, carrying 34 child trafficking victims, some of whom were destined for Equatorial Guinea – caused traffickers to change their routes, including utilizing estuaries and rivers to transport children. The majority of victims were young girls, a departure from previous patterns of trafficking in the region. Trafficking offenders 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 parents had turned them over to intermediaries promising employment opportunities in Gabon. The government has no reports of international organized crime syndicates, employment agencies, marriage brokers, or travel services facilitating trafficking in Gabon. In 2009, the government began tracking a new trend of young adults between ages 18 and 25 being 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. Despite these efforts – most notably the arrests of seven suspected traffickers and the expansion of protection services for child victims of trafficking – the government did not show evidence of increasing efforts to address trafficking; therefore, Gabon is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year. Specifically, the government did not, for another consecutive year, provide information on prosecutions or convictions of traffickers, despite its arrest of over 30 suspected offenders between 2003 and 2008.
Recommendations for Gabon: Greatly increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish human trafficking offenders; ratify the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; harmonize the penal code with the ratified protocol, including the enactment of provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; strengthen cooperation between law enforcement, immigration, and gendarmerie to jointly address trafficking cases; and develop a system to track trafficking cases and provide relevant statistics.
The Government of Gabon demonstrated limited progress in anti-human trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Gabon does not prohibit all forms of human trafficking. Law 09/04 enacted in September 2004, is used to protect children against sex or labor trafficking in Gabon, and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years' imprisonment, along with fines of $20,000 to $40,000; these penalties are sufficiently stringent. The procurement of a child for the purpose of prostitution is prohibited under Penal Code Article 261, which prescribes two to five years' imprisonment and a fine, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent. Forced prostitution of adults is prohibited by law 21/63-94, which prescribes two to 10 years' imprisonment, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In the reporting period, the government reported seven arrests for trafficking, but did not provide details of the cases. The government did not report any trafficking prosecutions or convictions during the year. In February 2010, three suspected traffickers were arrested on the border trying to bring 18 young adults from Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea into Gabon. The suspects remain jailed as the investigation continues. As the Criminal Court maintained its calendar providing for only one meeting per year, and for one week, suspected trafficking offenders typically waited in jail for trials, and received credit for time served.
The Government of Gabon showed progress in its efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary protective services during the reporting season. 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. In responding to the M/S Sharon, authorities identified the 34 children aboard the vessel (among 285 others) as trafficking victims and took steps to provide them with assistance. The government coordinated the repatriation of the vessel's victims to their countries of origin with the concerned governments, guided by the Gabonese Procedural Manual for the Treatment of Trafficking Victims.
In direct support of victim protection measures, the government spent approximately $270,000 to support three centers offering foster care to child victims of trafficking, in Libreville and Port Gentil. One of the centers is completely government-funded, while the other two are financed partly by the government through material donations and social worker access. These centers provided shelter, medical care, education, and rehabilitation services, as well as psychosocial services to educate victims on asserting their rights. The government provided temporary de facto resident status for trafficking victims, and refrained from deporting them. The government also began rehabilitation of the government's Agondje Welcome Center and another center in Port Gentil, and it opened child protection centers in Franceville, Moanda and Tchibanga. The government also opened six centers for street children and the Ministry of Interior operated two transit centers for illegal immigrants – an alternative to jail.
During 2009, 34 child trafficking victims were handled in the government- and NGO-run shelters. In cases where adult victims of trafficking were identified, the government ceased sheltering them in jails or prisons. Security forces attempted to identify trafficking victims among high-risk populations they encountered, and sent them to government shelters when appropriate as law enforcement officials ascertained their status. Security forces routinely took testimony at the time of arrest of the trafficker or recovery of the victim, though in many cases victims were repatriated before prosecutors could depose them. In the M/S Sharon case, the government formed a team in partnership with the government of Benin, UNICEF, and an international NGO to trace the families of the child trafficking victims on this vessel and arrange for their safe return to Benin. During the year, the government developed and published a National Procedural Manual for Assisting Trafficking Victims. The Ministry of Family and Social Services trained 30 sets of trainers and over 100 social workers in a six-week curriculum on government procedures for handling victims.
The Gabonese government made modest efforts to prevent human trafficking over the last year. In 2009, as the first step in its effort to improve targeting of its prevention messages, it surveyed 2,500 residents to examine the public's understanding of violence against children, including trafficking. In accordance with the survey findings, an outreach campaign aimed at identifying child victims of violence will begin. In his effort to increase awareness, the country's President raised the topic of trafficking in Council of Ministers meetings. Also in 2009, the government monitored migration patterns for evidence of trafficking to Gabon. The government stepped up its efforts to enhance maritime security through aerial surveillance. An inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Child Trafficking was created by Law 09/04. The inter-ministerial committee published and distributed leaflets and posters entitled "STOP child exploitation" to highlight forms and consequences of trafficking and its hotline number. Heavy government press coverage of anti-trafficking training sponsored by a foreign government helped raise awareness of victim identification and law enforcement responses. The government did not take action during the reporting period to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; however, the commercial sex trade is not a widespread problem in Gabon. Gabon is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.