GABON (Tier 2 Watch List)
Gabon is a destination country for children and young adults trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Children are trafficked primarily by boat to Gabon from Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Guinea, and Mali, with smaller numbers coming from Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon. Girls are primarily trafficked for domestic servitude, forced market vending, forced restaurant labor, and commercial sexual exploitation, while boys are trafficked for forced street hawking and forced labor in small workshops. Children reportedly are also trafficked to Gabon from other African countries for forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Increasingly, young men and women are also trafficked from other African countries, primarily for domestic servitude, though also for sexual exploitation. Most victims arrive by boat and are trafficked to Libreville and Port Gentil, though victims are found in smaller towns as well. Reports also indicate that some indigenous Pygmies are subjected to slavery-like conditions, without effective recourse in the judicial system.
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. Gabon continued its efforts to intercept and assist trafficking victims. Despite these overall efforts, the government did not show progress in convicting trafficking offenders; therefore, Gabon is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Recommendations for Gabon: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; draft and enact legislation prohibiting the trafficking of adults; investigate reports of government complicity in trafficking; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among females in prostitution; end the practice of placing victims in jail, even temporarily; and take steps to combat the forced labor of Pygmies.
The Government of Gabon continued minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year, despite ample resources. Gabon does not prohibit all forms of human trafficking. It prohibits child labor trafficking through its 2004 Law 09/04 Preventing and Combating Child Trafficking, which prescribes penalties of five to 15 years' imprisonment and a $20,000-$40,000 fine. Article 4, Title 1 of Law Number 3/94 criminalizes forced labor prescribing inadequate penalties of one to six months' imprisonment and a possible fine of $700-$1,400. The procurement of a minor 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, though not commensurate with punishments prescribed for rape. Forced prostitution is prohibited by law Number 21/63-94, which prescribes two to 10 years' imprisonment, a penalty that is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for rape. The government reported that, during the year, it arrested at least 12 suspected traffickers and induced 18 to pay the financial cost of repatriating victims. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of traffickers in the last year. Approximately 30 detained suspected traffickers arrested between 2005 and 2008 are slated to go before the next criminal tribunal, which convenes only three times annually. Police and gendarmerie anecdotally reported additional arrests for possible trafficking offenses, but because there is no centralized crime database, these reports could not be corroborated. In November 2008, the national police, the gendarmerie, and customs agents in Libreville collaborated in a joint operation to combat, among other crimes, child exploitation and child trafficking; data on the results of these efforts has yet to be released. Gabon's law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking continued to be crippled by inefficient trial proceedings and lengthy pre-trial detention. Officials report that cases remain stalled because victims, whose testimony is required for trafficking prosecutions, were repatriated to their countries prior to trial. Although there were reports during the year that some government officials employed trafficked foreign children as domestic servants and that police and immigration officers facilitated trafficking, the government failed to investigate these allegations. During the year, the government contributed meeting sites and prepared presentations for a trafficking training for law enforcement officials funded by a foreign donor.
The Government of Gabon continued to protect some trafficking victims in the last year. Gabon operates three reception centers for destitute children, including trafficking victims – two in Libreville and one in Port Gentil – which provide shelter, medical care, and rehabilitation and reintegration services. The center in Libreville has a 24-hour nurse on staff, contracts a doctor, and provides psychosocial services. This is fully funded by the government, while the other two are financed jointly by the government and private donors. Child victims resided in these centers until arrangements were made for their repatriation, which the government required be funded by the victims' employers or guardians. Staff at the centers worked with foreign diplomatic missions to repatriate victims. Some victims were also placed in temporary foster care. When security forces found trafficking victims, they placed those under 16 years of age in government-operated shelters or temporary foster care, while older victims were referred to a Catholic NGO. Pursuant to an arrangement between Gabon and Nigeria security officials referred Nigerian victims to the Nigerian Embassy in Libreville. The government reported assisting 92 child and 10 adult trafficking victims within the last year. Forty-two victims were repatriated with some assistance from UNICEF; four were placed in foster families in Gabon; and 10 were offered apprenticeships or internships and aid in finding lodging. Six child victims from Niger rescued in a March 2009 raid remain in a government shelter. Statistics on the remaining 40 victims is unavailable. Because security forces did not employ procedures to identify trafficking victims among individuals in prostitution, sex trafficking victims may have been inappropriately incarcerated or fined for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The rights of labor trafficking victims are generally respected; on occasion they have been housed in jails overnight, in separate quarters from criminal detainees and not confined to cells. Gabon continued to operate its toll-free victim hotline in collaboration with UNICEF. The call center received an average of one to three calls daily and handled a total of 24 trafficking cases in the last year. The government covered the hotline's expenses, staffed it with government personnel, and housed it in a government-owned building. While in prior years, law enforcement officials did not interview victims for evidence at trial, authorities now solicited victims' testimony. The Justice Ministry reported that it collaborated with other government ministries to ensure that victims could remain in Gabon until the prosecution could make its case. The government provides a limited legal alternative – de facto temporary residency status – to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution, and does not deport trafficked children. During the year, Gabonese authorities identified and paid for the training of 45 new social workers in a UNICEF course covering victim rescue, care, and repatriation.
The Government of Gabon demonstrated modest efforts to raise awareness of trafficking during the last year. The government launched trafficking awareness-raising campaigns targeting communities in cities, towns and villages outside the capital. The campaigns, which consisted of community meetings, took place in five of the country's nine provinces. In collaboration with UNICEF, UNESCO, and a private corporation, the Gabonese government broadcast radio programs in one of the country's more remote areas to raise awareness in all sectors of the population, including law enforcement, on trafficking in persons and related issues such as sexual exploitation and child labor. The government's initial contribution to this ongoing effort was $ 40,000. With UNICEF assistance, Gabonese officials worked with their Beninese counterparts to develop a bilateral accord to cooperate in the repatriation of trafficking victims, though the agreement has not yet been finalized. In 2008, Gabon's Inter-ministerial Committee to Combat Child Trafficking collaborated with NGOs and international organizations to develop an anti-trafficking strategy. The committee was unable to implement the strategy, however, because of resource constraints and lack of coordination. The Committee, established in 2004, continues to lack offices and a clearly defined budget. The government did not take steps to reduce demand for commercial sex acts during the year. Gabon has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.