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 domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Traffickers appear to operate in loose, ethnic-based crime networks. Most child traffickers are women, who serve as intermediaries in the victims' countries of origin. In some cases, child victims report that their families turned them over to intermediaries promising employment opportunities in Gabon. There is evidence that some traffickers have moved their operations to Lambarene to avoid detection in Libreville. Reports indicate the involvement of Nigerian syndicates in bringing trafficking victims to Gabon. West African women are forced into domestic service 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 maintained strong prosecution efforts during the year through the initiation of prosecutions of eight alleged trafficking offenders – several of whom remain in prison awaiting trial – and presidential approval of a Ministry of Justice request to hold and fund a special session of the High Court to prosecute pending trafficking cases. The government made strong efforts to protect victims during the year, working with several governments in the region to repatriate 10 foreign victims of trafficking, following their stay in shelters operated by the government or in government-supported NGO shelters. The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) actively and effectively oversaw the efforts of vigilance committees – present in seven provincial capitals – that coordinated between departments on victim care and case follow-up. It also finalized the 2012 National Action Plan. Nonetheless, the government failed to convict any trafficking offenders in 2011.
Recommendations for Gabon: Increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders by convening the High Court; draft and enact provisions prohibiting the trafficking of adults; continue to strengthen cooperation between police, immigration, and gendarmerie to address trafficking cases jointly; and develop a system to track trafficking cases and provide relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics.
The Government of Gabon maintained strong law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of human trafficking, including bonded labor. 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 the equivalent 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 the procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution and prescribes a sufficiently stringent penalty of two to five years' imprisonment. 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. Penal code Article 48 prohibits the use of children in illegal activities, prescribing penalties of five to 10 years' imprisonment. Title 1, Article 4 of the Gabonese labor code (Law 3/94) criminalizes all forms of forced labor, prescribing penalties of one to six months' imprisonment, which are not sufficiently stringent. During the year, the government revised Law 3/94 to list specifically both acceptable and prohibited forms of work for those younger than 16 years of age. The government made minimal efforts to harmonize its legislation with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, to which it acceded in 2010.
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, due to funding issues, does not routinely meet, presenting a significant obstacle to prosecutions of trafficking crimes. In May 2011, the President approved a request, submitted by the Ministry of Justice, to hold and fund a special session of the High Court to hear pending trafficking cases; however, no special session was held during the year.
Despite the arrest of over 76 suspected trafficking offenders between 2003 and 2011 – including eight during the reporting period – there have been no convictions under the 2004 child trafficking act. The prosecution of 38 alleged trafficking offenders under Law 09/04 – as a result of the government's December 2010 "Operation Bana," in cooperation with INTERPOL – remained pending with all offenders in pre-trial detention. The Gabonese government continued work with UNICEF, INTERPOL, and West African governments to verify documents and the identities of trafficking victims and suspected offenders in the "Operation Bana" cases, involving the rescue of 20 child labor trafficking victims and the arrest of their 38 suspected traffickers in the previous reporting period. Following the establishment of a vigilance committee in Mouila (Ngounie Province), authorities arrested and charged several suspected traffickers; tips received in several cases were a direct result of awareness campaigns. Police charged a Malian man with child trafficking, committing a sex crime against a minor, and falsification of a passport for the forced marriage of a 13-year-old Malian girl who came to Gabon for domestic work but instead was forced to marry him and prevented from leaving his home. Authorities also charged the imam who presided over the marriage ceremony and the intermediary who met the child at the airport upon arrival with child trafficking, committing a sex crime against a minor, and document fraud; the two offenders remain in jail awaiting trial, while the imam was released on bail. In another forced marriage case in February 2011, a Malian man was charged with trafficking for forcing his 14-year-old wife to work in a nail salon and enter prostitution; the suspect was released on bail, pending trial. In January 2012, authorities in Mouila charged a Beninese woman with use of false documents and mistreatment of minors for the forced labor of six children; in this case, authorities also charged the former assistant mayor of Mouila with falsifying birth certificates. The government partnered with UNICEF to provide training to 36 police officers, 45 social workers, and nine labor inspectors on anti-trafficking law enforcement and protection mechanisms in Gabon.
The Government of Gabon sustained strong efforts to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary protective services during the reporting period. It provided the equivalent of 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 financial and in-kind donations, as well as the provision of service support, including social workers. Government officials identified nine victims during the year; a total of 10 victims received care at these government-funded shelters. The government could shelter trafficked adults in government- and NGO-run transit centers, though it did not identify any adult victims during the reporting period. Working with officials in the countries of origin, the government coordinated the repatriation of one male and nine female child trafficking victims; one victim, rescued in December 2010 in "Operation Bana," remained in a government-supported NGO shelter for seven months before repatriation. The Ministry of Labor contracted a local NGO to accompany and assist victims during repatriation. If victim repatriation was not an option, the Ministry of Social Affairs would provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon; no victims availed themselves of this legal alternative when offered during the reporting period.
Government personnel employed procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant children, and systematically referred them to government or NGO shelters. In 2011, the IMC trained social workers on the National Procedural Manual for Assisting Trafficking Victims, which outlines standard procedures for the identification and removal of children in trafficking situations, as well as their subsequent care and repatriation. Security forces routinely took testimony at the time of arrest of the trafficking offender or recovery of the victim and prosecutors, with social workers present, had access to the children at shelters for follow-up interviews. The government routinely sought costs of repatriation for the victim from the offender and source country governments but absorbed the costs when these avenues of assistance were unavailable; in June 2011, a prosecutor in Port Gentil secured payment from two alleged trafficking offenders for tickets to repatriate a victim to Benin.
The Gabonese government maintained strong efforts to prevent human trafficking over the last year. Created by Law 09/04 and under the leadership of the Minister of Labor, the IMC remained actively engaged and served as an effective coordinating body for the government's anti-trafficking efforts during the year. In December 2011, the IMC, vigilance committees, and NGOs met to report their activities in 2011 and finalize the 2012 National Action Plan. Vigilance committees in seven regional capitals – including those in Mouila and Tchibanga launched during the reporting period – brought together local government, law enforcement, and civil society actors to raise awareness, facilitate reporting of trafficking cases, and refer victims to care; the IMC provided anti-trafficking training for these two new committees. The government continued its "Be Vigilant" billboard campaign to target those who might exploit trafficking victims, as well as its "door-to-door" public awareness campaigns in Libreville, in cooperation with UNICEF. During "Operation Bana" authorities discovered that traffickers used fraudulent documents to alter the ages of children; as a result, in September 2011, the Ministry of Health initiated a census to determine the number of children living in Gabon without legal birth certificates.