GABON: TIER 2 WATCH LIST
The Government of Gabon does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by identifying and providing care to child trafficking victims, initiating trafficking prosecutions, and conducting awareness-raising campaigns. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not convict any traffickers or enact a proposed amendment to criminalize adult trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, and it decreased funding for victim shelters. The inter-ministerial child trafficking committee, which coordinates national anti-trafficking efforts, remained without sufficient funds to fulfill its mandate. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Gabon was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore, Gabon remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GABON
Increase efforts to complete trafficking prosecutions and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and sex traffickers; use existing penal code articles criminalizing forced labor to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers who exploit adults in forced labor; draft and enact legislation to criminalize all forms of trafficking; expand training for social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and judicial staff to include the identification and investigation of adult trafficking; increase financial or in-kind support to government-run and NGO shelters; increase communication among ministries to facilitate improved case management and data collection; reinvigorate collaboration with foreign governments to investigate transnational trafficking cases and repatriate foreign victims; train social workers and service providers on best practices in the provision of care for trafficking victims; expand the existing inter-ministerial committee's mandate to include adult trafficking, and include efforts to address adult trafficking in the next national action plan; expand awareness-raising campaigns to include information on adult trafficking; and develop a system to track trafficking cases and publicize relevant law enforcement and victim protection statistics, including on trafficking offenses prosecuted under other articles of the penal code.
The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Existing laws do not criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Law 09/04 to Prevent and Combat Child Smuggling criminalizes selling children, subjecting them to debt bondage, and bringing them into the country and unlawfully employing them, and prescribes penalties of a "custodial sentence" and a fine of 10 to 20 million West African CFA francs (FCFA) ($16,084-$32,168). Title 1, article 4 of the Gabonese labor code criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of one to six months imprisonment or a fine of 300,000 to 600,000 FCFA ($483-$965). Neither law appears to provide sufficiently stringent sentences that reflect the serious nature of the offense. Penal code article 261 criminalizes adult and child sex trafficking and prescribes penalties of two to five years imprisonment and a fine. Law 21/63-94 also prohibits forced prostitution of adults and prescribes penalties of two to 10 years imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not pass the 2013 draft amendment to law 09/04 to criminalize the trafficking of adults and explicitly criminalize sex trafficking.
Only the high court is authorized to hear trafficking cases because it is a crime equivalent to murder; however, the high court was backlogged with cases and did not routinely meet, in part because of a shortage of funding. In addition, as a result of a lack of training and widespread corruption, the prosecutorial judges tasked with investigating trafficking cases often did not investigate cases brought to their attention, creating significant obstacles to prosecuting trafficking crimes. The government reported investigating and prosecuting eight individuals for child labor trafficking, a decrease from 16 investigations and 11 prosecutions in the previous reporting period. Judges subsequently dropped all of the investigations and prosecutions initiated during the reporting period. The government did not convict any traffickers for the fourth consecutive year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, there were reports corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. Judges were vulnerable to corruption by alleged traffickers and often failed to advance or dismissed trafficking cases. There were also allegations a Gabonese diplomat posted to the United Kingdom exploited a worker in domestic servitude. During the reporting period, the inter-ministerial committee conducted a two-day training for immigration law enforcement agents on identifying and investigating trafficking cases. Data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts was limited, in part due to poor communication among ministries. In contrast with previous years, the government did not report working with foreign law enforcement on trafficking cases.
The government maintained modest protection efforts. Officials identified at least 15 child labor trafficking victims and referred all 15 to social services, compared with identifying 20 victims and referring 14 to social services in 2015. The government continued to fund and run two shelters, and provided an unknown amount of funding and in-kind support including funding for social workers, medical support, psycho-social services, legal assistance, tuition, and food and furniture vouchers to two NGO-run shelters offering services to orphans and street children vulnerable to trafficking. Nonetheless, NGOs that assisted trafficking victims relied primarily on donations from churches and private companies to finance their services, and some government workers used personal funds to assist victims. There continued to be a lack of shelter space to accommodate all trafficking victims, and for the third consecutive year the government decreased funding to NGOs that provided shelter and services to victims. Male and female victims received the same services, as did foreign and domestic trafficking victims. There were no government or NGO-run shelters specifically designated for adult victims, but some allowed child trafficking victims to remain after they reached 18 years of age. Some shelters could have also provided shelter and services to adults, although it is unclear if law enforcement referred any adults to such facilities during the reporting period. In practice, authorities permitted adult male victims to leave shelters unchaperoned but not adult female victims, reportedly for their safety. Shelter and services were available to repatriated Gabonese victims, but it is unknown if any victims received these services during the reporting period.
The Ministry of Family and Social Development, in coordination with foreign embassies, assisted in the repatriation of four foreign trafficking victims. Authorities reported that a lack of cooperation with source-country governments, including agreement on who should fund the repatriation of foreign trafficking victims from Gabon, greatly lengthened the repatriation process; foreign trafficking victims remained in Gabonese centers on average between six months and three years before repatriation. If victim repatriation was not an option, the Ministry of Social Affairs could provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon, but it is unknown if any victims availed themselves of this legal alternative or had knowledge of this option during the reporting period. The government encouraged victims to cooperate when authorities needed their testimony for the prosecution of alleged traffickers. Prosecutors, police, and magistrates routinely took victims' testimonies at the time of the arrest of the suspected traffickers or identification of the victim, which is not considered the most effective nor a victim-centered approach. While the government has sought restitution for trafficking victims in the past, there were no reports this occurred during the reporting period. Victims can file civil suits against their traffickers, but there were no known cases of such action, in part due to victims' poverty and lack of knowledge of the option. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to the lack of focus on identifying adult trafficking victims, some victims may have remained unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government maintained modest prevention efforts. Through its local vigilance committees in nine provincial capitals, the inter-ministerial child trafficking committee continued to investigate child trafficking offenses and raise awareness of trafficking, but insufficient funding severely hampered its efforts. The government drafted and validated a 2016-2017 action plan to combat child trafficking; however, resource constraints prevented the inter-ministerial committee from implementing most action items within the plan, and the plan did not include actions to address adult trafficking. Local vigilance committees conducted two information campaigns in local languages to inform potential victims about available assistance and warn potential traffickers of the legal penalties for child trafficking. Unlike in previous years, the government did not partner with multilateral organizations and governments of source countries to combat trafficking. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government, with foreign donor support, provided anti-trafficking training to 450 Gabonese troops prior to their deployment abroad on an international peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). The government continued investigating 16 Gabonese peacekeepers formerly deployed to CAR that allegedly sexually exploited civilians during the previous reporting period, including purchasing commercial sex from underage girls exploited in sex trafficking. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for West and Central African men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and to a lesser extent a source country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Boys are forced to work as street vendors, mechanics, or in the fishing sector. Girls are subjected to domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Gabonese children are exploited as market vendors in eastern provinces of the country. West African women are forced into domestic servitude or prostitution in Gabon. Some foreign adults seek the help of smugglers for voluntary labor migration to Gabon but are subsequently subjected to forced labor or prostitution after arriving via plane or boat with falsified documents. Some victims transit Gabon en route to Equatorial Guinea. Traffickers appear to operate in loose, ethnic-based criminal networks, at times involving female traffickers some of whom are former trafficking victims in the recruitment and transportation of victims from their countries of origin. In some cases, families willingly give children to intermediaries who fraudulently promise education or terms of employment they ultimately do not provide, instead subjecting the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Some traffickers procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims to make them appear older than 18 years old to exempt the traffickers from prosecution under the child trafficking law, in case they are discovered. Some traffickers operate outside the capital to avoid detection by law enforcement. There were reports Gabonese officials, including diplomats and peacekeepers, were complicit in trafficking.