2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gabon

GABON: Tier 2

The Government of Gabon does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Gabon remained on Tier 2. These efforts included courts convicting more traffickers and officials identifying more child victims of trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected trafficking crimes. For the second consecutive year, the government failed to adopt the country’s anti-trafficking national action plan, which would have created a national inter-ministerial commission to address longstanding coordination challenges. Officials did not report identifying any adult victims or initiating law enforcement action targeting the trafficking of adults. Further, authorities did not report investigating allegations of judicial corruption related to trafficking crimes.


Finalize, resource, and implement the National Action Plan and create an inter-ministerial national anti-trafficking commission. • Investigate credible reports of government corruption related to trafficking and prosecute complicit officials. • Amend the penal code to define trafficking in line with the international definition and to ensure the penalties for adult sex trafficking are commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes, such as a rape. • Vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers and convict perpetrators if found guilty following independent and fair trials. • Increase financial or in-kind support—including donated land where feasible—to government and NGO shelters. • Develop and implement standard operating procedures for identifying and referring adult victims to care. • Increase efforts to identify adult and child victims of trafficking proactively, focusing on key sectors to include domestic servitude, markets, and individuals in commercial sex. • Regularly convene the Special Criminal Session in order to increase the number of trafficking cases heard. • Develop and institute a course on victim-centered trafficking investigations in Gabon’s National Magistrate School to increase judicial officials’ ability to prosecute trafficking cases while preventing the re-traumatization of victims. • Conduct a nationwide sensitization campaign to raise awareness of trafficking in markets and domestic servitude. • Expand training for social workers, law enforcement officers, labor inspectors, and judicial staff on the penal code to promote effective investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers found guilty following an independent and fair trial. • Develop an information management system to capture nationwide investigation and victim identification data in partnership with international organizations.


The government marginally increased law enforcement efforts. Articles 225 to 225-7 of the 2020 revised penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million Central African francs (CFA) ($188,940) for trafficking offenses involving adult victims, and up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million CFA ($188,940) for those involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but with respect to adult sex trafficking, not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the penal code established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; penalties were increased to up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million CFA if such factors were involved. Finally, the penal code conflated the crimes of human smuggling and trafficking in persons.

A lack of high-level coordination between ministries exacerbated the government’s limited capacity to collect and manage anti-trafficking law enforcement data. The government did not report the number of new investigations in 2020, compared to initiating three investigations in 2019. Officials reported investigating 16 suspected traffickers and referring their cases for prosecution in 2020, compared with prosecuting 20 suspects in 2019 under the penal code’s trafficking articles. At the close of the reporting period, the suspects remained incarcerated and awaiting the country’s next Special Criminal Session, for which the government had not announced a date. Only the country’s Special Criminal Session court was authorized to hear trafficking cases because it is a crime equivalent to murder in the Gabonese legal system. Authorities reported convicting three traffickers for coercing children into forced labor during the Special Criminal Session held in October 2020, although judicial officials did not report sentencing details. The government reported convicting one trafficker in 2019. Additionally, the chief of the vice squad stated police continued to investigate three cases of forced labor opened in 2019 under the penal code’s trafficking articles. Further, pandemic-related movement restrictions hindered efforts by law enforcement to investigate potential trafficking crimes and limitations on in-person meetings impeded judicial proceedings during the reporting period; the government postponed a Special Criminal Session scheduled for April 2020 to October due to pandemic restrictions.

Due to corruption and a lack of training, prosecutorial judges tasked with investigating trafficking cases did not always investigate cases brought to their attention, which prevented the prosecution of some trafficking cases. Experts alleged some traffickers bribed judges to actively delay or dismiss trafficking cases, while the government stated delays were the result of insufficient knowledge of trafficking laws. Although corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, the government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting complicit government employees. In November, officials collaborated with an international organization to provide training for 22 government officials on human trafficking and transnational crime.


The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government used a Trafficking in Persons Procedural Manual, developed in coordination with an international organization that defined standard procedures for the identification, extraction from exploitive situations, short-term care, and repatriation of child victims. Experts described the referral process as appropriate for children, although the government did not have standard procedures for identifying adult victims. The government reported identifying and referring to care 41 child victims of forced labor (37 girls and four boys) during the reporting period. Officials reported identifying 30 child trafficking victims and one adult victim 2019.

The government contributed inadequate funding to NGOs providing shelter and services to victims, and a lack of shelter space to accommodate trafficking victims persisted. During the reporting period, observers stated shelters were operating over capacity. The dearth of shelter space resulted in some law enforcement officers declining to pursue trafficking cases due to their belief they would not be able to place victims in suitable facilities, according to experts. The government continued to fund two NGO-run shelters offering holistic services to child trafficking victims, orphans, and homeless children, providing financial and in-kind support, including funding for social workers, medical support, psychological services, legal assistance, and tuition. Authorities suspended repatriations in 2020 due to the pandemic, resulting in some children staying in shelters longer, which exacerbated longstanding overcrowding issues.

Some shelter and law enforcement personnel used their own money to fill gaps in government funding to assist victims. The same services were available for male, female, foreign, and Gabonese victims, including those repatriated from abroad. There were no government or NGOrun shelters specifically designated for adult victims, although adult victims could potentially access government services for victims of domestic abuse or other forms of maltreatment. The government did not report any adult victims using these services during the reporting period. Shelters provided services to adults of other forms of abuse and some allowed child trafficking victims to remain after they reached 18 years of age; however, the government did not report referring any adults to such facilities during the reporting period. Officials had the authority to permit adult male victims to leave shelters unchaperoned, but not adult female victims, based on concerns related to safety and a risk of re-trafficking.

Officials did not disclose how many victims the government repatriated during the reporting period, although authorities suspended the return process in 2020 as one measure to slow the pandemic’s spread. The Ministry of National Solidarity coordinated with foreign embassies to repatriate 12 child victims in 2019. The government could provide a victim with immigration relief and resettle them in Gabon if the victim faced threats to their safety in their country of origin, but officials did not report any victims utilizing this legal alternative during the reporting period.

While the government encouraged victims to cooperate with authorities to provide testimony for the prosecution of alleged traffickers, law enforcement officers admitted they sometimes took victims’ testimony at the time of the arrest of the suspected traffickers or identification of the victim, acknowledging this approach was neither victim-centered, nor the most effective. Some police officers in Libreville reported they had modified their approach to interviewing victims, causing them to delay questioning until the victim was prepared to cooperate, after receiving training in prior years from the government and an international organization.

While the government had sought restitution for trafficking victims in the past, it did not report doing so during this reporting period. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, but there were no known cases of such action, in part due to lack of knowledge of the option. There were no reports authorities detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to nascent efforts to identify adult trafficking victims, some may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.


The government decreased prevention efforts. For the second consecutive year, the president did not sign the country’s anti-trafficking national action plan into law, which would create a national commission to combat trafficking. In June, the government organized a training and awareness campaign to improve victim care, reaching 626 law enforcement officers, compared with 861 individuals in 2019. Officials did not disclose funding levels for Gabon’s antitrafficking programming. Pandemic-related constraints on convening in person, state budgetary impacts resulting from decreasing oil revenue, and multiple ministerial reshuffles in 2020 contributed to a lack of high-level coordination, which hindered the government’s ability to support law enforcement officers, social welfare officials, and civil society representatives.

The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Officials – with foreign donor support – continued to provide anti-trafficking training to approximately 450 Gabonese troops prior to their deployment on an international peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, an international organization reported receiving eight allegations within the reporting period of sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions (with the dates of the incidents as follows: two in 2020, one in 2016, four in 2015, and one in 2014). Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were also seven open allegations of sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions from previous rating periods, including one reported in 2020 (from 2014), three in 2019 (one from 2015 and two from 2019), one in 2018 (from 2018), and two in 2016 (from 2013 and 2014). These cases remained ongoing during the reporting period. The Minister of Defense and the Minister of Justice stated that investigations of the allegations continued and authorities were following the Gabonese judicial process. The government did not provide training specifically on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel, although it does explicitly require diplomats to adhere to the local laws of their assigned countries.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Gabon, and traffickers exploit victims from Gabon abroad. Intended to slow the spread of the pandemic, the government’s lockdown, in effect from March 2020 to the end of the rating period on much of the economy – as well as schools and travel – likely increased the vulnerability of Gabonese children, informal sector workers, and immigrants to exploitation. Poverty continues to represent a key risk factor in forced labor and sex trafficking in the country.

Traffickers exploit girls in forced labor in domestic service, markets, or roadside restaurants; force boys to work as street vendors, mechanics, microbus transportation assistants, and laborers in the fishing sector; and coerce West African women into domestic servitude or commercial sex within Gabon. Criminals may exploit children in illegal gold mines and in wildlife trafficking in the country’s interior. NGOs reported Cameroonian and Gabonese labor recruiters associated with large agricultural firms exploit English-speaking Cameroonians displaced by the Anglophone crisis. The recruiters force some Cameroonians to labor on rubber and palm oil plantations around Bitam in northern Gabon. West African traffickers reportedly exploit children from their countries of origin to work in Libreville markets, such as N’Kembo, Mont Bouët, and PK7, as well as in other urban centers, including Port-Gentil. In Gabon’s eastern provinces, shopkeepers force or coerce Gabonese children to work in markets. In some cases, smugglers who assist foreign adults migrating to Gabon – or through the country to Equatorial Guinea – subject those irregular migrants to forced labor or commercial sex after they enter the country via plane or boat with falsified documents.

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 employment and instead subject the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Roadside bars—or “macquis”—are a common sector where traffickers sexually exploit women, and the Libreville neighborhood of Lalala is an area where some brothel owners reportedly exploit children in child sex trafficking.

Some criminals procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims identifying them as older than 18 years of age to avoid prosecution under the child trafficking law. Traffickers often operate outside the capital to avoid detection by law enforcement and take advantage of Gabon’s porous borders and unguarded beaches to import victims by car or boat. Authorities report some transnational criminal organizations profit from human trafficking in addition to smuggling counterfeit medication and illicit drugs. Experts report the nationality of the actors involved in such trafficking generally depends on the stage of the process. Fraudulent recruiters in source countries, such as Benin and Togo, often share the nationality of the victim; transporters or “passeurs” generally come from transit countries, such as Nigeria and Cameroon; and West African residents or Gabonese are predominantly the final beneficiaries of the exploitation.