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2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: The Gambia

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THE GAMBIA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of The Gambia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore The Gambia was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included increasing investigations, identifying more trafficking victims, improving security at the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) shelter, coordinating with international organizations to increase training for officials, and significantly increasing efforts to raise public awareness of trafficking, including of child sex trafficking. In addition, the government encouraged former president Yahya Jammeh’s victims of sexual exploitation to testify in the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC). Despite these achievements, the government did not convict a trafficker for the third consecutive year, victim services remained inadequate overall, and some law enforcement officers allegedly requested bribes to register trafficking complaints.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Direct and fund law enforcement to investigate all reported trafficking cases, including those brought forward by civil society.

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 • Increase efforts to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including allegations of child sex tourism. 

• Cease using extra-judicial or administrative remedies to resolve human trafficking cases. 

• Develop and train government officials on comprehensive standard procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims, including among people in commercial sex and other vulnerable groups. 

• Increase funding and in-kind support to facilitate training for social workers to provide trafficking victims adequate social services. 

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• Improve witness and victim protection measures to ensure victim confidentiality and privacy. 

• Train law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to investigate and prosecute all forms of trafficking using the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act. 

• Raise awareness of child sex trafficking among civil society, including how to report cases. 

• Amend the labor law to extend protections to domestic workers. 

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• Strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate child sex tourism.

PROSECUTION

The government modestly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts but law enforcement overall remained inadequate. The 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act, as amended in 2010, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 50 years to life imprisonment and a fine of between 50,000 and 500,000 dalasi ($980-$9,800). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported 15 new investigations—six sex trafficking cases and nine cases involving forced labor in domestic work in the Middle East—and continued three prosecutions from previous reporting periods, which remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period; the government did not initiate any new prosecutions during the reporting period. This was compared with one investigation and two prosecutions in the previous reporting period. For the third consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. International organizations reported that official corruption, including police officers requesting bribes to register trafficking complaints, impeded law enforcement efforts. An NGO reported former government officials had procured women through fraud and coercion to engage in sex acts with former president Jammeh while he was in office; the allegedly complicit officials are no longer in The Gambia, nor is the former president. Two of the victims of sexual abuse by the former president testified to Jammeh’s abuses in the government’s TRRC during the reporting period; per her request, the government protected one victim’s identity. The law that created the TRRC specifies that upon submission of the TRRC’s final report, the government will make decisions on prosecution of the specific allegations made during the Commission’s operation. Aside from the TRRC process, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of former government employees for complicity in human trafficking offenses.

The National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons (NAATIP) trained all border posts on human trafficking in 2019. In December 2019, NAATIP coordinated with an international organization to train Tourism Security Unit officers on victim identification; officers from the police force, immigration department, state intelligence services, and Drug Law Enforcement Agency also attended the training. In December 2019, NAATIP organized another training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Authorities acknowledged law enforcement and judicial personnel continued to lack adequate resources and training to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and indicated that more training and awareness raising was needed to increase the capacity of law enforcement and judicial personnel. NGOs and international organizations attributed underreporting of sexual crimes, including sex trafficking and child sex tourism, to cultural taboos and a penchant to resolve these issues through informal resolution mechanisms rather than the formal justice system. An international organization reported that effective enforcement of child protection laws, especially provisions regarding child sex trafficking and child sex tourism, was impeded by lack of awareness of anti-trafficking laws and ensuing penalties; lack of adequate human, technical, and financial capacity to respond to reported cases; and significant gaps in providing specialized services and assistance to victims, especially child victims.

PROTECTION

The government modestly increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified 12 victims, an increase compared with identifying four victims during the previous reporting period. NGOs reported identifying and assisting an additional six victims. Of the 18 victims identified by the government and NGOs, six were Nigerian women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, two were Sierra Leonean women identified en route to exploitation in the Middle East, and 10 were Gambians coerced to work in domestic service in Lebanon and Kuwait. Law enforcement had standard operating procedures (SOPs) to proactively identify potential trafficking victims amongst vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied minors and homeless children; however, the SOPs were limited in scope and officials did not use them consistently. During the reporting period, the government collaborated with an international organization to draft and approve SOPs for the identification of child trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including child migrants. The government did not have formal referral procedures; however, during the reporting period the government began developing a national referral mechanism with the assistance of an international organization. While law enforcement referred women and children exploited in commercial sex to DSW for care, officials did not systematically screen adults in commercial sex for indicators of sex trafficking. Some border control agents had knowledge of trafficking and screened for trafficking among adults traveling with several minors.

NAATIP referred eight identified victims to the DSW shelter for care; the government reported the other four victims identified by the government declined shelter services and preferred immediate reintegration with their families. DSW operated a shelter in Bakoteh for vulnerable persons including trafficking victims, abandoned children, the elderly, and victims of domestic violence. The government allocated 600,000 dalasi ($11,760) to victim assistance in 2019. The shelter offered basic services such as housing, medical care, and limited counseling to children and women; adult victims could leave the shelter unchaperoned. Foreign donors assisted in renovating the shelter and increasing the capacity of shelter staff, including improving psycho-social assistance. To address previously reported security inadequacies at the shelter, an international organization trained shelter staff on shelter security measures; following the training, the government hired an additional security guard and implemented stricter security protocols. The shelter could assist Gambian victims exploited abroad after their repatriation, as well as both foreign and domestic victims. The Sierra Leonean embassy assisted its citizens identified in The Gambia during the reporting period. An international organization assisted in the repatriation of Gambian trafficking victims identified in Lebanon and Kuwait and continued assisting the government to repatriate trafficking victims from Lebanon identified in previous reporting periods. The director of NAATIP traveled to Beirut to meet with the victims and discuss what support the government could provide. DSW also operated a drop-in center for street children. Shelters were concentrated around the capital, leaving some victims in rural areas without access to assistance.

Provision of government shelter and services was not dependent on victims’ participation in law enforcement proceedings. The government did not have a formal witness protection policy and victims’ identities were not always kept confidential; victims, at times, were reluctant to cooperate in investigations due to fear of retaliation by their traffickers. The government allows victims to provide testimony via video or written statements; however, no victims reportedly did so during the reporting period. The 2007 anti-trafficking law allowed foreign victims to obtain temporary residence visas for the duration of legal proceedings, but there were no other legal alternatives provided in cases in which foreign trafficking victims removed to their countries of origin may have faced hardship or retribution. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, but there were no reports any such cases were filed during the reporting period in part due to low awareness of the option. There were no reports the government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, inconsistent application of trafficking identification procedures may have left some trafficking victims unidentified within the law enforcement system.

PREVENTION

The government modestly increased prevention efforts. The Ministry of Justice allocated 300,000 dalasi ($5,880) per month to NAATIP for salaries and administrative costs in the 2019 fiscal year, an increase from 150,000 dalasi ($2,940) per month in the 2018 fiscal year. The government did not provide additional funding for implementation of the 2016-2020 anti-trafficking national action plan, but NAATIP continued to implement the plan using its budget. During the reporting period, the Department of Strategic Policy and Delivery in the Office of the President assumed leadership of the government‘s anti-trafficking efforts and re-established the National Task Force on Trafficking in Persons. NAATIP organized an increased number of public awareness activities during the reporting period, including a public procession to commemorate World Day against Trafficking in Persons in July 2019 and outreach to schools throughout the reporting period. In October 2019, NAATIP trained 30 travel agencies and airlines on victim identification. In November 2019, NAATIP trained civil society organizations on reporting trafficking cases, especially child sex trafficking. The government previously operated a 24-hour trafficking-specific hotline in four languages; however, the hotline was suspended due to inadequate training and capacity.

In partnership with an NGO, the Ministry of Education continued to encourage reputable Quranic schoolteachers to educate students on trafficking and not force them to beg; it incentivized these behaviors by providing monthly cash transfers and food rations to 17 schools that it regularly verified did not exploit students in forced begging. As part of the program, the ministry and NGO also provided science, math, and English teachers to broaden the schools’ curricula, which has benefited an estimated 1,500 children since the program began in 2012. NGOs reported that of the 11 original DSW-organized neighborhood watch groups to monitor urban areas near tourist resorts for possible cases of child abuse or child sexual exploitation, only two remained occasionally active; NGOs reported both groups were untrained and lacked the capacity to investigate or effectively report potential cases. Neither group reported identifying child sex trafficking victims or suspected child sex tourists during the reporting period. Despite reports of women exploited through fraudulent labor recruitment, the government did not have effective policies to regulate foreign labor recruiters or to penalize them for fraudulent recruitment. In July 2019, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the protection of Gambian workers in the UAE but did not implement it prior to the end of the reporting period. Domestic workers were not protected under the national labor law, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation. The government made limited efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism by displaying posters in resort areas targeting potential buyers of sex and posting Tourism Security Unit officers in the Tourism Development Area. In addition, Gambian law allows for the prosecution of suspected sex tourism offenses committed abroad. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in The Gambia, and traffickers exploit victims from The Gambia abroad. Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in street vending and domestic work. Traffickers recruit women and children from West African countries for sex trafficking in The Gambia. Some families encourage their children to endure such exploitation for financial gain. Reporting from an international organization indicates the number of boys exploited in sex trafficking is growing. Child sex tourists, primarily from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, and the United Kingdom, subject the majority of these victims to sexual exploitation. Observers believe organized sex trafficking networks use European and Gambian travel agencies to promote child sex tourism. An international organization reported some sex tourists established relationships with children through organizations registered as charities or approached children under the guise of sponsorship for their education. The same organization reported sex tourists gain access to children through intermediaries or already have information from the internet about areas where they can have access to children. Sex traffickers increasingly host child sex tourists in private residences outside the commercial tourist areas of Banjul, making the crime harder to detect. Gambian boys attend Quranic schools in The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Senegal, and some corrupt teachers force their students into begging, street vending, and agricultural work. NGOs identified Gambian children in forced labor in neighboring West African countries and Mauritania. Traffickers allegedly have exploited Sierra Leonean children as “cultural dancers” in The Gambia. During the reporting period, Gambian authorities identified Sierra Leonean victims en route to exploitation in the Middle East. Traffickers exploit Gambian women in forced labor and sex trafficking in the Middle East, including Lebanon and Kuwait. Authorities have identified Gambian trafficking victims in Egypt, Kuwait, UAE, Finland, Cyprus, and Algeria in previous reporting periods. Gambian migrants attempting to travel to Europe through irregular routes, known as “the Backway,” are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. Between January 2017 and October 2018, an international organization repatriated at least 3,500 Gambians from Libya, many of whom were at risk for trafficking.

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