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UN independent rights expert urges Gabon to combat trafficking of children

Special Rapporteur Joy Ngozi Ezeilo.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Special Rapporteur Joy Ngozi Ezeilo.

UN independent rights expert urges Gabon to combat trafficking of children

A United Nations independent human rights expert has urged Gabon to adopt measures to tackle trafficking in children from West and Central African States, and address traditional and cultural factors that exacerbate the problem.

“I am confident that Gabon can become a model for other countries in the region and beyond in the fight against trafficking,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, in a news statement issued today following a visit to Gabon between 14-18 May.

“Although the Government has adopted legislation to combat human trafficking, significant gaps remain,” she added. “There are a number of challenges that must be addressed by the Government if it is to succeed in effectively combating trafficking in persons and protecting the human rights of trafficked victims of all ages.”

The Special Rapporteur stressed that current Gabonese laws provide protection only to victims of trafficking who are under the age of 18, and that some forms of abuse – including labour and sexual exploitation, slavery and removal of body organs – are not covered.

“I urge the Government to expand the scope of trafficking to explicitly widen the forms and scope of protection to both trafficked women and men as per the Palermo Protocol aimed at preventing, suppressing and punishing trafficking in persons,” she said.

According to Ms. Ezeilo, Gabon is a destination and transit country for trafficked persons from the West and Central African sub-region. Boys and girls under the age of 18, predominantly from Benin, Mali and Togo, are lured into Gabon – considered relatively wealthier than other countries in the sub-region – with promises of employment opportunities.

“Most common forms of trafficking in Gabon are domestic work for young girls, servitude, and to some extent forced and early marriage, while for boys, work in the informal sector including auto mechanics and hard labour are common,” she said.

She noted that the root causes of trafficking include poverty and traditional practices, especially in West Africa, of sending children to live with relatives and demand for domestic workers by wealthy Gabonese families.

“The trend, forms and manifestation of trafficking in persons are not well-understood in Gabon, and there is a general lack of awareness and knowledge of trafficking in persons beyond child trafficking for exploitative labour,” said Ms. Ezeilo. “As a result, other victims of trafficking remain invisible and unrecognized by not only the general population, but also the victims themselves and the competent authorities.”

Working in an unpaid capacity, independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.