Mar 9, 2016, 11:39 AM
The Point newspaper on Monday reported that The Gambia is one of four countries downgraded by the U.S. State Department “for taking insufficient action against human trafficking”. Malaysia, Thailand and Venezuela are the other three countries. Meanwhile, Wisma Putra the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has reacted, as confirmed online – and this will be published Wednesday, whilst we wait for the official reaction of the Gambian authorities.
“In its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released Friday 20 June, the U.S. State Department downgraded the four countries to Tier 3, the lowest possible ranking it gives for national responses to fighting modern day slavery,” the report stated. For the information of our readers, the 2014 TIP report on The Gambia stated as follows:
The Gambia is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Women, girls, and boys from West African countries—mainly Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Benin—are recruited for commercial sexual exploitation in The Gambia.
The majority of these victims are subjected to sexual exploitation by European child sex tourists. Observers believe organized sex trafficking networks use both European and Gambian travel agencies to promote child sex tourism. Many Gambian boys attend Koranic schools led by religious teachers, known as marabouts; some corrupt or unscrupulous marabouts force such boys into begging and street vending. Gambian children have been identified as victims of forced labor in neighboring West African countries, including Ghana and Senegal.
The Government of The Gambia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not provide comprehensive law enforcement data relating to trafficking offenses; it did not report initiating any prosecutions or securing any convictions of trafficking offenders during the reporting period. It also did not formally identify any trafficking victims nor indicate whether any victims were afforded shelter or care by government-supported services.
The government continued to sustain modest prevention efforts over the reporting period.
Recommendations for The Gambia:
Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and ensure adequate sentencing for convicted trafficking offenders; train law enforcement personnel to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as boys in street vending, unattended children in tourist resorts known to be sex tourism destinations, and women in prostitution, and refer them to protective services; improve data collection relating to victim identification and law enforcement statistics; develop standardized procedures for referring trafficking victims to NGO care services and make government officials and the NGO community aware of these procedures; engage with anti-trafficking counterparts in the region to enable the safe repatriation of victims to and from The Gambia; and provide adequate funding and resources to the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons so it can effectively implement the anti-trafficking national action plan.
The government demonstrated a decrease in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The Gambia’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act prohibits all forms of trafficking, and an October 2010 amendment increased the prescribed penalties to 50 years’ to life imprisonment for all forms of trafficking. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The Gambia’s 2005 Children’s Act also prohibits child trafficking—though it does not include forced labor in its definition of trafficking—prescribing a penalty of life imprisonment. The 2003 Tourism Offenses Act explicitly prohibits child sex trafficking, prescribing a penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
The government reported investigating one suspected trafficker during the year, and did not report any prosecutions or convictions; however, the government did not provide comprehensive law enforcement data related to trafficking cases during the reporting period.
The government, in partnership with NGOs and international organizations, provided sensitization seminars to over 1,000 law enforcement officers and social workers on trafficking in persons. Additionally, in October 2013, the Gambian Police Force adopted a new police training manual, funded in part by UNICEF. The manual, which includes a module on human trafficking, will be included in trainings for all new police recruits; during the reporting period, the manual was used to train 60 new police recruits. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The government demonstrated negligible efforts to protect victims of human trafficking during the reporting period, as it did not formally identify any trafficking victims.
The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) allocated the equivalent of approximately $11,500 to operating a shelter for trafficking victims, abandoned children, and victims of domestic violence, as well as a drop-in center for street children; no trafficking victims were cared for in these facilities during the reporting period.
The shelter offers 24-hour services to children and adults; however, no victims in the shelter were allowed to leave the premises without a chaperone. The government operated a 24-hour multi-purpose hotline, which could be used to report trafficking offenses.
The government continued to maintain an electronic child protection database, which includes information on trafficking cases, although no cases were identified in 2013. The Trafficking in Persons Act allows foreign victims to obtain temporary residence visas for the duration of legal proceedings; the government offers no other legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked; however, the lack of formal identification procedures likely resulted in some victims remaining unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government demonstrated sustained modest prevention efforts during the reporting period. The National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons (NAAPTIP)—the coordinating body for governmental anti-trafficking efforts—met monthly and continued to receive modest funding of the equivalent of approximately $33,000 from the government. NAAPTIP relied on NGOs and international organizations for additional support. Its officials traveled to key border posts to sensitize immigration, police, and customs officers, as well as local community leaders, on trafficking in persons and the need to report any suspected cases directly to NAAPTIP.
NAAPTIP officials also updated the government’s four-year national action plan on trafficking, which covers 2012-2016. The DSW operated 66 Community Child Protection Committees during the reporting period, which held monthly meetings and sensitization activities, some of which related to trafficking.
The DSW and the Department of Education continued to operate a program providing financial support and resources to 12 Koranic schools on the condition that their students are not forced to beg; over 1,000 children benefitted from the program during the reporting period; the government contributed the equivalent of approximately $2,600 each month during the reporting period to fund the program.
The Gambia Tourism Board, with support from a local NGO, co-funded the installation of an electronic billboard at Banjul International Airport to warn visitors of the severe penalties for engaging in child sex tourism. It also held five seminars on child sex tourism for approximately 190 law enforcement officers, tourism industry operators, and members of the public.
Authorities continued to enforce the 2005 ban on unattended children in resort areas, but this effort did not lead to the referral of any child trafficking victims to protective services or the apprehension of any suspected traffickers or child sex tourists.
Additionally, the DSW continued to operate five Neighborhood Watch Groups to monitor urban areas near tourist resorts for possible cases of child abuse or child sexual exploitation.
The government did not make any discernible efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor during the reporting period.
The government provided anti-trafficking training to Gambian troops before their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.