Explainer: Key Things about Human Trafficking Gambians Should Know

Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in street and domestic work, according to the 2022 U.S. TIP Report. Photoc taken from UNODC
Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in street and domestic work, according to the 2022 U.S. TIP Report. Photoc taken from UNODC

By Ndey Ceesay

Human trafficking, according to the Palermo Protocol, refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

The actual act of trafficking includes any or all of the following: recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.

Generally, trafficking in persons results in the exploitation of boys, girls, men and women either in their own countries or abroad, in situations where victims are unable to escape from their abuser (purpose). Through deception, force, coercion or threats – physical or psychological – (mean), victims of human trafficking can be exploited in various forms including in forced labour, begging, organ removal, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, domestic servitude or forced marriage.

The process of Human Trafficking?

In most cases, a person is recruited, then they are isolated or transported, and eventually they are forced to provide labour or a service.  These elements are further explained here:

  • Recruitment: Traffickers approach potential victims in many different ways, and this includes pretending to be a family member, boyfriend or friend, contacting them via social media such as Facebook, posting newspaper or internet adverts for jobs and opportunities, and sometimes even threatening or kidnapping them. For some instances, false promises will be made to the victims about money, new clothes, work or education opportunities, financial aid for their family.
  • Transportation: Victims are mostly moved around by traffickers, to isolate them from family and or people they know or areas that are familiar to them. Victims of sex trafficked are moved from hotel to hotel, province to province. Individuals subjected to labour trafficked are isolated, sometimes in rural properties, with little contact with the outside world.
  • Exploitation: Exploitation is one of the key elements of human trafficking, and this occurs when someone forces another person to provide labour or a service by having them fear for their safety, or the safety of someone known to them.
Traffickers approach potential victims in many different ways, and this includes pretending to be a family member, boyfriend or friend, contacting them via social media. Photo taken from Florida Politics

Who is mostly trafficked?

The 2020 UNODC Global Report on Trafficking in Persons which is primarily based on identified trafficking cases between 2016 to 2019, reports that for every 10 victims detected globally in 2018, five were adult women and two were girls.

In The Gambia, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in The Gambia, and traffickers exploit victims from The Gambia abroad, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gambia.

Within The Gambia, women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in street 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.

According to the 2022 TIP report, traffickers recruit women and girls from West African countries, especially Nigeria, and exploit them in sex trafficking in The Gambia.  They also exploit Gambians in forced labour abroad in countries such as Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the UAE in domestic work, hospitality, construction, and mining.

Gambian migrants, particularly young men from impoverished backgrounds, attempting to travel to Europe through irregular routes, known as “the Backway,” are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.

How are they trafficked?

Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking have taken a different dimension which is enabled or made possible due to the advent of technology and the internet; as a result, the internet has immensely contributed to the growth of human trafficking around the world.

The internet is used, or rather it is misused, to recruit, control, exploit, buy, sell and groom victims of human trafficking in different parts of the world. The 2022 TIP report says traffickers are increasingly recruiting victims using social media and messaging platforms for domestic servitude in the Middle East.

The U.S. 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gambia shows that some private, and often informal, recruitment agencies place many Gambian workers abroad, including in the Gulf and sometimes in coordination with agents in the destination countries.

It further states that informal agents recruit workers through social and family networks, or they pose as tourism or human resource agencies. Traffickers posing as labour recruiters fraudulently recruit Gambian workers for employment in Europe or the Gulf, and subsequently exploit them in domestic servitude or sex trafficking.

Why trafficking?

Human trafficking happens in every country in the world, in many different forms; however, the causes behind human trafficking are essentially the same: demand for cheap labour and sex. The demands for cheap labour and for commercialised sex lead to opportunities for traffickers to exploit people. Commercialised sex is a lucrative market that allows traffickers to become the only profiters from their victims, through an endless cycle of buyers and high prices.

Other reasons for human trafficking include the performance of criminal activity, begging, forced marriages, removal and selling of body organs, baby selling and other unknown forms of exploitation.

According to IOM’s first report on counter trafficking and assistance to vulnerable migrants, labour exploitation is the most common reason for trafficking in 2011. [NB: No recent version of this report is seen] The report which looked into human trafficking trends in 2011, by way of assistance, collected information from more than 150 IOM Missions.

The 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery produced by ILO and WWF in collaboration with IOM, estimated that at any given day in 2016, 25 million people are in forced labour and 15 million in forced marriages.

However, the UNODC reported in 2018 that 50% of detected trafficking in persons cases were for sexual exploitation purposes. Women are the demographic that is trafficked for sexual exploitation more than any other group. Children, including both boys and girls, are also trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes.

Labour exploitation, on the other hand, is a feature of many economic sectors, particularly those requiring manual labour such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, fisheries, and mining. In many cases, the exploitation takes place under the guise of legal and contractual work, but with degrading conditions of work which are different from the promises given to the workers.

IOM analysis found that migrants travelling the Central Mediterranean route are more vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking than migrants on the Eastern Mediterranean route. Moreover, West Africans are more vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation than migrants from other countries.

Top Destination Countries of Gambians Victims of Trafficking

Gambian male and female victims of trafficking are exploited in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Cyprus Algeria, Finland, Italy and the UAE in domestic work, hospitality, construction, and mining, according to the US 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report: Gambia.

Gambian migrants, particularly young men, attempting to travel to Europe through irregular routes are also vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.

Is There Any Support Offered to victims of Trafficking in The Gambia?

In August 18th 2021, the Government of The Gambia launched the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for Protection and Assistance to Vulnerable Migrants. The NRM is meant to facilitate and coordinate comprehensive assistance to the vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking in the country.

The NRM identifies clear steps for various stages of assistance, including identification assessments, referrals, family tracing, return, and reintegration.

Globally, IOM and its partners have provided protection and assistance to over 100,000 men, women and children, including those at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse and those who were trafficked.

What Laws Exist to Protect Victims of Trafficking in The Gambia?

The National Agency Against Trafficking in Person (NAATIP) is an autonomous agency under the Ministry of Justice responsible for administering and monitoring the implementation of the Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 (Trafficking Act). The functions of NAATIP include receiving and investigating reports of trafficking, cooperating with governments of other states in the investigation and prosecution of transnational trafficking offenses and supervising and coordinating the recovery of victims.

The cases received by NAATIP are jointly investigated with either police, immigration, or SIS (formerly NIA). This joint investigation strengthens team work, reduces traumatisation of victims, reduces duplication and minimises resource wastage.

Protests against labor trafficking and modern day slavery outside the United Nations on September 23, 2013, New York. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

What Forms of Punishment Exist for Perpetrators of Trafficking in The Gambia?

The Gambia’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Act, amended in 2010, criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking and prescribed penalties of 50 years to life imprisonment and/or a minimum fine of 50,000 or a maximum of 500,000 dalasi.

How Can Gambia Combat Human Trafficking?

Based on the 2022 TIP report, which updated The Gambia to Tier 2, the country does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons although it is making significant efforts to do so.

However, the TIP report shows that there are ways in which the country can combat Trafficking in Person, if it cannot eliminate it completely. And these include prosecution and conviction of traffickers, protection of victims, training government officials on comprehensive standard procedures to proactively identify  victims of trafficking, train law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to investigate and prosecute all forms of trafficking, and strengthen international law enforcement cooperation to prevent and investigate transnational crimes, such as child sex tourism.

Physical Effects of Human Trafficking

A lot of victims of Trafficking in Persons suffer high levels of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Many of these victims experience physical injuries. Those who have been exploited are often abused by both their traffickers and customers. They may be raped, beaten, and subjected to other forms of abuse. Some become isolated from friends, family, because of their personal feelings of guilt and shame. They may be excluded from social groups due to the stigma they face. Many survivors of trafficking in persons who managed to escape lack advanced education and the resources needed to live independently. They may have been trafficked at a young age and, therefore, be unable to attend school or go to college.

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