There are an estimated 9000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Gabon (GSI 2018). The country is a primary destination and transit country for West and Central African men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Boys are forced to work as street vendors, mechanics, or in microbus transportation and the fishing sector. Girls are subjected to domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Gabonese children are exploited as market vendors in eastern provinces of the country. In some cases, families willingly give children to intermediaries who fraudulently promise education or terms of employment they ultimately do not provide, instead subjecting the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Some traffickers procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims to make them appear older than 18 years old to avoid prosecution under the child trafficking law.
Christelle’s home village is Assahoun, in the southwest of Togo (Maritime Region). She is the eldest of five children and was in Standard Five at the Catholic Primary School when she left with traffickers on the long journey to Gabon. Today, Christelle is back in her village with her parents. She is under apprenticeship to become a seamstress. Her training is being supported as part of a joint effort by Plan Togo and the Department for the Protection and Promotion of the Family and Children and is financed by Plan Togo.
One day a woman named Yawa came to visit a woman in my village. I was the subject of their discussion. Yawa told me I would make a lot of money working in Gabon, and that I would continue my education at the same time.
A few days later, after undergoing a rapid training in manners and etiquette – learning how to walk correctly, and to say “Yes, madam”, “Yes, sir”, “No, madam”, “No, sir” – I was placed with a Togolese-Gabonese couple. The woman was called Madeleine. She is a Togolese and she owned a shop, selling diverse items. I was required to run the shop for her. After a few days, I started having problems. My mistress used to insult me, whatever I said. She beat me and called me names; she said I was a thief.
The woman Yawa had spoken to came to see my mother. She tried to convince her to let me go to Gabon, saying I would be in good hands and she would not have to worry about my safety. I got interested.
A few days later, she came for me to stay with her in Bé (a suburb of Lomé). I was there for a week. Yawa came with two other girls, aged 14 or 15. The three of us were later confided to another lady who took us to Benin by bus. We crossed the Togo-Benin border on foot, then took another vehicle to Cotonou, the capital, where we were put with about 30 other girls for three days. We fed ourselves on sugar with cassava flour and akpan (steamed corn dough).
When she was absent, her husband would come to the shop. He would squeeze my breast and my behind. One day as I was tidying up the sitting room, he came and held me tightly to his body. I struggled free and in the process fell in the stairway. I threatened to tell his wife, but did not do so because I was afraid. Despite my threats, he persisted. Finally, one night, he succeeded in raping me. I stopped having periods and knew I was pregnant. He wouldn’t accept his responsibility and I was sent away. I went to the Togolese embassy and recounted my plight and asked to be helped to return home.
We took a boat from Cotonou. We were put in the far end, and a big tarpaulin was used to cover us, to hide us from curious eyes. We spent seven days at sea. I suffered from seasickness, throwing up everything I ate. When we reached Gabon, the police were on patrol. The boat’s captain fled, leaving us to our fate. Some men with a canoe took me to a village built entirely on stilts in the water. There, a man put us on a bus to an unknown destination. On our arrival, another came to take us to Yawa. She had arrived in Gabon by plane.
As told to researchers for Plan International in their report ‘For the Price of a Bike: Child Trafficking in Togo’