By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Director of the National Agency Against Trafficking in Persons (NAATIP) revealed that three (3) convictions have been secured with a number of cases still in court. Gainako’s reporter requested information on the highest penalty imposed in these convictions to which Director, Tulia Jawara Ceesay responded to say D50,000 and 15 years. According to records obtained by Gainako, the youngest person trafficked is a three (3) months old baby, back in 2018.
In her opening speech, the NAATIP Director, explained that the Gambia “is a State Party of the Palermo Protocol” which aims “to prevent, suppress and punish those involved in trafficking in persons especially women and children. — NAATIP’s mandate is to combat trafficking in persons”.
Making reference to the Gambia’s legal framework, Director Ceesay explained that “human trafficking is a crime against a person however, smuggling people across the borders is a crime against the state”. NAATIP fulfils its mandate by following “the four P approach, i.e. Prevention, Protection, Partnership and prosecution. Basically, the Trafficking in Persons Act does not give NAATIP the powers to prosecute”.
To ensure that Trafficking Offenders are brought to book NAATIP commences investigation of cases that are prosecuted “using the AG’s fiat and done by the prosecutors of the Ministry of Justice”.
In a heated exchange between Director Ceesay and members of the press, she explained that “the [Trafficking in Persons] act does not give NAATIP the powers to prosecute. The cases are diligently investigated and are forwarded to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for further legal opinion and prosecution. I recently said there have been three  convictions.”
NAATIP Cases from 2011 to 2020
During the two-day engagement organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) our reporter requested detailed records of the number of trafficked cases recorded by NAATIP each year and the highest and lowest age of persons trafficked each year.
The data shows that NAATIP recorded its highest number of cases (12) in 2020 with the lowest number of cases (1) recorded in 2011. The youngest person that was trafficked was a three months old baby in 2018 while the oldest person trafficked was above 49 years old.
Is the Minimum Fine and Penalty Sufficient?
During her presentation to members of the press, Director Ceesay explained that the penalties include a minimum fine of D50,000 with a maximum fine of D500,000 and a minimum sentence of 15 years with a maximum life sentence. “When the trafficking includes rape or death of a victim of trafficking, or the victim of trafficking is a child, the offender is liable to the fine as above in addition to a life imprisonment,” she said.
Our reporter asked for the highest penalty imposed by the courts on the three convictions which NAATIP has secured. In response, the NAATIP Director revealed that the penalty was the minimum D50,000 and 15 years sentence, the lowest possible penalty.
Director Ceesay explained that in this particular case “exploitation had not even occurred yet. They were planning to go on a journey”. Asked if she believed the current minimum fines act as a sufficient deterrent for possible future offenders.
“Notwithstanding I think when the act is revised, we will look at the different types of trafficking. At the moment it only has one fine for all of the different types of Trafficking in Persons. Of course, D500,000 is nothing if you exploit a little girl of 15 years old on sexual exploitation because you have ruined her life. So, I totally agree with you we will look at that when the act is revised” she said.
NAATIP faces a number of challenges. Currently, the Director says they have a “number of cases in the court on sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. So, cases are in court”. However, one of the main challenges is the culture of silence which some refer to as maslaha syndrome.
To describe it one of the presenters explained that we always sweep things under the carpet as many of us worry how the family will be seen instead of addressing the issue and testifying in court.
It goes without saying that funding is a challenge that most agencies and institutions in the Gambia are faced with, however for cases to be investigated they require investigators and skilled investigators for that matter.
What remains a fact is that trafficking “is happening here in the Gambia so a lot of work needs to be done by the population, by law enforcement officers to properly identify the problem and punish offenders. Trafficking is a problem no one country can fight alone. It is a cross border offence. It is a global concern”.
Looking at the statistics, Director Ceesay’s concluding remarks underlines the fact that Human Trafficking is a growing problem as the number of cases filed by NAATIP continues to rise from 2018 to date.