The Government of Sierra Leone does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Sierra Leone remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by investigating and initiating prosecutions of trafficking cases, identifying and referring 34 victims to services, and funding repatriation for 25 Sierra Leonean trafficking victims exploited abroad. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government reported a decreased number of investigations and for the sixth consecutive year did not convict a trafficker. Judicial inefficiency and procedural delays impacted access to justice generally. Due to the lack of government support for victims during investigations and prosecutions, and an overreliance on victim testimony, courts did not complete any trafficking prosecutions, and law enforcement and judges dismissed many trafficking cases initiated during the reporting period. The government continued to rely on NGOs to provide nearly all victim assistance, and uneven implementation of the national referral mechanism resulted in delayed assistance for some victims. The government did not provide funding for the anti-trafficking taskforce to adequately fulfill its mandate or implement 2015-2020 national action plan.
Recommendations for Sierra Leone
Increase efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers with sufficiently stringent sentences that include imprisonment; address procedural delays and judicial corruption so victims can participate in trials and judges cease dismissing cases against alleged traffickers; train prosecutors and judges to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases; amend the anti-trafficking law to increase penalties to be sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for rape, and harmonize penalties for forced labor and forced prostitution across all laws; train all actors on the national referral mechanism to ensure all trafficking victims receive timely services; increase partnerships with and financial or in-kind support to NGOs providing assistance to trafficking victims; improve coordination among government agencies responsible for combating trafficking in persons; train law enforcement officers and social workers to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including children in domestic servitude; sufficiently fund anti-trafficking activities in the national budget and allocate funds to relevant entities, such as the anti-trafficking taskforce, to implement the national action plan; in collaboration with civil society organizations, increase efforts to raise public awareness of trafficking; ratify the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Mutual Assistance in the Fight Against Trafficking; and continue to improve data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim assistance efforts.
The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalizes all forms of human trafficking and prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 50 million leones ($6,710) for sex trafficking and a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 30 million leones ($4,030) for labor trafficking; these penalties are sufficiently stringent, but the penalties for sex trafficking are not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape. Chapter 215 of the Laws of Sierra Leone of 1956 also prohibits forced labor but prescribes an insufficiently stringent penalty of six months imprisonment or a fine of 100 pounds sterling ($123). In addition, two other laws prescribe penalties for sex trafficking offenses that differ from the anti-trafficking law. The Child Rights Act imposes a penalty for the prostitution of a child by a third party of 30 million leones ($4,030) and/or two years imprisonment, which is neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with penalties for rape. The Sexual Offences Act criminalizes forced prostitution and child prostitution with penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for rape, and also requires the police after receipt of a trafficking complaint to assist victims and protect vulnerable witnesses. Penalties consisting of fines in lieu of imprisonment are not adequate to deter the crime. During the reporting period, the anti-trafficking taskforce continued to review the 2005 law with an aim to strengthen penalties for adult trafficking.
The government reported 34 investigations, prosecution of four suspects in seven labor trafficking cases, and no convictions, a decrease from 54 investigations, six prosecutions, and no convictions in the previous reporting period. Judicial inefficiencies and procedural delays impacted access to justice generally. At times, judges required victims of crime, including trafficking, to travel frequently to the capital for court appearances. Victims often could not do so and, as a result, judges dismissed many of the trafficking cases initiated during the reporting period and did not reach judgment on any prosecutions. The government last convicted an individual for trafficking or trafficking-related offenses in 2011. Due to corruption and a lack of faith in the justice system, victims’ families often accepted payments from traffickers rather than pursue cases in court. Officials collaborated with Guinean authorities to intercept and repatriate a caravan of Sierra Leonean adults and children reportedly destined for exploitation in Niger and Mali. The government attempted to coordinate with three other foreign governments on transnational trafficking investigations but was not successful, which impeded investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers. The government reported its non-ratification of the ECOWAS Convention on Mutual Assistance in the Fight Against Trafficking compounded the difficulties in cross-border investigations. The government did not provide training for police, prosecutors, or other law enforcement officials on investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption, particularly within the judiciary, remained a serious problem and affected the provision of justice to trafficking victims.
The government made limited efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government identified 34 trafficking victims—including Indian and Kenyan forced labor victims—a decrease from 65 victims identified in the previous reporting period. Among the victims identified, at least fifteen were subjected to forced labor, five to sex trafficking, and two to both domestic servitude and sex trafficking; the type of exploitation of the other victims was not reported. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs operated a temporary shelter for victims of gender-based violence that trafficking victims could access. The government referred an unknown number of trafficking victims to this shelter during the reporting period, and it was unclear how much government support the shelter received. The government reported referring all identified trafficking victims to NGOs for care, and government social workers and prosecutors provided psycho-social services and legal representation to victims residing in NGO-run shelters. The government allocated approximately 119 million leones ($15,970) to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs to support an NGO shelter that cared for trafficking victims; however, it did not actually disburse the funding during the reporting period and did not provide any other financial support to NGOs that rendered all victim shelter and nearly all victim care. NGOs reported identifying and providing services to an additional 11 victims. One NGO operated a shelter specifically for trafficking victims and offered medical, psycho-social, legal, and reintegration support. The center cared for both foreign and domestic victims; however, the victims were not permitted to leave the shelter unchaperoned. Two additional NGOs operated shelters that cared for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs and an NGO trained 42 social workers on identifying and assisting trafficking victims. The government had a national mechanism to refer trafficking victims to services, but a lack of training on the mechanism caused delays; in some cases, victims slept at police stations because authorities had not referred them for care. In October 2015, the government requested the government of Lebanon repatriate two Sierra Leonean female domestic workers it believed had been subjected to trafficking in Lebanon; however, the women remained in Lebanon at the end of the reporting period. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation disbursed approximately 149 million leones ($20,000) to support Sierra Leonean trafficking victims identified abroad. The Sierra Leonean embassy in Kuwait provided food, shelter, and trauma counseling and subsequently repatriated 20 female labor trafficking victims. The embassy in Guinea provided food, shelter, and repatriation for five Sierra Leonean child trafficking victims. This is compared with repatriating 49 victims the previous reporting period. The government did not report whether it systematically encouraged victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers. The anti-trafficking law does not provide for restitution, and while victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period. The law provides alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, including temporary residency. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, but inadequate screening for trafficking indicators may have resulted in some victims remaining unidentified in the system.
The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The anti-trafficking taskforce had a 2015-2020 national action plan, but the government did not provide funding to the taskforce or for implementation of the plan, which hampered implementation. While the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MLSS) had strict licensing procedures for new recruitment agencies to prevent exploitation of intending migrant workers, in practice it often issued business registration certificates before the transnational organized crime unit had finished vetting the prospective agencies. MLSS’s draft labor migration policy to expand protections for migrant workers remained pending for the second year. To increase regional anti-trafficking cooperation, Sierra Leonean, Guinean, and Liberian authorities met regularly to discuss border security, including trafficking. Although the government did not have comprehensive research on its trafficking problem, it implemented a centralized database for trafficking information better analyze trafficking trends. The government did not make discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, Sierra Leone is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Victims originate largely from rural provinces and are recruited to urban and mining centers for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, making ceramics, rock breaking, street crime, and begging. At times, sex trafficking occurs on beaches and in nightclubs. Trafficking victims are also exploited in fishing and agriculture and subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages. Traffickers typically operate individually, convincing parents to hand over their children and promising to provide an education or better life but instead exploiting the children in trafficking. Sierra Leonean girls are increasingly exploited in Guinea. Traffickers have exploited boys and girls from Sierra Leone to reportedly work as “cultural dancers”—and possibly also for sexual exploitation—in The Gambia. Sierra Leonean adults voluntarily migrate to other West African countries, including Mauritania and Guinea, as well as to the Middle East and Europe, where some are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. As in previous years, Sierra Leonean women are subjected to trafficking in Kuwait and Lebanon. Children from neighboring West African countries have been exploited in forced begging, forced labor, and prostitution in Sierra Leone. Indian and Kenyan men were exploited in forced labor in Sierra Leone during the reporting period, and Chinese and Sri Lankan men have been victims in previous years.