Sierra Leone is a source, transit, 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 the purposes of exploitation in prostitution, domestic servitude, and forced labor in artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, rock-breaking, street crime, and begging. Trafficking victims may also be found in the fishing and agriculture sectors or subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices such as forced or arranged marriages. Some Sierra Leoneans voluntarily migrate to other West African countries, including Mauritania and Guinea, as well as to the Middle East and Europe, where they are subsequently subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Sierra Leone may also be a destination country for children trafficked from neighboring West African countries for forced begging, forced labor, and exploitation in prostitution. During the reporting period, seven Indian nationals were subjected to forced labor within Sierra Leone.
The Government of Sierra Leone does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, it demonstrated increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by enacting legislation that increased the penalties for child sex trafficking offenses, initiating prosecutions of seven suspected trafficking offenders, opening an investigation into alleged trafficking complicity by a government official, and removing one of its ambassadors from his post abroad based on allegations that he had engaged in domestic servitude. It also commenced a national awareness campaign and increased the number of child trafficking victims identified. However, the government did not allocate adequate financial or human resources to victims services and continued to rely heavily on NGOs and international organizations to assist trafficking victims, without providing such organizations with financial or in-kind support.
Recommendations for Sierra Leone: Increase prescribed penalties for adult sex trafficking offenses; increase efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders using the 2005 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act; in collaboration with civil society organizations, train police and prosecutors to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking cases; include funding for anti-trafficking activities in the national budget and begin allocating funds accordingly through the appropriate government structures, such as the national anti-trafficking in persons taskforce; train law enforcement officers and social workers to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution, unaccompanied minors, or undocumented migrants, and provide victims with protective services; increase partnership with NGOs that provide assistance to trafficking victims and support their efforts either financially or through in-kind donations; improve efforts to collect data on anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and victim assistance; in collaboration with civil society organizations, increase efforts to raise public awareness about the dangers of trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Sierra Leone demonstrated an increase in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of the equivalent of approximately $4,650 for both sex and labor trafficking offenses. These penalties are not sufficiently stringent and are not commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. The newly enacted Sexual Offenses Act increased the penalties for child sex trafficking offenses to a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine and requires the police to assist victims after receipt of a trafficking complaint and to protect vulnerable witnesses. During the reporting period, the government initiated trafficking prosecutions against seven defendants, an increase over four prosecutions commenced in the previous reporting period. All seven prosecutions remained pending at the close of the reporting period, with the seven defendants being held in pre-trial detention. The government did not convict any trafficking offenders during the reporting period, and there was no updated information on the status of prosecutions initiated during the prior reporting period. Data collection remained weak, particularly within the judiciary. The Sierra Leone police, with the assistance of a foreign donor, are developing officer training modules addressing the new Sexual Offenses Act, though it has yet to finalize and deploy these modules. The government opened an investigation into alleged complicity in child trafficking by a social worker employed by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs. A Sierra Leonean ambassador posted abroad was removed from his post based on allegations that he subjected a domestic worker to forced labor during the previous reporting period.
During the year, the Sierra Leonean government demonstrated modest efforts to protect trafficking victims. It reported its identification of at least 14 trafficking victims, an increase over four victims identified in 2011. NGOs identified an additional 25 victims. Despite concern over the number of street children who remain vulnerable to trafficking, the government did not undertake proactive measures to identify victims among this or other vulnerable populations. The government did not establish formal referral mechanisms with NGOs and international organizations, although it relied heavily on such organizations to provide services for trafficking victims. During the reporting period, the government referred seven child victims of trafficking to an NGO-run shelter, but did not provide any support to the NGO. The Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 established a number of compensatory protective measures for vulnerable witnesses in proceedings relating to a sexual offenses, including the use of protective screens, in-camera testimony, and the admission of video testimony; however, it is unclear if these measures were utilized during the reporting period or whether victims were encouraged to participate in the investigation of cases. There were no reports that victims were detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. During the reporting period, the government offered temporary residency to seven Indian nationals who were victims of forced labor; these victims were housed at a police facility and eventually repatriated upon their request.
The government displayed modest progress in preventing trafficking crimes in 2012. Its inter-ministerial national anti-trafficking in persons taskforce, comprised of representatives from government ministries, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions, met monthly during the year and created a sub-committee to propose concrete actions to address deficiencies in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. Although the national committee launched a national awareness campaign as part of this program, the majority of the campaign was still in a planning stage at the close of the reporting period. The Ministry of Information and the National Telecommunications Commission, however, utilized government partnerships with mobile phone companies in the private sector to send out public service text messages warning about the dangers of human trafficking; over one million individuals received these messages nationwide. In October 2012, the Western Area Child Protection Committee developed a plan to address the growing issue of street children, a population that is particularly vulnerable to being exploited by traffickers. The government took no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. The government did not provide Sierra Leonean troops anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions; however, these troops received training from a foreign donor. Sierra Leone is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.