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 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 some are 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. Indian and Chinese men have been subjected to forced labor within Sierra Leone. During the reporting period, seven adult men from Sri Lanka were subjected to forced labor by a foreign fishing company in 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, the government, in collaboration with a local NGO, provided training to law enforcement and judicial personnel on trafficking, identified a larger number of child victims compared to the previous year, and identified and provided temporary shelter to seven foreign adult victims of trafficking. It also continued to conduct a national awareness campaign and increased efforts to protect migrant workers. However, the government demonstrated a decrease in law enforcement efforts and continued to rely heavily on NGOs and international organizations to provide victim services.
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 partnerships 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, including adult trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Sierra Leone decreased 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 Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 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 reported 27 investigations, one prosecution, and no convictions of traffickers; compared to the seven prosecutions and zero convictions reported during the previous reporting period. Data collection remained weak, particularly within the judiciary and, therefore, the Ministry of Justice was unable to provide comprehensive law enforcement statistics. In an attempt to address this issue, the government began developing a computerized database to track all trafficking cases; the database was not yet operational at the close of the reporting period. In May 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor of the Sierra Leone Police held a two-day training for 50 police prosecutors; the training included modules on how to prosecute child sex trafficking offenses under the Sexual Offenses Act of 2012. In September 2013, the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone supported an NGO-funded training for police, judicial, and local government officials on the identification and protection of trafficking victims. The government began plans to establish a “Freedom Line,” a hotline specifically dedicated to reporting trafficking offenses; at the end of the reporting period, the government was still finalizing training and referral procedural guidelines for police officers who will staff the line. In September 2013, the Special Court of Sierra Leone, a hybrid court established jointly between the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, upheld the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor on a number of counts, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers and sex slaves. The government did not report any additional investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking during the reporting period; however, corruption, particularly among the judiciary, remained a problem in Sierra Leone during the reporting period.
During the year, the Sierra Leonean government sustained modest efforts to protect trafficking victims. It reported the identification of at least 13 child victims, all of whom it referred to NGOs shelters. The government also identified seven Sri Lankan adult male victims who were subjected to forced labor by a foreign fishing company. The government used the 2005 Anti-Trafficking Act to demand funds from the fishing company; the government used the secured funds to provide temporary food and shelter for these victims, as well as cover repatriation costs. 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 allocated the equivalent of approximately $4,650 to fund the Ministry of Social Welfare’s protection efforts for trafficking victims during the last quarter of 2013. The government provided tax exempt status and duty free importation for NGOs, including those that provided protective services to trafficking victims. Government-employed social workers and prosecutors provided psycho-social services and legal representation to victims residing in NGO-run shelters.
The Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 established a number of compensatory protective measures for vulnerable witnesses in proceedings relating to sexual offenses, including sex trafficking, such as 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. The government offered temporary residency to the seven Sri Lankan adult victims mentioned above; however, the victims opted to return home to Sri Lanka.
The government displayed slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The inter-agency Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force—comprised of representatives from government ministries, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions—met monthly during the year and coordinated the government’s efforts to combat trafficking; the taskforce was allocated the equivalent of approximately $20,000. The taskforce continued to implement a national awareness campaign, which included a large press conference on trafficking in June 2013; the press conference served as a venue to encourage media representatives to actively report on trafficking and was attended by various government officials and representatives from most of Sierra Leone’s leading publications. The Ministry of Labor also held a public event specifically to raise awareness on the dangers of child labor, particularly in domestic work.
In an effort to expand protections for migrant laborers, including foreign workers employed in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans going abroad, the government conducted a review of licensing procedures for recruitment companies, drafted guidelines on labor migration, and increased inter-agency coordination among agencies responsible for protecting migrant workers. The government took no discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor during the reporting period. The government provided Sierra Leonean troops anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, in collaboration with an NGO and foreign donors. Sierra Leone is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; however, it signed the Protocol and, in February 2014, the Cabinet formally approved the recommendation to ratify the Protocol and sent the document to Parliament for ratification.