Liberia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Most trafficking victims originate from and are exploited within the country’s borders, where they are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, rubber plantations, and alluvial diamond mines. Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who may promise poorer relatives a better life for their children. Children sent to work as domestic servants for their wealthier relatives are vulnerable to forced labor or, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation. Orphaned children remain susceptible to exploitation, including in street selling and prostitution. A small number of Liberian men, women, and children are subjected to human trafficking in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and the United States. Victims of transnational trafficking come to Liberia from neighboring West African countries, including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria, and are subjected to the same types of exploitation as internally trafficked victims.
The Government of Liberia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore Liberia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Liberia was granted a waiver of an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The Liberian government convicted one trafficking offender—the first conviction under the 2005 anti-trafficking law. The government also conducted an awareness campaign focused on the 2011 National Children’s Act, which strengthens the anti-trafficking law as it relates to children. The government failed to make adequate efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims and did not adopt or implement the standard operating procedures for assisting victims proposed by the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, which have been pending since 2010. The government has yet to provide the taskforce, which depends on funding from the Ministry of Labor, with a separate budget, leaving the taskforce without regular funding to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
Recommendations for Liberia: Continue prosecuting trafficking offenses and convicting and punishing trafficking offenders, including trafficking cases involving Liberian nationals; provide additional training to law enforcement officials and magistrates to apply the anti-trafficking law and to distinguish trafficking crimes from cases of human smuggling or kidnapping; allocate regular funding to support the activities of the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force; finalize, implement, and educate NGOs, law enforcement personnel, magistrates, and other relevant government officials on the “Direct Assistance and Support to Trafficked Victims Standard Operating Procedures” such that these officials learn to proactively identify and provide protective services to trafficking victims; and increase efforts to educate the public about the dangers of human trafficking.
The Government of Liberia demonstrated an increase in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Liberia’s 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons specifically prohibits all forms of transnational and internal trafficking. It prescribes a minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and six years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of children. The prescribed penalties for the sex and labor trafficking of children are sufficiently stringent, but the prescribed penalties for sex and labor trafficking of adults are not, nor are they commensurate with the prescribed penalties for other serious offenses, such as rape. In September 2011, the government passed the National Children’s Act, which strengthened certain provisions of the 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons. In January 2013, the government achieved its first conviction under the 2005 act, sentencing a Pakistani national to one year’s imprisonment for attempting to subject five fellow Pakistanis to forced labor in Liberia. The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Liberia National Police (LNP) investigated four additional cases of suspected trafficking and referred one of them for prosecution; this case remained pending at the close of the reporting period. Additionally, a Sierra Leonean national was apprehended in late 2012 for allegedly trafficking several children within Liberia, but he escaped captivity during the investigation; the LNP and the Sierra Leonean police were coordinating continued investigation efforts at the close of the reporting period. No investigations or prosecutions involving Liberian traffickers were reported during the reporting period.
The WACPS continued to provide a mandatory three-week comprehensive anti-trafficking training for all its officers. All newly appointed LNP officers received basic training on how to report suspected trafficking cases to the WACPS, though they did not receive specialized training in trafficking in persons. Despite these efforts, many law enforcement officials continue to conflate kidnapping and smuggling offenses with human trafficking. In March 2013, the government established an anti-trafficking unit within the LNP’s WACPS comprised of four police officers dedicated exclusively to addressing trafficking crimes. In the same month, UN Police (UNPOL) and the Ministry of Labor conducted a three-week workshop to strengthen the interviewing skills of eight investigators within the LNP, as well as an unknown number of officers from the Bureau of Naturalization and Immigration. The Liberian government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period; however, bribery at border stations, a lack of capacity, and generalized corruption within the judiciary have been reported.
During the past year, the Liberian government provided limited services to victims and inconsistently referred victims to NGOs for protective services. The government identified five trafficking victims during the reporting period; it may have identified other victims, but did not maintain data on such efforts. The government has yet to consistently employ procedures to identify trafficking victims proactively among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution. Standard operating procedures for trafficking victim support were finalized by the anti-trafficking secretariat in 2012, but have yet to be adopted formally and implemented. The government operated seven public safe-homes that provide shelter to victims of crime, including trafficking victims. There are no government-run shelters specifically for trafficking victims in Liberia and the government relied heavily on NGOs and civil society groups to provide basic assistance and financial support to victims. The 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons absolves victims from responsibility for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked, and there were no reports that this provision was ignored during the year. The five potential Pakistani victims participated in the investigation and prosecution of their suspected trafficker and were provided shelter and assistance by the Bureau of Naturalization and Immigration.
The Liberian government sustained efforts to prevent trafficking in persons throughout the reporting period, though it failed to provide dedicated financial and political support to the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, providing funding from ministries on an ad hoc basis. While the taskforce continued to conduct bi-weekly meetings, government ministries and agencies failed to consistently send high-level representatives, which, combined with the lack of a dedicated funding mechanism, hindered the effectiveness of these meetings. Despite limited resources, officers from the WACPS continued to conduct outreach and awareness-raising activities by partnering with local NGOs to warn parents of the dangers of forced labor and exploitation among children entrusted to others for education. The Ministry of Labor supported anti-trafficking awareness campaigns through radio public service messages and billboards, and the government conducted a three-month rollout campaign to raise awareness of the 2011 National Children’s Act. In March 2013, it also co-sponsored a one-day conference with UNPOL that focused on coordinating anti-trafficking efforts among civil society organizations and law enforcement entities.