LIBERIA: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by prosecuting and convicting four traffickers in one case, its first trafficking convictions in four years, and providing shelter and services for at least three trafficking victims. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. It did not provide training or basic resources for law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases; complicity and corruption inhibited anti-trafficking law enforcement action; and the government did not allocate an operating budget or resources to the anti-trafficking task force or its working-level body, the TIP Secretariat, which severely limited their activities. Therefore Liberia remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LIBERIA
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers; train and equip law enforcement, immigration officials, and social workers to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offenses; provide operating and victim protection budgets to the anti-trafficking task force; finalize the national referral mechanism, and train law enforcement and social workers on implementation; expand victim services—particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and long-term care—through increased financial or in-kind support to shelters; create and train officials on measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution; enforce the 2005 law requiring restitution be paid to trafficking victims; increase efforts to educate the public on all forms of human trafficking; continue to assist citizens with registering births and obtaining identity documents; and enact legislation that prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties for adult trafficking and sex trafficking penalties that are commensurate with the penalties for rape.
The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of one year imprisonment for adult trafficking and six years imprisonment for child trafficking but did not include maximum sentences. The prescribed penalties for child trafficking were sufficiently stringent, but those prescribed for adult trafficking were not. The penalties for sex trafficking were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape or kidnapping.
The government investigated eight suspects in four cases and prosecuted and convicted four traffickers, an increase from four investigations, two prosecutions, and no convictions the previous reporting period. Prosecutors often pursued other charges that were more likely to result in a guilty verdict, including rape, in lieu of sex trafficking. In one case that continued from the previous reporting period, judges prosecuted four individuals for illicit human trafficking, and the primary suspect, a Sierra Leonean, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The other three suspects—one Sierra Leonean and two Liberians—were convicted for facilitation of human trafficking and each received a sentence of one year imprisonment. These were the government’s first trafficking convictions in four years and its first convictions of Liberian traffickers under the 2005 law. A second investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government reported investigations of government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, it did not report efforts to prosecute or convict allegedly complicit officials. Police investigated a government official for involvement in the alleged illegal transport of five Liberian children to the United States in a previous reporting period. It was unclear whether the allegations were for human trafficking or smuggling. A law enforcement official reportedly intervened to hasten the end of the investigation and clear the accused. In January 2018, the United Kingdom expelled two Liberian diplomats. Reports indicated one of several reasons was allegedly facilitating prostitution. NGOs and officials reported some government employees were directly complicit in child trafficking, including for domestic servitude and street hawking.
The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Liberian National Police (LNP) was responsible for investigating most trafficking cases. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) was responsible for investigating adult forced labor, and the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) could investigate transnational trafficking. The LNP did not have dedicated anti-trafficking funding or in-kind support and therefore lacked basic resources and equipment to fully respond to and investigate allegations of trafficking, especially outside the capital. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for officials but provided in-kind support for two officials to attend an international training. New WACPS and LIS officials received anti-trafficking training as part of their induction. Officials reported many labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, and judges remained largely unable to identify trafficking, which posed serious impediments to investigating and prosecuting such cases. In addition, some high-level officials did not have a clear understanding of trafficking.
The government maintained modest efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government and NGOs identified at least four trafficking victims, compared to five trafficking victims and 25 suspected trafficking victims identified the previous reporting period. Poor record keeping outside the capital and inadequate resources hindered reliable data collection, and statistics were often not disaggregated to differentiate trafficking from similar crimes. While the government had standard procedures to identify trafficking victims, authorities reported the majority of law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on such procedures, and some trafficking victims were identified as victims of other crimes. Many officials continued to view internal trafficking, especially child domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime. Due to a lack of awareness of trafficking among authorities and communities, as well as insufficient government resources to identify trafficking victims, most trafficking victims remained unidentified. Despite these shortcomings, the government did not provide training on such measures. The draft national referral mechanism to direct victims towards services, developed by the task force, did not receive final approval for the third year. As a result, the government remained without a formal process to refer victims to care, and agencies responsible rarely coordinated such efforts.
Police and community members generally referred trafficking victims to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP). The anti-trafficking task force working group, of which the MOGCSP was a member—was responsible for coordinating victim care. In cases involving one victim, the members of the task force referred the victim to a government or NGO safe house or coordinated foster care. When authorities identified a group of potential trafficking victims, the individuals were either referred to NGOs for care or funds were provided by either the MOGCSP or the Ministry of Justice to provide care in government shelters. In part because the government did not have consistent funding for victim care and officials did not receive training on referral procedures, not all identified victims of crime, including trafficking, received comprehensive care during the reporting period. While government-provided shelter and services remained basic and short-term, the government took steps to improve the shelters and child protection services broadly. MOGSCP operated two shelters for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking, as well as 12 transit centers throughout the country, and LNP operated one victim safe house. The shelters provided long-term care and social services, while the transit centers provided medical services and short-term accommodation. In theory, each transit center had at least one social worker, one nurse trained in sexual- and gender-based violence cases, and one police officer on staff; however, resources allocated to each center varied, and officials reported only three of Monrovia’s five transit centers had sufficient space and staffing to care for victims. Most of the transit centers did not actually provide short-term accommodations. The Ministry of Health could provide limited medical and psycho-social services. The government relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable. During the reporting period, MOGCSP embedded two social workers within the WACPS to assist women and children, including trafficking victims, at the police safe house. LNP provided food and other in-kind support to the police safe house, and the government renovated several short-term transit centers during the reporting period. In addition, the MOGCSP provided some funding to support short-term shelter in a transit center and psycho-social support to at least three victims during the reporting period. Shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims. NGO shelters and MOGCSP facilities—including those outside the capital—could accommodate male victims. Adult victims were sometimes allowed to leave the shelters at will; in some cases, however, shelter workers restricted victims from leaving, citing safety and to protect the integrity of the testimony at trial. Shelters often could not protect victims’ identities, and stays were limited, usually to three months due to capacity. MOGSCP could arrange foster care for victims who required longer term care. MOGSCP increased collaboration with NGOs through regular meetings of the Child Protection Network, which facilitated government-NGO partnership on child protection cases. The government collaborated with the Government of Sierra Leone to repatriate a Sierra Leonean trafficking victim identified in Liberia.
The government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers but had at times provided victim-witnesses support to offset the costs of participating in a trial; it did not report providing these services during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution, and victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims received restitution or filed civil suits during the reporting period. The government did not have a formal policy that provided alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship but could offer alternatives, including temporary residency, on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports the government detained, fined, or jailed victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to a lack of training on victim identification and the absence of measures to screen for trafficking among vulnerable populations, it was possible that victims remained unidentified in the law enforcement system.
The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The anti-trafficking task force met irregularly and neither the anti-trafficking task force nor the TIP Secretariat had an operating budget; as a result, they did not implement any activities in the 2014-2019 anti-trafficking national action plan. In addition, other government offices continued to use the TIP Secretariat’s dedicated vehicle for their offices’ non-anti-trafficking purposes, leaving the Secretariat without transportation to investigate cases. In collaboration with an NGO, the MOL continued to staff an anti-trafficking hotline during business hours; it did not report whether it received any trafficking reports during the reporting period. LNP, with some international support, visited approximately 25 beaches and 80 entertainment centers in Monrovia known to have high instances of child sex trafficking, spoke with community groups, and distributed more than 200 flyers to sensitize citizens on child protection issues. MOGCSP continued a government-funded program to provide shelter, psychological counseling, and family reunification to vulnerable street children. The government did not make discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not have the resources to regularly monitor artisanal gold mining operations—where most child labor in the gold mining sector took place—for child or forced child labor, and it did not have any inspectors dedicated to child labor or forced child labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel; however, there were allegations that two Liberian diplomats in the United Kingdom engaged in human trafficking.
As reported over the past five years, Liberia is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Trafficking within the country from rural to urban areas is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children. 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, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on rubber plantations. Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves, take the children or women to urban areas, and exploit them in forced street vending, domestic servitude, or sex trafficking. Traffickers are also often well respected community benefactors who exploit the “foster care” system common across West Africa. While Liberian law requires parents to register children within 14 days of birth, fewer than five percent of births are registered. Although the government has made improvements in birth registration accessibility, continued lack of birth registration and identity documents increase individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. Orphaned children are vulnerable to exploitation, including in street selling and child sex trafficking. In some poor families, parents encourage their daughters to be exploited in prostitution to supplement family income. Liberian nationals and—to a lesser extent—foreigners exploit children in sex trafficking in Monrovia. Officials have documented allegations of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels. Authorities identified two groups of suspected traffickers from Sierra Leone operating in Liberia during the reporting period. A small number of Liberian men, women, and children are subjected to human trafficking in other West African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Women from Tunisia and Morocco have been subjected to sex trafficking in Liberia, and Liberian women have been subjected to forced labor in Lebanon and Finland.