The government maintained uneven protection efforts. The government identified 46 trafficking victims in Sierra Leone and abroad, compared to 34 victims identified in the previous reporting period. Among the victims identified, authorities reported males and females, adults and children, and victims of sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and internal labor trafficking. The majority of victims were Sierra Leoneans exploited in labor trafficking in a foreign country. The government relied on NGOs to care for the majority of trafficking victims. The government referred 33 of the 46 victims it identified to NGOs for care. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) operated a temporary shelter for victims of gender-based violence that trafficking victims could access, and it referred two trafficking victims to the shelter during the reporting period. It was unclear how much funding the shelter received. The government did not report if the other 11 victims identified received government or NGO services; at times, family members provided intra-familial care. In the previous reporting period, the government had committed to devoting approximately 119 million Leones ($15,570) quarterly to an NGO shelter that cared for the majority of trafficking victims; however, it disbursed only one payment of approximately $3,940 to the NGO during the reporting period, and did not provide any other financial support to NGOs that delivered nearly all victim care. NGOs reported identifying and providing services to seven additional 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, staff did not permit victims to leave unchaperoned. Two additional NGOs operated shelters that cared for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims. The government had standard measures to identify trafficking victims, including victims among vulnerable populations. The government had a national mechanism to refer trafficking victims to services; however, a lack of training on the mechanism caused delays in provision of services to victims. In one case, a victim slept at a police station for three weeks because authorities did not request appropriate housing, and in several other cases, MSWGCA officials disregarded the standard protocols for referring victims to NGOs for specialized care. In one case, police intercepted a suspected trafficker and suspected trafficking victims at the border. When alerted to this case, MSWGCA did not follow the established procedures to refer trafficking victims to care, and instead drew up fostering paperwork to allow the children to travel with the alleged trafficker a second time; police intercepted the suspected trafficker a second time and released her after investigation, while an NGO cared for the children.
The Sierra Leonean embassy in Kuwait temporarily housed several trafficking victims and referred others to a shelter for care; the government-funded repatriation for five victims, and an international organization repatriated an additional 10 trafficking victims. In addition, the embassy in Guinea housed and provided food, clothing, and repatriation for 11 trafficking victims; however, the government continued to hold the victims’ passports at the close of the reporting period. This was comparable to Sierra Leonean embassies supporting and repatriating at least 25 trafficking victims from Kuwait and Guinea the previous reporting period. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs engaged with the Government of Kuwait to advocate for humane treatment of Sierra Leonean domestic workers. The government provided a brochure to migrants returning from Libya with information on social services trafficking victims could access.
The government did not provide sufficient protection or support to victims who participated in trials against their traffickers; as a result, many victims could not meet the travel requirements for court appearances and judges dismissed their cases. Two trafficking victims participated in trials against their traffickers during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law did not provide for restitution, and while victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period. The Sexual Offenses Act provided for restitution, which sex trafficking victims could access; however, restitution could only be pursued after conviction, and there were no convictions during the reporting period. The law provided alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship, including temporary residency; the government did not report providing these services to any victims during the reporting period. 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 may have resulted in some victims remaining unidentified in the law enforcement system.