LIBERIA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by supporting victims during trial by providing transportation, security, and shelter; organizing public awareness events with high-level officials; and training more law enforcement officials on identifying and investigating trafficking. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Complicity and corruption inhibited anti-trafficking law enforcement action, and law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Shelter and services for victims remained limited, and the government did not allocate an operating budget to the anti-trafficking task force or its working-level body, the TIP Secretariat. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Liberia was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Liberia remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to more vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including internal trafficking cases and officials accused of complicity. • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases and to prescribe penalties for adult trafficking that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties for other grave crimes. • In partnership with international organizations and experts, train and equip law enforcement, immigration officials, labor inspectors, and social workers to more effectively identify trafficking victims as well as to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offenses. • Provide operating and victim protection budgets and in-kind resources, as feasible, to the anti-trafficking task force. • Endorse the national referral mechanism, and facilitate training for law enforcement and social workers on implementation. • Increase efforts to raise awareness of trafficking, including internal trafficking. • Expand victim services—particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and victims requiring long-term care—through increased financial or in-kind support to shelters. • Enforce the 2005 law requiring restitution be paid to trafficking victims.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor 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 child sex trafficking were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but those prescribed for adult sex trafficking were not. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking.

The government investigated five cases, initiated prosecutions of two defendants, and convicted one trafficker, compared with four investigations, four prosecutions, and four convictions in the previous reporting period. Many officials continued to view internal trafficking, especially child domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime and therefore did not often investigate or prosecute these cases. In other cases, prosecutors may have pursued other charges, including rape, in lieu of sex trafficking. Beginning in May 2018, judges prosecuted a suspected labor trafficker; the government convicted the suspect, a Sierra Leonean woman, and sentenced her to eight years’ imprisonment. In March 2019, the government initiated prosecution of a suspect who allegedly brought two children from Guinea and exploited them in street vending; the prosecution was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report efforts to investigate, prosecute, or convict allegedly complicit officials. Contacts reported law enforcement occasionally accepted bribes from suspected traffickers to end investigations. During the previous reporting period, the United Kingdom expelled two Liberian diplomats for allegedly facilitating prostitution and potentially sex trafficking; the government has not reported investigating these allegations and one of the accused diplomats is reportedly serving in a new post. NGOs and officials reported some government employees may have been directly complicit in child trafficking, including for domestic servitude and street vending.

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 forced labor, and the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) could investigate transnational trafficking. LIS created a new Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit comprising five officers, with one stationed at each of Liberia’s five major ports of entry. 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. With support from an international organization, the LNP incorporated anti-trafficking training into its curriculum and trained 12 LNP trainers who then trained approximately 41 law enforcement officers. The head of the LIS anti-trafficking unit trained 30 border security officers on trafficking. The government partnered with an international organization to conduct a four-day workshop on human trafficking and child labor attended by 17 government officials from the MOL, LIS, LNP, Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP), Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Internal Affairs. The government provided some support for two officials to participate in two separate international conferences on trafficking. Nonetheless, officials and NGOs 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.

PROTECTION

The government maintained modest efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified at least two trafficking victims, compared with four trafficking victims identified the previous reporting period. Poor record keeping and inadequate resources hindered reliable data collection, and statistics were often not disaggregated to differentiate trafficking from similar crimes. The MOGCSP estimated that it provided assistance to at least eight victims and 30 potential child trafficking victims during the reporting period. While the government had standard operating procedures to identify trafficking victims, authorities reported the majority of law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on such procedures and, at times, identified some trafficking victims 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 this lack of awareness of trafficking among authorities and communities, as well as insufficient government resources to identify trafficking victims, most trafficking victims remained unidentified. In November 2018, the government finalized the national referral mechanism to direct victims towards services, but the cabinet must formally endorse the mechanism before it can be implemented. 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 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. Government-provided shelter and services remained basic and short-term. The MOGSCP reported that it 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 previous 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. Shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims. No shelter was available for adult male victims, although some MOGCSP shelters could accommodate young boys. Adult victims were sometimes allowed to leave the shelters at will. Shelters often could not protect victims’ identities, and stays were limited, usually up to three months due to capacity. MOGSCP could arrange foster care for victims who required longer-term care. MOGSCP continued 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 two Sierra Leonean trafficking victims identified in Liberia.

The government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers but at times provided victim-witnesses support to offset the costs of participating in a trial; the government, in partnership with NGOs, provided transportation, accommodation, and security for two Sierra Leonean victims when they returned to Monrovia for their alleged trafficker’s trial. 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 penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; 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.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The anti-trafficking task force met regularly but neither the anti-trafficking task force nor the TIP Secretariat had an operating budget. The government implemented some activities in the 2013-2018 anti-trafficking national action plan but activities were limited due to lack of resources. During the reporting period, the government collaborated with NGOs and international organizations to review the 2013-2018 anti-trafficking national action plan and propose inputs for the 2019-2024 national action plan, which was finalized in March 2019. During the review process, the government extended the 2013-2018 national action plan through June 2019. In July and August 2018, the government, including the anti-trafficking task force collaborated with international organizations and NGOs to organize public awareness activities around World Day Against Trafficking with participation of high-level officials such as the president pro-tempore of the senate, minister of gender, and the deputy minister of justice. The president recorded a video-message about human trafficking that the government broadcasted on television and radio for several weeks. In collaboration with NGOs, the MOL continued to staff an anti-trafficking hotline during business hours; the hotline received 30 calls in 2018, five of which were referred to the LNP, MOGCSP, or MOL. Similar to the previous reporting period, LNP visited popular beaches and entertainment centers in Monrovia known to have high instances of child sex trafficking, spoke with community groups, and distributed fliers to sensitize citizens on child protection issues; the LNP arrested two suspects for potential trafficking crimes. MOGCSP continued a government-funded program to provide shelter, psychological counseling, and family reunification to vulnerable street children and provided services to approximately 200 children through this program. The government made limited efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex and forced labor. The government inspected artisanal gold mining operations—where most child labor in the gold mining sector took place—for child labor or forced child labor but did not report any such violations. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel; there were allegations that two Liberian diplomats in the United Kingdom engaged in human trafficking during the previous reporting period.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Liberia, and traffickers exploit victims from Liberia abroad. 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 small-scale 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, about 25 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 vending 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. In previous reporting periods, officials documented allegations of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels. Authorities identified 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. In the past, 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.

U.S. Department of State

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