The government maintained uneven efforts to prevent trafficking. The anti-trafficking task force had a 2015-2020 national action plan and met regularly, but the government did not provide an operational budget for the task force or funding for implementation of the plan, which limited activities and impeded law enforcement efforts. MSWGCA participated in several radio and television programs to raise awareness of human rights, including the dangers of human trafficking. While MLSS had strict licensing procedures for new recruitment agencies to prevent exploitation of intending migrant workers, it continued to issue business registration certificates before TOCU had finished vetting the prospective agencies. In February 2019, the government implemented a moratorium on recruitment of Sierra Leoneans for employment abroad; as a result, TOCU suspended its vetting process and issuance of certificates to recruitment agencies. The government’s past and current efforts to prevent exploitation of labor migrants by restricting Sierra Leoneans’ access to safe and legal migration routes potentially drove Sierra Leoneans to migrate through informal channels inadvertently increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. In July 2018, the MLSS finalized a Labor Migration Policy to improve protections for migrant workers in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans working abroad; the policy implementation action plans required the creation of a technical working group including the anti-trafficking task force. The strategies included in the policy include increasing capacity of Sierra Leonean missions to provide protection services to workers abroad, increasing awareness of labor rights prior to workers’ departure through mass communication outlets such as radio, television, and billboards, improving recruitment agency licensing procedures, and developing bilateral labor migration agreements with destination countries on complaint mechanisms and migrants’ rights. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sierra Leone, and traffickers exploit victims from Sierra Leone abroad. Traffickers recruit victims largely from rural provinces to urban and mining centers for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, making ceramics, rock breaking, quarrying, street crime, and begging. Traffickers exploit victims in fishing and agriculture, and sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages. The government reported child sex trafficking—especially of children from poor homes—was a serious problem, including at beaches and in nightclubs. Local demand fueled the majority of child sex trafficking, although foreign tourists were also clients at beaches and nightclubs. During the reporting period, an NGO reported Chinese-owned companies helped to fuel child sex trafficking in Freetown, citing specifically workers on Chinese-owned fishing vessels who bring girls to their boats at night for commercial sexual exploitation. During the reporting period, a Chinese man was exploited in forced labor as a domestic worker. Traffickers typically operate individually, convincing parents to hand over their children and promising to provide an education or better life but instead exploiting the children in trafficking. Children from neighboring West African countries have been exploited in forced begging, forced labor, and sex trafficking in Sierra Leone, and Sierra Leonean children are taken to Mali, Niger, and increasingly Guinea for forced labor and sex trafficking. During the reporting period, traffickers exploited Lebanese and Indian men in forced labor in Sierra Leone; in previous years, Chinese, Indian, Kenyan, and Sri Lankan men have been forced labor victims in Sierra Leone. Traffickers exploited boys and girls from Sierra Leone reportedly as “cultural dancers”—and possibly also for sexual exploitation—in The Gambia. During the reporting period, an increasing number of traffickers, including family members, tried to sell Sierra Leonean children for domestic servitude. Sierra Leonean adults voluntarily migrate to other West African countries, including Mauritania and Guinea, as well as to the Middle East and Europe, where traffickers forced some into forced labor and sex trafficking. Sierra Leonean-Kuwaiti trafficking networks increasingly fraudulently recruit Sierra Leoneans for education in Europe and the United States but subject them to domestic servitude in Kuwait. During the reporting period, authorities identified traffickers moving women through Guinea en route to exploitation in Kuwait. Traffickers also exploit Sierra Leonean women in domestic servitude in Egypt and Lebanon. Since 2017, an international organization repatriated at least 1,500 Sierra Leoneans from Libya and other Middle Eastern countries, some of whom were victims of slavery and sex trafficking. In previous reporting periods, an international organization reported some Libyan soldiers sold stranded Sierra Leonean migrants in their custody to Libyan and Middle Eastern traffickers.