The government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government improved its efforts to collect more comprehensive data and reported its identification of seven trafficking victims (two child forced labor and five child sex trafficking) and 60 potential trafficking victims, compared with two trafficking victims identified the previous reporting period. This increase was in part due to the large number of victims involved in investigations; for example, in one investigation the government identified 22 potential child victims en route to exploitation. Of the 60 potential victims, 56 were potential forced labor victims and one was a potential sex trafficking victim. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP) provided shelter to 25 potential child trafficking victims for three weeks before assisting with family reunification. 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. 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 October 2019, the government promulgated the national referral mechanism to direct victims to services and held a workshop in November 2019 in Ganta with relevant law enforcement agencies to discuss its use. The government held three training sessions on the referral mechanism for Ministry of Health (MOH) officials, prosecutors, legislators, and law enforcement officers between December 2019 and February 2020.
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. Resource constraints limited services available to trafficking victims. The MOGCSP operated shelters in Lofa and Nimba for gender-based violence victims that trafficking victims could access. The MOGCSP occasionally reopened dormant shelters when there was a pressing need; when the LIS identified 22 potential child trafficking victims in September 2019, the MOGCSP reopened one of these shelters for three weeks. The MOGCSP shelters provided long-term care and social services. The government also operated the Liberia Children Village for child victims of neglect and abuse, which provided short-term shelter to 39 children, including potential trafficking victims, during the reporting period. In addition to the two shelters, the MOGSCP operated 12 transit centers that provided medical services and short-term accommodation, and the LNP operated one short-term accommodation center. In theory, each transit center had on staff at least one social worker, one nurse trained in sexual- and gender-based violence cases, and one police officer; however, resources allocated to each center varied. Most of the transit centers did not provide short-term accommodations. The MOH could provide limited medical and psycho-social services. LIS temporarily housed 28 Sierra Leonean potential trafficking victims identified at Roberts International Airport about to depart for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries for domestic work in several alleged fraudulent recruitment cases. The government relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable but did not provide financial or in-kind assistance to those shelters. During the reporting period, the government referred an unknown number of child victims to NGO shelters; the government did not report whether it provided financial or in-kind assistance to the NGO. In 2017, MOGCSP embedded two social workers within the WACPS to assist women and children, including trafficking victims, and MOGCSP social workers continued to visit police precincts to coordinate cases. LNP provided food and other in-kind support to the police accommodation center. Shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims. No shelter was available for adult male victims, although some MOGCSP and private shelters could accommodate young boys. Adult victims were only allowed to leave the shelters at will on an ad hoc basis. 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 coordinated with the Government of Sierra Leone to repatriate 28 Sierra Leonean potential 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. During the reporting period, the government provided some limited funding for transportation and lodging to assist victims’ participation in prosecutions. In some cases, government officials personally paid for victims’ transportation to court due to lack of government funds. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution but courts did not issue restitution in any cases during the reporting period. In addition, victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims filed civil suits during the reporting period due to victims’ low awareness this option was available to them. 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 crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to a lack of training on identification procedures, some victims may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.