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SIERRA LEONE: Tier 2

The Government of Sierra Leone does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Sierra Leone was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included convicting traffickers for the first time in 15 years; significantly increasing investigations and prosecutions; significantly increasing trainings for officials on trafficking; contributing a facility for an NGO to establish a shelter for victims; and establishing district-level anti-trafficking task forces. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The labor migration moratorium remained enforced, which increased Sierra Leonean labor migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. Shelter and services, especially for male trafficking victims, remained inadequate and limited to Freetown. Law enforcement did not investigate past reports of corruption and complicity that impeded law enforcement efforts.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Expand victim shelter and services, including for male victims, outside of Freetown.Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, following due process, and sentence convicted traffickers with significant prison terms in accordance with the law.Train police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases.Train all actors on the standard victim identification measures and the national referral mechanism to ensure trafficking victims receive timely services.End policies that encourage labor migration to occur through informal channels, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking.Fully implement the new Labor Migration Policy, including pre-departure education about labor rights and increasing the capacity of Sierra Leonean missions to support victims.Increase financial or in-kind support to NGOs that support trafficking victims.Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses.Continue efforts to raise public awareness of trafficking.Coordinate with the governments of Liberia and Guinea to prosecute transnational cases, coordinate victim protection, and prevent trafficking.Improve data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim assistance efforts.

PROSECUTION

The government significantly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. These penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the penalties for sex trafficking were not commensurate with the penalties for other grave crimes, such as rape. The Sexual Offences Act criminalized sex trafficking under its “forced prostitution” and “child prostitution” provisions and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes such as rape. During the reporting period, the government continued collaborating with NGOs to revise the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the possibility of a fine for convicted traffickers, and to improve victim protection measures. NGOs and the government socialized the draft bill with civil society, including trafficking survivors, to provide input; the draft legislation remained pending with the attorney general’s office at the close of the reporting period.

The government reported investigating 30 cases, initiating nine new prosecutions, and convicting two traffickers, a significant increase from 13 investigations, three prosecutions, and no convictions in the previous reporting period. In February 2020, the government convicted its first traffickers in 15 years. The two convicted traffickers fraudulently recruited nine Sierra Leonean women and attempted to transport them to Middle Eastern countries for exploitation in domestic servitude; the government sentenced one of the traffickers to 20 years’ imprisonment and the other to eight years’ imprisonment. Judicial inefficiencies, general corruption, and procedural delays prevented courts from holding traffickers accountable and diminished faith in the judicial system. As a result, victims’ families often accepted payments from traffickers rather than pursue cases in court, and families sometimes exerted pressure on victims to not participate in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers due to security concerns, community ties to alleged traffickers, and the high cost and travel required to participate in such cases. In many cases, victims either did not agree to testify against their traffickers and prosecutors dropped the charges, or victims could not meet the travel requirements for court appearances and judges dismissed their cases. During the reporting period, the government expedited trafficking cases by referring trafficking prosecutions directly to the High Court, bypassing the preliminary investigation stage, which sometimes was a three-year process. In addition, the chief justice assigned a dedicated judge and the Ministry of Justice appointed a special prosecutor for trafficking cases. In previous years, traffickers reportedly bribed prosecutors not to prosecute cases, and bribed judges to dismiss cases; it is not clear whether this remained an issue. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption, particularly within the judiciary, remained a serious problem and affected the provision of justice to trafficking victims. In the previous reporting period, an NGO alleged police officers raped potential child trafficking victims and, in some cases, transported victims to police stations where they were sexually abused.

To counter the lack of understanding of trafficking among government officials, the government significantly increased efforts to train officials. The government partnered with an NGO and a foreign donor to develop a training manual on human trafficking for police and other law enforcement agencies. The government’s anti-trafficking task force trained 30 social workers on providing psycho-social support to trafficking victims and 24 officers from the Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) and Family Support Unit on the use of victim identification forms. In collaboration with an international organization, the government trained approximately 50 law enforcement officers, including police prosecutors, on using the national referral mechanism and identifying trafficking victims. Together with NGOs, the government trained 120 border officials on victim identification and coordinated with a regional intergovernmental organization to train 30 judges, magistrates, and police prosecutors on trafficking. The government drafted standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim identification with the Government of Guinea during the reporting period; as of the end of the reporting period, neither government had approved the draft SOPs, but border personnel began implementing the SOPs at some border crossings. The government continued regular border security meetings with the Governments of Guinea and Liberia, which included trafficking, but reported its failure to ratify the ECOWAS Convention on Mutual Assistance in the Fight against Trafficking compounded difficulties in cross-border investigations.

PROTECTION

The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government had standard measures to identify trafficking victims, including victims among vulnerable populations, and used standardized case assessment forms created by an NGO. However, awareness of identification procedures and inconsistent application of these procedures continued. In collaboration with an international organization, the government identified 76 trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 481 potential victims identified in the previous reporting period; however, potential victims identified during the previous reporting period included returning irregular migrants who may have experienced exploitation abroad. Of the 76 identified victims, 43 were Sierra Leonean women exploited in forced labor and three were Indian, Pakistani, and Nigerien men exploited in forced labor. In addition, the government identified 13 boys exploited in forced labor and 13 girls exploited in unknown forms of trafficking. The government relied on NGOs to care for trafficking victims; however, the government did provide counseling and legal services to 51 victims. In August 2019, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) contributed a building to an NGO to operate a shelter specifically for trafficking victims. The MSWGCA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NGO stating the building was dedicated to support trafficking victims in perpetuity. The shelter opened in October 2019 and offered medical, psycho-social, legal, and reintegration support to 26 trafficking victims during the reporting period. The center cared for both foreign and domestic victims; however, staff did not permit victims to leave unchaperoned. The government and most NGOs were not able to provide shelter for male victims. An NGO was able to provide temporary housing, food, medical care, and psycho-social counseling on a limited basis when the government identified male victims. An additional NGO operated a shelter for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims. The government reported the Nigerian High Commission in Freetown provided shelter and repatriation for four Nigerian victims identified during the reporting period.

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 some cases, victims slept at police stations 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. The Sierra Leonean embassy in Kuwait requested assistance from an international organization to repatriate potential trafficking victims; the embassy provided travel documents and counseling for an unknown number of potential victims. During the reporting period, an international organization repatriated at least 69 Sierra Leonean victims from the Middle East, including 47 from Kuwait, 20 from Oman, and two from Iraq. The Ministry of Labor and Social Services (MLSS) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an MOU with the Government of Kuwait on safe labor recruitment to be implemented after the government removes a moratorium on labor migration imposed during the previous reporting period. The Sierra Leonean embassy in The Gambia provided shelter and other assistance to at least three Sierra Leonean victims during the reporting period.

Unlike in previous reporting periods, the government provided support to victims participating in trials against their traffickers by providing immigration relief, legal services, transportation, and lodging. In addition, prosecutors requested closed court sessions to protect victims’ identities and prevent re-traumatization during trials. Fifty-one victims voluntarily participated in investigations and prosecutions during the reporting period. Prosecutors requested restitution in all cases prosecuted during the reporting period. However, the judge denied restitution in the one case completed in the reporting period. While victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so 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 penalized victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to inconsistent application of identification procedures, some victims may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking, but continued some policies that increased vulnerability to trafficking. The anti-trafficking task force had a 2015-2020 national action plan and met regularly. The government allocated one billion Leones ($103,740) to anti-trafficking efforts in fiscal year 2020, including implementation of the national action plan. In September 2019, the government established regional anti-trafficking task forces in all 16 districts to amplify the central task force’s efforts. The government organized a two-week media campaign with television and radio specials on human trafficking and irregular migration. The government trained 30 media personnel on how to report on trafficking and 50 trade union members, journalists, social workers, and civil society organizations on identifying 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, which remained in effect during the reporting period. The government’s past and current efforts to prevent exploitation of labor migrants by restricting Sierra Leoneans’ access to safe and legal migration routes drove Sierra Leoneans to migrate through informal channels subsequently 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 socialized the new policy with relevant agencies during the reporting period but did not yet fully implement it at the end of the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

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. In 2018, 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 previous reporting period, a trafficker compelled a Chinese man to work as domestic servant in Freetown. Traffickers exploited traditional foster care practices called “menpikin” to convince parents to hand over their children and promising to provide an education or better life, but instead exploit the children in various forms of forced labor including domestic servitude, street vending, mining, agriculture, scavenging for scrap metal, and okada (motorbike taxi) driving. Traffickers exploiting menpikin also exploit some children in commercial sex. 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 Pakistani and Indian men in forced labor in Sierra Leone; in previous years, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, 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, 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 exploit 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, The Gambia, and Liberia en route to exploitation in Kuwait. Traffickers also exploit Sierra Leonean women in domestic servitude in Oman, Iraq, 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.

U.S. Department of State

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