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.