The government decreased 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 it did not include maximum sentences. The prescribed penalties for trafficking of children were sufficiently stringent but those prescribed for trafficking of adults 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 seven cases and initiated prosecutions of two defendants, a decrease compared with 18 case investigations and prosecutions of four defendants in the previous reporting period. Courts did not convict any traffickers, compared with one conviction during the previous reporting period. Authorities investigated a case involving a Liberian national who allegedly recruited and exploited 15 adults and children from Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire in forced labor; the trafficker posed as a labor recruiter on an online platform and exploited the victims in street vending upon their arrival in Liberia. Authorities cooperated with the governments of Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire on the case. The defendant was charged with human trafficking and awaited prosecution at the end of the reporting period. In January 2021, the government extended authority to Ministry of Labor (MOL) lawyers to prosecute trafficking and child labor cases, in addition to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ); the MOL subsequently prosecuted one trafficking case during the reporting period. Authorities arrested and charged an Indian national with human trafficking; the perpetrator allegedly fraudulently recruited an Indian man for work in Liberia and exploited him in domestic servitude. However, the MOL dropped the trafficking charges, and the perpetrator paid a fine. Authorities apprehended and extradited one alleged trafficker to Sierra Leone during the reporting period. Officials continued to lack an understanding of internal trafficking, and some continued to view forms of trafficking, especially forced labor of children in domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime. Prosecutors may have pursued other charges, including rape and child endangerment, in lieu of sex trafficking or child forced labor due to a lack of understanding of human trafficking.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. During the previous reporting period, the government reported initiating investigations of an unknown number of cases of official complicity but did not report whether it continued the investigations. Observers previously reported law enforcement occasionally accepted bribes from suspected traffickers to end investigations, and 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) bore primary responsibility for investigating trafficking cases. The Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) and Transnational Crimes Unit also investigated transnational trafficking cases. The LIS Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit, comprising 14 officers, stationed at least one officer at each of Liberia’s five major ports of entry and other minor ports of entry. The government did not provide the LNP with dedicated anti-trafficking funding or in-kind support, and it lacked basic resources and equipment to fully respond to and investigate allegations of trafficking, especially outside the capital. Courts operated at reduced capacity and processed fewer cases due to pandemic-related restrictions. The pandemic also reduced law enforcement’s capacity to conduct investigations; authorities reassigned law enforcement officers to enforce public health measures, diminishing police presence at stations, depots, and border posts.
The government coordinated with an international organization to develop a legal handbook on human trafficking for prosecutors and judges; authorities also continued to use a training curriculum on trafficking and case management for judicial and law enforcement officials developed in a previous reporting period. Although pandemic-related restrictions halted training for much of the reporting period, the government provided some support to the same international organization to train 223 law enforcement officials from LNP, LIS, Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency, and labor inspectors on conducting trafficking investigations and identifying victims. Nonetheless, officials and NGOs reported many labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, and judges remained unable to identify trafficking and lacked sufficient resources, impeding trafficking investigations and prosecutions.