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LIBERIA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Liberia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included opening a new shelter for child trafficking victims, initiating an investigation into a high-profile labor trafficking case in cooperation with foreign governments, and allocating funding to NGOs to conduct awareness raising campaigns. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government identified fewer victims, initiated fewer investigations, prosecuted fewer defendants, and did not convict any traffickers. Law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Shelter services for victims remained insufficient, and the government did not support NGOs providing care to victims. Therefore, Liberia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including internal trafficking cases and officials accused of complicity. • Train law enforcement and judicial officials on identifying, investigating, and prosecuting trafficking cases under the 2005 anti-trafficking law. • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases. • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to prescribe penalties for adult trafficking that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties for other grave crimes. • Expand victim services—particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and victims requiring long-term care. • Increase financial or in-kind support to NGOs that support trafficking victims. • Train law enforcement, labor inspectors, immigration officials, and social workers on standard victim identification procedures and the national referral mechanism. • Allocate financial and in-kind resources, as feasible, to the anti-trafficking task force. • Increase labor inspections in the informal sector and mining regions to improve identification of trafficking cases, including child forced labor. • Increase efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking, including internal trafficking. • Screen foreign workers, including Cuban medical workers and Chinese nationals working for Chinese-owned enterprises, for forced labor indicators and refer identified forced labor victims to appropriate services.

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.

The government maintained insufficient efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified 29 trafficking victims in 2020, compared with identifying seven trafficking victims and 60 potential trafficking victims during the previous reporting period. Of the 29 victims, authorities identified 11 victims from Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, and Sierra Leone as part of a fraudulent recruitment investigation; the government provided shelter and basic necessities to the 11 victims but could not account for all of the victims’ whereabouts at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report how many, if any, of the remaining 18 identified victims it referred to shelter services. The government had standard operating procedures and a national referral mechanism (NRM) to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care. However, law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on such procedures and, at times, misidentified trafficking victims as victims of other crimes. The government did not report training officials on the NRM, in part due to pandemic-related gathering restrictions, compared with holding three trainings during the previous reporting period.

Police and community members generally referred trafficking victims to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP). The anti-trafficking task force working group, which included the MOGCSP, was responsible for coordinating victim care. During the reporting period, the MOL opened a shelter for child labor and child trafficking victims; the shelter could accommodate eight victims at a time, with emergency space for five additional victims. The government also operated the Liberia Children Village for child victims of neglect and abuse, which could provide short-term shelter to child trafficking victims. The MOGCSP operated shelters in Lofa and Nimba for gender-based violence victims that female trafficking victims could access; the shelters provided long-term care and social services. Additionally, the MOGSCP operated several transit centers that provided medical services and short-term accommodation. Each transit center should have had at least one social worker, one nurse trained in sexual- and gender-based violence cases, and one police officer on staff; however, resources allocated to each center varied. Most of the transit centers operated only during the daytime and did not provide short-term accommodations. Twelve LNP WACPS facilities could provide short-term accommodations to child victims of crime, and occasionally adult victims, but lacked basic amenities; an international organization renovated six of the centers during the reporting period. Two MOGCSP social workers continued to work within the WACPS to assist women and children, including trafficking victims, and visit police precincts to coordinate cases. Resource constraints limited services for trafficking victims. The government relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable but did not report providing financial or in-kind assistance to those shelters. 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 sometimes could not protect victims’ identities, and victims could usually stay only three to six months due to capacity limitations. MOGSCP could arrange foster care for victims requiring longer-term care. The government did not report if the MOGSCP continued collaborating with NGOs through regular meetings of the Child Protection Network during the reporting period. The government coordinated with the Government of Sierra Leone to repatriate three Sierra Leonean potential trafficking victims, and the government repatriated one Indian national trafficking victim.

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 funding for transportation and lodging to assist victims’ participation in prosecutions. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to obtain restitution, but courts did not issue restitution in any cases during the reporting period. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims filed civil suits during the reporting period, largely due to lack of awareness of this option. 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 detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to a lack of training, insufficient resources, and inconsistent application of victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained unidentified victims.

The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The MOL coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and co-chaired the anti-trafficking task force with the MOJ. The task force also included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and MOGCSP; it continued to meet regularly during the reporting period. The government allocated $50,000 to the task force in the 2020-2021 budget, the same amount allocated in the 2019-2020 budget; the government did not report how much of the funding it disbursed during the reporting period, compared with disbursing $25,000 during the previous reporting period. The government allocated $5,000 to five local NGOs conducting awareness raising campaigns on trafficking and child labor in five of Liberia’s 15 counties. The government continued implementing the 2019-2024 action plan to combat trafficking in persons, although pandemic-related gathering restrictions limited its ability to conduct activities during the reporting period. In July 2020, the government organized public awareness activities around World Day against Trafficking in Persons with participation of high-level officials, community members, and the media. In collaboration with NGOs, the MOL continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline during business hours and hired an additional staff member to manage the calls. The government received 346 credible calls during the reporting period but did not report initiating any investigations or identifying any victims as a result. Despite conducting over 1,000 labor inspections in 2020, labor inspectors did not report identifying any child labor or trafficking victims. During the previous reporting period, LNP visited popular beaches and entertainment centers in Monrovia known to have high instances of child sex trafficking, spoke with community groups, and distributed fliers to sensitize citizens on child protection issues; the government continued these activities on a limited basis during the reporting period due to the pandemic’s impact on tourism and strained law enforcement resources. 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.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Liberia, and traffickers exploit victims from Liberia abroad. Trafficking within the country is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children. Traffickers recruit and exploit most victims within the country’s borders in domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations. Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves, take the children or women to urban areas, and subsequently exploit them in forced labor in street vending, domestic service, or sex trafficking. Traffickers are also often well-respected community members who exploit the “foster care” system common across West Africa. While Liberian law requires parents to register children within 14 days of birth, only about 30 percent of births are registered. Although the government has expanded birth registration accessibility, continued lack of birth registration and identity documents increase individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. Traffickers exploit orphaned children in street vending and child sex trafficking. Some parents encourage their daughters’ exploitation in commercial sex to supplement family income. Liberian nationals and—to a lesser extent—foreigners exploit children in sex trafficking in Monrovia. Traffickers allegedly compel children to sell illicit drugs. Cuban medical professionals working in Liberia may have been forced to work by the Cuban government, and Chinese nationals working in Liberia may have been forced to work, including by Chinese-owned enterprises. Officials identified potential Chinese and Malaysian forced labor victims in the construction sector during the previous reporting period. In the past, officials documented allegations of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels. Sierra Leonean traffickers operate in Liberia. During the reporting period, Liberian authorities identified a suspected trafficker and trafficking victim from India. Traffickers exploited a small number of Liberian men, women, and children in other West African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. During the previous reporting period, Thai authorities identified a Liberian trafficking victim in Thailand. In the past, traffickers exploited Tunisian and Moroccan women in sex trafficking in Liberia and Liberian women in forced labor in Lebanon and Finland.

U.S. Department of State

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