The government moderately 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. Draft legislation to replace the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the possibility of a fine in lieu of imprisonment for convicted traffickers, increase penalties, and improve victim protection measures remained pending at the close of the reporting period.
The government reported investigating 72 cases, prosecuting at least 30 defendants in 33 cases, and convicting one trafficker during the reporting period; this compared with 30 investigations, prosecution of nine defendants, and conviction of three traffickers during the previous reporting period. The convicted trafficker fraudulently recruited a Sierra Leonean woman and exploited her in domestic servitude in Oman; the court sentenced him to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine as victim compensation. 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, either victims 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 continued to expedite 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 (MOJ) assigned special prosecutors 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 employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes, particularly in the judiciary, remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement and judicial action during the year. In a 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.
Due to the pandemic, the government did not report providing specialized anti-trafficking training to law enforcement or judicial officials, compared to training 74 law enforcement officials, 120 border officials, and 30 judges, magistrates, and prosecutors in the previous reporting period. The government continued to cooperate with the governments of Guinea and Liberia on trafficking cases and border security, and it implemented standard operating procedures on victim identification with the Government of Guinea during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the government cooperated with the Government of Liberia on two trafficking cases, with one case resulting in the arrest and extradition of one alleged trafficker to Sierra Leone. In the other case, the governments assisted the Government of Liberia in investigating a Liberian recruitment agency exploiting Togolese and Guinean workers in Sierra Leone.