The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government passed and enacted the Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons Within the Republic of Liberia, in September 2021, which amended the 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons and brought Liberia’s trafficking laws in line with international law. The Revised Act criminalized all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of 20 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Article 1-104(f) defined “exploitation” broadly to include child pornography, which was inconsistent with international law.
The government investigated 13 trafficking cases, initiated prosecution of 12 defendants, and continued prosecuting nine defendants, an increase compared with seven case investigations and prosecutions of two defendants in the previous reporting period. The courts convicted eight traffickers, compared to zero convictions during the previous reporting period, with one trafficker sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and seven traffickers whose sentences were pending. The government sometimes prosecuted and convicted crimes as human trafficking which lacked a clear element of exploitation. As of January 2021, Ministry of Labor (MOL) lawyers had the authority to prosecute trafficking and child labor cases, and MOL hired eight lawyers to prosecute trafficking cases; MOL prosecuted five trafficking cases, compared to one case during the previous reporting period. Officials continued to lack 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.
For the second consecutive year, 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.
The Liberian National Police (LNP) established a new Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit in December 2021. The LNP’s Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) also bore primary responsibility for investigating trafficking cases, while the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency 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 incorporate training on human trafficking into the National Police Academy’s basic training course and to roll out new training curricula and a legal handbook on human trafficking for prosecutors and judges. The government provided some support to an international organization to train law enforcement and judicial officials 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 cooperated with an international organization to train judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement on the newly-passed TIP law.