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Sierra Leone (Tier 2)

The Government of Sierra Leone does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, therefore Sierra Leone remained on Tier 2. These efforts included signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Guinea on anti-trafficking coordination, convicting more traffickers, launching a nationwide trafficking hotline, and ratifying the ECOWAS Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, intended to facilitate cross-border law enforcement anti-trafficking efforts. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated fewer cases; shelter and services, especially for male victims, remained inadequate and limited to Freetown; and the government did not report providing any funding to support NGOs providing the majority of victim shelter and services.

  • Expand victim shelter and services, including for male victims, outside of Freetown.
  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, following due process, and sentence convicted traffickers with significant prison terms in accordance with the law.
  • Train police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases.
  • Train all officials on the standard victim identification measures and national referral mechanism to ensure trafficking victims receive timely services.
  • End policies that encourage labor migration to occur through informal channels, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking.
  • Implement the new Labor Migration Policy, including pre-departure education about labor rights, improving recruitment agency licensing procedures, and increasing the capacity of Sierra Leonean missions to support victims.
  • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses.
  • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including Sierra Leonean women traveling abroad for domestic work, women in commercial sex, irregular migrants, children in informal foster care arrangements, and Cuban overseas workers.
  • Coordinate with the Governments of Liberia and Guinea to prosecute transnational cases, coordinate victim protection, and prevent trafficking.
  • Improve data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim assistance efforts.

The government made mixed 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 43 cases, compared with investigating 72 cases the previous reporting period. The government reported prosecuting an unknown number of defendants in nine cases, which resulted in the conviction of three traffickers, compared with prosecuting at least 30 defendants in 33 cases and convicting one trafficker during the previous reporting period. Judicial inefficiencies, general corruption, and procedural delays hindered courts from holding traffickers accountable and diminished confidence 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.

The government could 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, there was a dedicated judge and special prosecutors for trafficking cases. In previous years, traffickers reportedly bribed prosecutors not to prosecute cases and bribed judges to dismiss cases. 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. 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.

The government, in collaboration with an international organization and NGOs, trained magistrates and High Court judges on prosecuting trafficking cases and trained district task force members on victim identification, referral, and case management. Police officers did not receive training on human trafficking while at the police academy. The government continued to cooperate with the Government of Guinea, including signing an MOU on trafficking issues. The government also met with the Government of The Gambia and began discussions on drafting an MOU. The government cooperated with the Governments of Senegal and Guinea on the repatriation of an unspecified number of Sierra Leonean victims. The government ratified the ECOWAS Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, which provides a framework for international cooperation on investigations, including of trafficking cases.

The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 43 trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 73 victims identified in the previous reporting period. NGOs identified an additional 59 female victims, five adult victims of sex trafficking, five adult victims of unspecified exploitation, 26 child victims of sex trafficking, and 23 child victims of unspecified exploitation. Officials referred women and child victims to NGOs for shelter services, while authorities temporarily sheltered male victims at law enforcement facilities. The government had standard procedures to identify trafficking victims, including victims among vulnerable populations, and refer them to services; however, inconsistent application and lack of training on the procedures prevented some victims from receiving services. The government relied heavily on NGOs to identify victims. In some cases, victims slept at police stations due to a lack of appropriate housing authorities, especially for male victims, and Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) officials did not uniformly implement the standard protocols for referring victims to NGOs for specialized care.

The government relied on NGOs to care for trafficking victims. During the reporting period, one NGO-operated shelter for female and child trafficking victims provided medical, psycho-social, educational, legal, vocational, family tracing, and reintegration support to at least 31 labor trafficking victims, 26 of whom were children; adult victims were permitted to leave the shelter unchaperoned. Unlike the previous reporting period, the government did not provide financial or food assistance to the shelter. Another NGO operated a shelter for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims. No shelters could accommodate adult male victims. The government sometimes would provide adult male victims with funds to rent housing during investigations, but often male victims slept at police stations while investigations were ongoing. Some victims stayed at Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) facilities during investigations, and the government did not refer them for additional services. TOCU officials paid for food for these victims out of their personal funds, as they did not have a budget for providing victim services. In some cases, law enforcement temporarily sheltered child victims in their own homes during investigations. The government assisted in the repatriation of two Sierra Leonean children who may have been trafficking victims in Guinea. An international organization identified and assisted at least 27 Sierra Leonean trafficking victims exploited in the Middle East.

The government could support victims participating in trials against their traffickers by providing immigration relief, legal services, transportation, and lodging. In addition, prosecutors could request closed court sessions to protect victims’ identities and prevent re-traumatization during trials. The government did not report how many victims, if any, voluntarily participated in investigations and prosecutions during the reporting period. An international organization reported that limited victim assistance, lack of legal representation, and fear of retaliation resulted in many victims fearing to report their cases to law enforcement. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, but the government did not report any cases in which courts awarded restitution. While victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period. The law provided legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; the government did not report providing these services to any victims during the reporting period. Due to inconsistent application of victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The anti-trafficking task force, chaired by the Ministry of Social Welfare and Ministry of Justice, was responsible for coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The task force, in partnership with ECOWAS and an international organization, began work developing an MOU with Guinea to enhance anti-trafficking coordination. The government provided 700 million leones ($62,380) for anti-trafficking activities, including for implementing provisions of the 2021-2023 national action plan, compared with 500 million leones ($44,560) the previous year. The central task force provided training and support to regional task forces. The government held a nationwide anti-trafficking conference, which brought together government, civil society, and international actors to discuss trafficking issues. The government maintained a nationwide trafficking hotline run by the police. In partnership with NGOs and international organizations, the government trained members of the task force on trafficking issues. The government also conducted awareness-raising campaigns on trafficking topics on radio and television. In addition, the government, in partnership with international organizations, carried out several studies on the scope of the trafficking prevalence, including a needs assessment on law enforcement training.

The government lifted its moratorium, imposed in 2019, on recruitment of Sierra Leoneans for employment abroad. The government enacted a strict recruitment policy which had the effect of driving Sierra Leoneans to migrate through informal channels, subsequently increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government did not report whether it implemented existing MOUs on safe labor recruitment with the Governments of Kuwait and Lebanon. MLSS had strict licensing procedures for new recruitment agencies to prevent exploitation of migrant workers, including required vetting by the TOCU. The MLSS launched a new Labor Migration Policy to improve protections for migrant workers in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans working abroad by ensuring greater cooperation among government stakeholders. In August 2021, the government ratified the 2014 ILO Protocol on Forced Labor along with eight ILO conventions. The MLSS did not report how many labor inspections it carried out and did not report identifying any cases of forced labor. Labor inspectors conducted most inspections in the formal sector in the Freetown area, with most inspections dedicated to factories, quarries, and mining operations. Labor inspectors did not have sufficient resources to effectively monitor and investigate labor violations; there were no dedicated child labor inspectors, which limited efforts to identify cases of forced child labor. Due to pandemic-related budget constraints, labor inspectors did not conduct monitoring in the provinces. Labor inspectors received training on child labor from two international organizations but had not been trained on human trafficking. 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 or peacekeepers.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sierra Leone, and traffickers exploit victims from Sierra Leone abroad. Traffickers recruit victims largely from rural provinces to urban and mining centers for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, making ceramics, rock breaking, quarrying, street crime, and begging. Traffickers exploit victims in fishing and agriculture and in sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages. The government reported child sex trafficking—especially of children from poor homes—was a serious problem, including at beaches and in nightclubs. Local demand fuels the majority of child sex trafficking, although foreign tourists are also clients at beaches and nightclubs. Some parents sold their children in commercial sex. In 2018, an NGO reported People’s Republic of China (PRC) national-owned companies helped to fuel child sex trafficking in Freetown, citing specifically workers on PRC national-owned fishing vessels who bring girls to their boats at night for commercial sexual exploitation. Traffickers exploit traditional foster care practices called “menpikin” to convince parents to hand over their children by promising to provide an education or better life but instead exploit the children in various forms of forced labor, including domestic servitude, street vending, mining, agriculture, scavenging for scrap metal, okada (motorbike taxi) driving, and sometimes commercial sex. Economic vulnerability due to the pandemic increased children’s susceptibility to exploitation, including in commercial sex and forced marriage.

Traffickers exploit victims from neighboring West African countries in forced begging, forced labor, and sex trafficking in Sierra Leone, and traffickers exploit Sierra Leoneans in neighboring countries, including Mali, Niger, Liberia, and Guinea, for forced labor and sex trafficking. According to an international organization, there has been an increase in parents selling children into forced labor and sex trafficking in Guinea and Liberia. In previous years, traffickers exploited PRC national, Indian, Lebanese, Kenyan, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan men in forced labor in Sierra Leone. Cuban nationals working in Sierra Leone may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Traffickers have exploited boys and girls from Sierra Leone reportedly as “cultural dancers”—and possibly also for sexual exploitation—in The Gambia. Sierra Leonean adults voluntarily migrate to other West African countries, including Mauritania and Guinea, as well as to the Middle East and Europe, where traffickers exploit some into forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers also exploit Sierra Leonean women in domestic servitude in Middle Eastern countries, including Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, and Lebanon. Since 2017, an international organization repatriated at least 1,500 Sierra Leoneans from Libya and other Middle Eastern countries, some of whom were victims of slavery and sex trafficking. In previous reporting periods, an international organization reported some Libyan soldiers sold stranded Sierra Leonean migrants in their custody to Libyan and Middle Eastern traffickers.

U.S. Department of State

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