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.