The government increased law enforcement efforts. During the reporting period, the government adopted the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act of 2022, which criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of a minimum 25 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. The new law, which replaced the 2005 anti-trafficking law, increased penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes and removed the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for convicted traffickers.
The government reported investigating 26 cases, compared with investigating 43 cases in the previous reporting period. The government reported prosecuting 13 defendants in 13 cases, compared with prosecuting an unknown number of defendants in nine cases in the previous reporting period. The government did not report any convictions, compared with three convictions in the previous reporting period, and acquitted one defendant. 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 because of security concerns, community ties to alleged traffickers, and the high cost and travel required to participate in such cases. Often victims either did not agree to testify, and prosecutors dropped the charges, or victims could not meet the travel requirements for court appearances, and judges dismissed the cases.
Under the new anti-trafficking law, all trafficking prosecutions should commence in the High Court, bypassing the sometimes lengthy preliminary investigation stage overseen by the Magistrate Court. However, observers reported that confusion among officials about the new law hindered implementation. In addition, there was a dedicated judge and specialized prosecutors for trafficking cases. 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.
The government, in collaboration with an international organization and NGOs, trained district task force members, social workers, and local chiefs on victim identification, referral, and case management. Police officers did not receive training on human trafficking while at the police academy. Observers reported a lack of resources and training in evidence gathering and witness interviewing, particularly of children, hindered prosecution efforts. The Family Support Unit and the Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) of the police had jurisdiction over trafficking cases. Observers noted a lack of formal guidelines for trafficking investigations led to duplications of efforts. The government continued to cooperate with the Governments of Guinea and Liberia and initiated discussions to establish MOUs on bilateral cooperation to address cross-border trafficking. The government cooperated with the Governments of Oman and Liberia on the repatriation of Sierra Leonean victims.