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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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Sierra Leone remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included prosecuting suspected traffickers and passing and enacting the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act of 2022, which increased penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes and removed the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for convicted traffickers.  The government also supported repatriation of Sierra Leonean victims abroad.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government convicted fewer traffickers and identified fewer victims.  Victim services remained woefully inadequate, and the government did not provide financial support to civil society organizations to provide services.

  • Expand victim protection services for all trafficking victims, including shelter for male victims.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should include significant prison terms.
  • Train police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act of 2022.
  • Train all officials on the SOPs on victim identification and NRM to ensure trafficking victims receive timely services.
  • 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.
  • Increase implementation of the Labor Migration Policy, including by providing predeparture education about human trafficking and labor rights, improving recruitment agency licensing procedures, and increasing the capacity of Sierra Leonean missions abroad to support victims.
  • Coordinate with regional governments to prosecute transnational cases, coordinate victim protection, and prevent trafficking.
  • Improve data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim assistance efforts.
  • Screen any North Korean workers for signs of trafficking and refer them to appropriate services in a manner consistent with obligations under UNSCR 2397.

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.

The government maintained minimal efforts to identify and protect victims.  The government identified 34 trafficking victims, including one sex trafficking victim and 33 forced labor victims; this compared with 43 victims in the previous reporting period.  Of the 34 victims identified, two were adults (one man and one woman) and 32 were children (15 boys and 17 girls).  NGOs identified an additional 62 victims, including 21 sex trafficking victims and 41 forced labor victims.  Officials reported referring all 34 victims to care, compared to referring an unknown number to care the previous reporting period; women and child victims were referred to NGOs for shelter services, while authorities temporarily accommodated male victims at law enforcement or other facilities.  The government had SOPs to identify trafficking victims, including victims among vulnerable populations, and an NRM to refer them to services; however, inconsistent application and lack of training on the procedures prevented some victims from receiving services.  Ministry of Social Welfare officials did not uniformly implement the SOPs for referring victims to NGOs for specialized care.

The government relied on NGOs to care for trafficking victims without providing resources or in-kind support.  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 34 sex and labor trafficking victims, including adults and children;  Another NGO operated a shelter for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims.  No NGO shelters could accommodate adult male victims.  The government sometimes provided adult male victims with funds to rent housing during investigations; however, some male victims stayed at police stations 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 five potential Sierra Leonean victims from Guinea and 16 Sierra Leonean victims from Liberia.  An international organization identified and assisted at least 60 Sierra Leonean trafficking victims exploited in the Middle East.

The government offered victim-witness assistance to victims participating in criminal justice proceedings; this included immigration relief, legal services, transportation, and lodging support.  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 limited victim assistance, lack of legal representation, and fear of retaliation resulted in many victims declining to report their cases to law enforcement.  The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, but, while victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period.  The law provided legal alternatives to the 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 SOPs on victim identification, authorities may have detained or arrested some unidentified trafficking victims.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking.  The anti-trafficking task force, chaired by the Ministries of Social Welfare and Justice, was responsible for coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.  The government provided 600 million leones ($31,915) for anti-trafficking activities, compared with 700 million leones ($37,234) the previous year.  The central task force provided training and support to regional task forces.  In partnership with NGOs and international organizations, the government trained members of the regional task forces and local and regional officials on trafficking issues, including holding consultation sessions on the NRM.  The government continued implementing the NAP against Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children (2021-2023). The government also conducted awareness campaigns on radio and television.  The government maintained a nationwide trafficking hotline run by the police.

The government had strict licensing procedures for new recruitment agencies to prevent exploitation of migrant workers, including a formal business registration and police clearance.  However, the government’s strict recruitment policy led some 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.  The Ministry of Labor and Social Security continued its Labor Migration Policy to improve protections for migrant workers in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans working abroad by ensuring greater cooperation among government stakeholders.  Labor inspectors conducted most inspections in the formal sector in the Freetown area in 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 potential cases of forced child labor.  The government did not report providing labor inspectors training on child labor or human trafficking.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.  The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel but did not provide training to its troops prior to their deployments as 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 and transport victims largely from rural provinces to urban and mining centers for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic servitude, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, making ceramics, rock breaking, quarrying, and begging.  Traffickers exploit victims in fishing and agriculture and sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages.  The government reported child sex trafficking – especially of children from low-income families – was a significant problem, including at beaches and in nightclubs.  Local demand fuels the majority of child sex trafficking, although foreign tourists exploit children in child sex tourism.  In some cases, parents exploit their children in commercial sex for financial gain and even sell their children to traffickers; traffickers use this as an opportunity to exploit children in sex trafficking and forced labor.  Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking on commercial fishing boats.  In 2018, an NGO reported PRC national-owned companies helped to fuel child sex trafficking in Freetown, citing workers on PRC national-owned fishing vessels exploit girls in sex trafficking.  Traffickers exploit traditional foster care practices called menpikin to convince parents to hand over their children by promising to provide an education but instead exploit children in various forms of forced labor, including domestic servitude, street vending, mining, agriculture, scavenging for scrap metal, okada (motorbike taxi) driving, and sex trafficking.  Under the guise of menpikin, some children are sent to Liberia, Guinea, or Mali to beg, others are sent to the Cote d’Ivoire to work on plantations.  Some corrupt Quranic teachers force children to beg or work in mines or farms.  Economic vulnerability because of the pandemic increased children’s susceptibility to human trafficking.

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.  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.  Sierra Leonean migrants travel 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 exploit Sierra Leonean women in domestic servitude in Middle Eastern countries, including Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, and Lebanon.  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.  North Korean nationals working in Sierra Leone may be operating under exploitative working conditions and display multiple indicators of forced labor.

U.S. Department of State

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