SIERRA LEONE (Tier 2)
Sierra Leone is a source, transit, and destination country for children and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are children trafficked internally within the country, largely from rural provinces, and sometimes from refugee communities, to urban and mining centers. Within the country, women and children are trafficked for: domestic servitude; commercial sexual exploitation; forced labor in agriculture, diamond mining, and the fishing industry; forced petty trading; forced street crime; and forced begging. Transnationally, Sierra Leonean women and children are trafficked to other West African countries, notably Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia for the same purposes listed above and to North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Sierra Leone is a destination country for children trafficked from Nigeria, and possibly from Liberia and Guinea, for forced begging, forced labor and for sexual exploitation.
The Government of Sierra Leone does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so, despite limited resources. Sierra Leone demonstrated slightly increased law enforcement efforts over the last year by convicting a second trafficker under its 2005 anti-trafficking law. Sierra Leone also reported referring more trafficking victims to IOM for care than the prior reporting period. Overall anti-trafficking efforts remained weak, however, as government authorities continued to lack a clear understanding of trafficking and relied largely on the NGO and international community to tackle it.
Recommendations for Sierra Leone: Strengthen efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders; train law enforcement officers and social workers to implement formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as females in prostitution, unaccompanied foreign children, and illegal migrants; provide comprehensive services to identified victims; improve coordination between the central and provincial governments for the collection of data on traffickers arrested and victims rescued; and increase government participation at meetings of the national trafficking task force.
The Government of Sierra Leone made slightly increased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in the last year. Sierra Leone prohibits all forms of trafficking through its 2005 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. This penalty is sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with penalties for rape, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Comprehensive law enforcement statistics were not available due to poor data collection and communication among law officials in the interior of the country and central government authorities. According to data collected by the Family Support Units (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) tasked with addressing trafficking, between January and December 2008, the government investigated 38 trafficking cases. More than half of these cases involved female victims below the age of 16. During the year, a total of 12 individuals were charged with trafficking. In December 2008, the government secured the conviction of a man for trafficking a child for forced labor; he was given a sentence of four years' imprisonment. In February 2009, the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which was operated jointly by the UN and the Sierra Leonean government, convicted two former members of the Revoutionary United Front for conscripting child soldiers during the country's 11-year civil war. Border officials continue to lack a full understanding of the distinction between smuggling and trafficking.
The Sierra Leonean government demonstrated some efforts to protect trafficking victims during the last year. The government does not provide direct assistance to victims, but instead refers them to the country's only trafficking victim shelter, which is located in Freetown and operated by IOM. The FSU in 2008 identified 38 trafficking victims, whom it referred to the Ministry of Social Welfare (MOSW). The MOSW referred the majority of these victims to IOM's shelter for care, while others were placed in the custody of family members. In 2008, government officials referred 84 victims to IOM for care. Some victims outside Freetown were not referred for care, however, due to lack of transport to the capital or the difficulty of travel during the rainy season. While the Sierra Leonean government has developed a protocol for law enforcement and social services authorities' identification of trafficking victims, only a small number of officials have been trained to follow it. Authorities do not follow procedures to identify trafficking victims among most populations vulnerable to trafficking, such as females in prostitution, unaccompanied minors, and undocumented immigrants. When identified, however, victims are encouraged to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers. Due to lengthy delays in court proceedings, many victims are not available to testify in court, often resulting in the dropping of trafficking charges against suspected traffickers. Sierra Leone does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they face hardship or retribution. There were no known cases during the year of trafficking victims penalized for unlawful acts as a direct result of being trafficked. However, a weak understanding among officials of trafficking has likely led to some trafficking victims being penalized as illegal immigrants or females in prostitution.
The Government of Sierra Leone made inadequate efforts to raise awareness about trafficking during the reporting period. Every two months during the year, the MOSW convened meetings of the Task Force, a joint government, NGO, and international organization entity to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts. These meetings, however, were not well attended by government ministries, hampering the government's coordination with donors. While Sierra Leone's 2007 national action plan was implemented with donor funding throughout 2007 and early 2008, implementation halted in late 2008 due to lack of support and resources within the government. The government took no measures to reduce demand for commercial sexual exploitation. Sierra Leone has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.