Liberia (Tier 2)
The Government of Liberia 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 to the previous reporting period; therefore Liberia was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included significantly increasing investigations of internal trafficking; allocating a budget to the anti-trafficking task force for the first time since 2014; promulgating a national referral mechanism; and identifying more potential trafficking victims, including child victims of domestic trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not sentence the convicted trafficker to an adequate prison term; law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes; and shelter and services for victims remained limited.
Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion in child sex trafficking cases. • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to prescribe penalties for adult trafficking that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties for other grave crimes. • Expand victim services—particularly for victims outside the capital, males, and victims requiring long-term care—through increased financial or in-kind support to government and NGO shelters. • Increase efforts to more vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, including internal trafficking cases and officials accused of complicity. • In partnership with international organizations and experts, train and equip law enforcement, immigration officials, labor inspectors, and social workers to more effectively identify trafficking victims, as well as to identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking offenses. • Continue providing operating and victim protection budgets and in-kind resources, as feasible, to the anti-trafficking task force. • Facilitate additional training for law enforcement and social workers on implementation of the national referral mechanism. • Increase labor inspections in the informal sector and mining regions to improve identification of trafficking cases, including child forced labor. • Continue efforts to raise awareness of trafficking, including internal trafficking. • Enforce the 2005 law requiring restitution be paid to trafficking victims and educate victims of their right to pursue civil suits.
The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of one year of imprisonment for adult trafficking and six years’ imprisonment for child trafficking, but it did not include maximum sentences. The prescribed penalties for trafficking of children were sufficiently stringent, but those prescribed for trafficking of adults were not. The penalties for child sex trafficking were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but those prescribed for adult sex trafficking were not. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking.
The government investigated 18 cases and initiated prosecutions of four defendants, an increase compared with five investigations and two prosecutions in the previous reporting period. In the course of the 18 investigations, the government arrested nine individuals. Alleged perpetrators were Liberian, Nigerian, and Chinese nationals. Investigators referred five individuals for prosecution for cases that were pending at the end of the reporting period. While some officials continued to view internal trafficking, especially forced labor of children in domestic service, as a community practice rather than a crime, the government significantly increased investigations of internal forms of trafficking and investigated nine such cases during the reporting period. In other cases, prosecutors may have pursued other charges, including rape and child endangerment, in lieu of sex trafficking or child forced labor due to a low understanding of human trafficking. The government also convicted one Liberian trafficker—the same number as in the previous reporting period—who allegedly brought two children from Guinea and exploited them in street vending; the trafficker received a six-month suspended sentence. In a separate case, the Liberian Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) investigated and charged an individual for coercing four underage girls to sell illicit drugs and engage in commercial sex; prosecutors dropped the human trafficking and drug charges for unknown reasons. The government coordinated with the Government of Sierra Leone to extradite a Pakistani national wanted in Sierra Leone in connection to a trafficking case. The government reported investigating cases of officials facilitating trafficking but did not report prosecuting or convicting any allegedly complicit officials. Observers reported law enforcement occasionally accepted bribes from suspected traffickers to end investigations. NGOs and officials reported some government employees may have been directly complicit in child trafficking, including for domestic servitude and street vending.
The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Liberian National Police (LNP) was responsible for investigating most trafficking cases and the Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) could investigate transnational trafficking. The LIS Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Unit, comprising 14 officers, stationed at least one officer at each of Liberia’s five major ports of entry. The LNP did not have dedicated anti-trafficking funding or in-kind support and therefore lacked basic resources and equipment to fully respond to and investigate allegations of trafficking, especially outside the capital. With support from an international organization, the LNP continued incorporating anti-trafficking training into its curriculum and trained approximately 60 law enforcement officers on curriculum instruction. In addition, the LNP trained 33 law enforcement officers in February 2020. The LDEA trained 56 officers on identifying trafficking during their basic training from October 2019 to January 2020. In November 2019, the government, in collaboration with an international organization, trained 674 LIS officers. Nonetheless, officials and NGOs reported many labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, and judges remained largely unable to identify trafficking, which posed serious impediments to investigating and prosecuting such cases.
The government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government improved its efforts to collect more comprehensive data and reported its identification of seven trafficking victims (two child forced labor and five child sex trafficking) and 60 potential trafficking victims, compared with two trafficking victims identified the previous reporting period. This increase was in part due to the large number of victims involved in investigations; for example, in one investigation the government identified 22 potential child victims en route to exploitation. Of the 60 potential victims, 56 were potential forced labor victims and one was a potential sex trafficking victim. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MOGCSP) provided shelter to 25 potential child trafficking victims for three weeks before assisting with family reunification. While the government had standard operating procedures to identify trafficking victims, authorities reported the majority of law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel lacked training on such procedures and, at times, identified some trafficking victims as victims of other crimes. Due to this lack of awareness of trafficking among authorities and communities, as well as insufficient government resources to identify trafficking victims, most trafficking victims remained unidentified. In October 2019, the government promulgated the national referral mechanism to direct victims to services and held a workshop in November 2019 in Ganta with relevant law enforcement agencies to discuss its use. The government held three training sessions on the referral mechanism for Ministry of Health (MOH) officials, prosecutors, legislators, and law enforcement officers between December 2019 and February 2020.
Police and community members generally referred trafficking victims to the MOGCSP. The anti-trafficking task force working group, of which the MOGCSP was a member, was responsible for coordinating victim care. Resource constraints limited services available to trafficking victims. The MOGCSP operated shelters in Lofa and Nimba for gender-based violence victims that trafficking victims could access. The MOGCSP occasionally reopened dormant shelters when there was a pressing need; when the LIS identified 22 potential child trafficking victims in September 2019, the MOGCSP reopened one of these shelters for three weeks. The MOGCSP shelters provided long-term care and social services. The government also operated the Liberia Children Village for child victims of neglect and abuse, which provided short-term shelter to 39 children, including potential trafficking victims, during the reporting period. In addition to the two shelters, the MOGSCP operated 12 transit centers that provided medical services and short-term accommodation, and the LNP operated one short-term accommodation center. In theory, each transit center had on staff at least one social worker, one nurse trained in sexual- and gender-based violence cases, and one police officer; however, resources allocated to each center varied. Most of the transit centers did not provide short-term accommodations. The MOH could provide limited medical and psycho-social services. LIS temporarily housed 28 Sierra Leonean potential trafficking victims identified at Roberts International Airport about to depart for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries for domestic work in several alleged fraudulent recruitment cases. The government relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable but did not provide financial or in-kind assistance to those shelters. During the reporting period, the government referred an unknown number of child victims to NGO shelters; the government did not report whether it provided financial or in-kind assistance to the NGO. In 2017, MOGCSP embedded two social workers within the WACPS to assist women and children, including trafficking victims, and MOGCSP social workers continued to visit police precincts to coordinate cases. LNP provided food and other in-kind support to the police accommodation center. Shelter and services were available to both domestic and foreign victims. No shelter was available for adult male victims, although some MOGCSP and private shelters could accommodate young boys. Adult victims were only allowed to leave the shelters at will on an ad hoc basis. Shelters often could not protect victims’ identities, and stays were limited, usually up to three months due to capacity. MOGSCP could arrange foster care for victims who required longer-term care. MOGSCP continued collaboration with NGOs through regular meetings of the Child Protection Network, which facilitated government-NGO partnership on child protection cases. The government coordinated with the Government of Sierra Leone to repatriate 28 Sierra Leonean potential trafficking victims identified in Liberia.
The government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers but at times provided victim-witnesses support to offset the costs of participating in a trial. During the reporting period, the government provided some limited funding for transportation and lodging to assist victims’ participation in prosecutions. In some cases, government officials personally paid for victims’ transportation to court due to lack of government funds. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution but courts did not issue restitution in any cases during the reporting period. In addition, victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims filed civil suits during the reporting period due to victims’ low awareness this option was available to them. The government did not have a formal policy that provided alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship but could offer alternatives, including temporary residency, on a case-by-case basis. There were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, due to a lack of training on identification procedures, some victims may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The anti-trafficking task force continued to meet regularly. For the first time since 2014, the government allocated $50,000 to the anti-trafficking task force in the 2019-2020 budget published in October 2019; at the end of the reporting period, $25,000 had been disbursed to the task force. The government continued implementing activities under the 2019-2024 action plan approved in March 2019. In July 2019, the government organized public awareness activities around World Day Against Trafficking with participation of high-level officials such as the Minister of Labor, Commissioner of LIS, and Minister of Gender. In addition, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and anti-trafficking task force secretariat conducted multiple outreach events between August and December 2019 to raise awareness among primary school teachers, community leaders, journalists, and others. In collaboration with NGOs, the MOL continued to staff an anti-trafficking hotline during business hours; the hotline received 2,220 calls during the reporting period, 14 of which were referred to the LNP and resulted in four investigations and the identification of a child forced labor victim. Similar to the previous reporting period, LNP visited popular beaches and entertainment centers in Monrovia known to have high instances of child sex trafficking, spoke with community groups, and distributed fliers to sensitize citizens on child protection issues. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Liberia, and traffickers exploit victims from Liberia abroad. Trafficking within the country from rural to urban areas is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children. Traffickers recruit and exploit most trafficking victims within the country’s borders in domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, in gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations. Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves, take the children or women to urban areas, and exploit them in forced labor in street vending or domestic service or sex trafficking. Traffickers are also often well-respected community benefactors who exploit the “foster care” system common across West Africa. While Liberian law requires parents to register children within 14 days of birth, only about 25 percent of births are registered. Although the government has made improvements in birth registration accessibility, continued lack of birth registration and identity documents increases individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. Orphaned children are vulnerable to exploitation, including in street vending and child sex trafficking. Some parents encourage their daughters’ exploitation in commercial sex to supplement family income. Liberian nationals and—to a lesser extent—foreigners exploit children in sex trafficking in Monrovia. During the reporting period, traffickers allegedly compelled children to sell illicit drugs. In previous reporting periods, officials documented allegations of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels. Officials identified potential Chinese and Malaysian forced labor victims in the construction sector during the reporting period. Authorities identified suspected traffickers from Sierra Leone and Guinea operating in Liberia during the reporting period. Traffickers exploited a small number of Liberian men, women, and children in other West African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. During the reporting period, Thai authorities identified a Liberian trafficking victim in Thailand. In the past, traffickers exploited women from Tunisia and Morocco in sex trafficking in Liberia and Liberian women in forced labor in Lebanon and Finland.