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Sierra Leone News: Reviewing the Anti-Human Trafficking Act

Sierra Leone has had an Anti-Human Trafficking Act since 2005 but very few cases of trafficking are brought before the courts. Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labour, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage, or extraction of organs or tissue, including for surrogacy and ova removal.  In order to give more power to the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, World Hope International and partners organised a workshop for the revision of the Act. The programme was integrated towards the elimination of the worst form of child labour, trafficking of persons and indecent work. The revision of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act is for the judiciary to promptly start dealing with the issues of human trafficking, child labour and sex trafficking, which is described as modern-day slavery. According to a 2017 trafficking report from the US Embassy, The government… investigating and initiating prosecutions of trafficking cases, identifying and referring 34 victims to services, and funding repatriation for 25 Sierra Leonean trafficking victims exploited abroad. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government reported a decreased number of investigations and for the sixth consecutive year did not convict any traffickers. Judicial inefficiency and procedural delays impacted access to justice generally. Due to the lack of government support for victims during investigations and prosecutions, and an overreliance on victim testimony, courts did not complete any trafficking prosecutions, and law enforcement and judges dismissed many trafficking cases initiated during the reporting period. The government continued to rely on NGOs to provide nearly all victim assistance, and uneven implementation of the national referral mechanism resulted in delayed assistance for some victims. The government did not provide funding for the anti-trafficking taskforce to adequately fulfill its mandate or implement 2015-2020 national action plan. According to Janet Nicole, Technical Adviser of World Hope International, “trafficking of any kind is illegal and anyone involved should be held accountable.” She added that it is a complex and major crime in sub-Saharan Africa. She pointed out that there should be strong penalties for the perpetrators to serve as deterrent to other people. Sierra Leone is a source, transit, and destination country for children and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Trafficking within the country is more prevalent than transnational trafficking and the majority of victims are children. A representative from the Office of National Security (ONS), Abdul K. Will, noted that the issue has emerged as a national threat, pointing out that public safety is threatened. He emphasised that the ONS will work with other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the act of human trafficking in the country is stopped or minimised. According to the US Embassy report, the government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalizes all forms of human trafficking and prescribes a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of Le50 million for sex trafficking and a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of Le30 million for labour trafficking; these penalties are sufficiently stringent, but the penalties for sex trafficking are not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape. Chapter 215 of the Laws of Sierra Leone of 1956 also prohibits forced labour but prescribes an insufficiently stringent penalty of six months imprisonment or a fine of 100 pounds sterling ($123). In addition, two other laws prescribe penalties for sex trafficking offenses that differ from the anti-trafficking law. The Child Rights Act imposes a penalty for the prostitution of a child by a third party of Le30 million and/or two years imprisonment, which is neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with penalties for rape. The Sexual Offences Act criminalizes forced prostitution and child prostitution with penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for rape, and also requires the police after receipt of a trafficking complaint to assist victims and protect vulnerable witnesses. Penalties consisting of fines in lieu of imprisonment are not adequate to deter the crime.  Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Mohamed H. Kella, underscored that the language of the Act is not fit for the purpose it was created for, adding that victims or vulnerable individuals should be protected through public awareness and perpetrators should be pursued and punished. He furthered that government is ready to receive the draft law and present it to Parliament and also called on civil society organisations and the media to join in the fight against human trafficking. Victims originate largely from rural provinces and are recruited to urban and mining centres for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labour in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, rock breaking, street crime, and begging. At times, sex trafficking occurs on beaches and in nightclubs. Trafficking victims are also exploited in fishing and agriculture and subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages. Traffickers typically operate individually, convincing parents to hand over their children and promising to provide an education or a better life but instead exploiting the children in trafficking. Sierra Leonean girls are increasingly exploited in Guinea.

MJB3/11/18

By Mohammed Bah

Monday November 05, 2018.

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