[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

LIBERIA (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Liberia is a source, transit, and destination country for children and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Most victims are trafficked within the country, primarily from rural to urban areas for domestic servitude, forced street vending, forced begging by religious instructors and sexual exploitation in brothels or private apartments. Children may also be trafficked for labor on rubber plantations and in alluvial diamond mines. Some children in Liberia are subjected to sexual exploitation by international peacekeeping troops and personnel from international organizations. A January 2009 UN report indicates, however, that such abuses are declining. Internationally, children are trafficked to Liberia from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire and from Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Nigeria for domestic servitude, street vending, sexual exploitation, agricultural labor, and forced begging.

Liberia continues to struggle to rebuild after 14 years of civil conflict that crippled the nation’s economy and institutions and increased the vulnerability of children to being trafficked. During its period of reconstruction, Liberia has taken some steps to address trafficking, but more needs to be done.

The Government of Liberia 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. Although the government made limited progress in its efforts to combat trafficking through law enforcement and victim protection measures, its overall anti-trafficking performance remained low.

Recommendations for Liberia: Increase efforts to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders; allocate increased funding for basic anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection needs; combat the trafficking complicity of government personnel in the criminal justice system; educate judges about the law prohibiting trafficking; and increase efforts to educate the public about trafficking.

The Government of Liberia demonstrated slightly increased law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking over the last year. Liberia’s 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking prohibits all forms of trafficking, prescribing a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for labor trafficking of adults, six years’ imprisonment for child labor trafficking, and 11 to 16 years’ imprisonment for child sex trafficking. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. No trafficking offenders have yet been convicted or sentenced under this law. The government reported investigating 18 cases of trafficking and arresting nine suspects. Four child trafficking suspects are being tried and five are awaiting trial. During the year, the government extradited two traffickers to Guinea. The criminal justice system remains handicapped by shortages in human and material resources: police lacked vehicles to respond to trafficking reports, and courts lacked prosecutors. Police officers were sometimes required to play the role of prosecutor, and judges were often unaware of the law against trafficking. NGO reports also indicate that police, many of whom are poorly or infrequently paid, asked victims for compensation in exchange for bringing charges against suspected traffickers. Moreover, trafficking suspects reportedly bribed police in return for the dropping of criminal charges. The government adopted a revised national action plan to combat trafficking that expands the role of the National Human Trafficking Task Force, which had previously focused on awareness-raising, in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes. Established in 2006, the Task Force is chaired by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and consists of government ministries, the Inspector General of Police, and the Commissioner of Immigration. Implementing this plan, in late 2008, Task Force members, including representatives from the Ministries of Labor and Heath, accompanied the Liberia National Police on trafficking investigations of religious schools where children are often subjected to forced begging. An MOL attorney, whose position is funded by a donor, also accompanied government officials to court to provide guidance in prosecuting trafficking offenders during the year. Through the Joint Program on Sexual and Gender-based Violence, developed by the government and the UN in June 2008, a court was established to address sexual and gender-based violence offences, including sexually exploitive activities by peacekeepers.

Liberia demonstrated minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims during the year. The government did not operate its own victim shelters or provide direct assistance to victims due to resource constraints. The Liberian National Police rescued 50 Liberian, Sierra Leonean, and Guinean children from a religious school in Lofa, where they were being forced to beg. Police referred the children to an NGO-operated safe house for care and the government has shut down the school. Immigration officials worked with the Task Force to ensure the entry back into Liberia of a 17-year-old male victim, who was repatriated from Niger. Once back in Liberia, the Ministry of Heath reunited him with his family. The government worked with Guinean officials to repatriate a child victim back to Guinea.

The MOL used its operational funds to provide training for government immigration officials, police commanders, and the Police Women and Children Protection Section in identifying victims. The government did not encourage victims, all of whom are children, to assist in trafficking investigations or prosecutions. Law enforcement officials did not employ formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among females in prostitution. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might have faced hardship or retribution. Victims were not, however, inappropriately incarcerated, fined or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

The Government of Liberia made modest efforts to educate the public about trafficking. The MOL conducted multiple anti-trafficking awareness campaigns aimed primarily at parents and community leaders during the year, the majority of which it funded. The National Human Trafficking Task Force continued to raise awareness about trafficking through radio broadcasts funded by the MOL and broadcast on UN-donated air time. In an effort funded by the MOL and NGOs, the Task Force also went into local communities to hold one-day workshops to explain the effects of trafficking on communities. The Task Force met monthly and more frequently if required by newly developed cases. The government did not take steps to reduce demand for forced labor or for commercial sex acts.