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Fight Against Human Trafficking Lauded

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MONROVIA: The US Department of State has lauded the Government of Liberia (GoL’s) ‘significant efforts’ in the fight against human trafficking.

However, the 2023 Human Trafficking in Person Report (TIP) averred that the Liberian government still falls short of minimum standards to eliminate the crime.

This annual human trafficking report, which ranks governments by their efforts to combat human trafficking in all forms, said these efforts included prosecuting and convicting an official complicit in human trafficking, identifying more victims, and referring them to services.

According to the report, the Liberian 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, Liberia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting an official complicit in human trafficking and identifying more victims and referring them to services.”

However, the report noted, that the government fell short of “the minimum standards in several key areas,” which include operations, funding, and personnel capacity lapses, all of which shorted the government’s ability to cater to the basic needs of victims.

“Investigations decreased and law enforcement officials continued to lack adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. Victim services, especially shelter, remained insufficient,” the report said.

“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 US 2023 Trafficking in Persons report said.

The report uses a three-tier system that organizes nations into tiers based on their compliance with standards outlined in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 — with Tier 1 made up of countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards.

While governments of Tier 2 countries do not fully comply with all of the TVPA’s minimum standards, some are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. Tier 3 is made up of countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

In 2022, Liberia was upgraded to Tier Two of the US government’s Annual Report on Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), for leading efforts to counter human trafficking, under difficult circumstances. Liberia remains at Tier 2 in the new report.

The report assesses the efforts of governments to prosecute offenders, protect victims, and prevent acts of trafficking in persons.

In terms of prosecution, the 2023 report acknowledged Liberia’s strong legal framework to underpin the government’s efforts against human trafficking in all its forms. The Liberian government “maintained law enforcement efforts,” the report attested.

“The 2021 Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons Within the Republic of Liberia criminalized all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribed minimum sentences of 20 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Revised Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons Within the Republic of Liberia amended the 2005 Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons and brought Liberia’s trafficking laws in line with international law.”

However, the government prosecuted fewer or not significantly more cases of trafficking than the previous reporting period. And while the Ministry of Labor (MOL) had the authority to prosecute trafficking and child labor cases, “officials continued to lack understanding of internal trafficking, and some continued to view forms of trafficking, especially of children for forced domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime,” the report observed. “Prosecutors may have pursued other charges, including rape and child endangerment in lieu of sex trafficking or child forced labor, due to a lack of understanding of human trafficking.”

A highlight of the report was the government’s first-ever prosecution and conviction of a complicit official on human trafficking charges. “The government convicted a former National Security Agent for accepting money for his role in a human trafficking scheme involving facilitating transport of Liberian women to Oman,” the report said. “The former official was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine and restitution. However, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.

The government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims, the report said. However, resource constraints limited services for trafficking victims, especially in rural areas. The government relied heavily on NGOs and private shelters when government shelters were unavailable, but did not report providing financial or in-kind assistance to those shelters.

“The government did not systematically encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers, but at times provided victim-witness assistance,” the report said. “During the reporting period, the government provided some funding for medical care, transportation, and lodging to assist victims’ participation in prosecutions. Victims could file civil suits against their traffickers; no victims filed civil suits, largely due to lack of awareness of this option and the prohibitive costs of retaining an attorney.”

In terms of the government’s efforts to prevent human trafficking, the report says the MOL coordinated the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and co-chaired the anti-trafficking task force with the Ministry of Justice.

The task force also included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and MOGCSP; it continued to meet regularly during the reporting period. The government allocated $230,170 to combat human trafficking in the 2023 budget compared with $201,391 allocated in the 2022 budget. The government also allocated $750 each to 10 local NGOs conducting awareness-raising campaigns on trafficking and child labor in all fifteen counties in Liberia.

In other notable efforts, according to the report, the government began conducting a child labor mapping exercise to identify relevant community leaders and educate local officials about child labor and human trafficking issues. During a 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 required all labor recruiters to be licensed by the government. However, the government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government also did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.

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