Uncovering the Harrowing Realities of Human Trafficking in Sierra Leone

By Farid Kefel

In the course of my investigation for The Calabash Newspaper, I uncovered a distressing case of human trafficking affecting Sierra Leonean women. The modus operandi involved a travel agency recruiting females for work in the Middle East while clandestinely engaging in trafficking. Once approved, victims like Fatu had their passports seized, cutting off communication with their families.

Fatu, a pseudonym used for her safety, reached out to me, detailing the brutal abuse she endured in the Middle East. She suffered domestic violence, torture, beatings, molestation, and sexual harassment at the hands of her employers. Attempts to contact the agency proved futile, leaving Fatu in a dire situation. This case sheds light on deep societal issues. Many trafficked women face similar horrors, including rape and murder, with their fates unknown to their families. Economic hardship and deceptive practices by false employers exploit the vulnerability of Sierra Leonean women and children, exacerbating the grave consequences of human trafficking.

Human trafficking has reached alarming levels in Sierra Leone and its neighboring countries, posing a significant threat to women and children. The deceptive practices have turned Sierra Leone into a hub for trafficking, demanding immediate action and comprehensive policies to combat this menace.

Climate change and economic hardships have exacerbated human trafficking in Sierra Leone, particularly affecting vulnerable communities. The interconnected dynamics between environmental and economic factors contribute to the worsening situation. Climate change-induced events, such as flooding and intense storms, lead to displacement and economic instability, rendering communities more susceptible to trafficking. The present Economic hardships, intensified by factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, increase susceptibility to trafficking, with traffickers exploiting individuals, especially children, who are economically vulnerable.

The combination of climate-induced poverty and economic challenges creates an environment where traffickers exploit desperation for financial stability, making individuals more susceptible to deceptive recruitment. It is crucial to address both the environmental and economic dimensions to combat human trafficking in Sierra Leone effectively.

With youth unemployment at nearly 60 percent and the majority of the population surviving on less than $3 a day, there are thousands of people for traffickers to prey on, who long for better opportunities overseas. They often target women, touting well-paid jobs in the Middle East. The agents offer jobs as nannies, hairdressers, maids, or shop assistants in Lebanon, Oman, Dubai, Kuwait, and Turkey. But when their clients arrive in the destination country, their passports are often seized and they are forced into unpaid labor in people’s houses. Many young women report being sexually abused. Citing a report by Aljazeera, Human trafficking is classed as using force, coercion, or fraud to send someone to a new destination, to profit from them. While official data is scant, experts say the problem is rife in Sierra Leone.

Those monitoring the problem say it has worsened in the last three years. “There has been an increase,” says Christos Christodoulides, head of the UN Migration Agency in Sierra Leone. “The vulnerability has increased too.”

A State.gov – 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report for Sierra Leone states that The Government of Sierra Leone 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 with the previous reporting period; therefore Sierra Leone remained in Tier 2. These efforts included signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Guinea on anti-trafficking coordination, convicting more traffickers, launching a nationwide trafficking hotline, and ratifying the ECOWAS Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, intended to facilitate cross-border law enforcement anti-trafficking efforts.

However, the Government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated fewer cases; shelter and services, especially for male victims, remained inadequate and limited to Freetown; and the government did not report providing any funding to support NGOs providing the majority of victim shelter and services. The government made mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2005 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine, or both. These penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, by allowing for a fine instead of imprisonment, the penalties for sex trafficking were not commensurate with the penalties for other grave crimes, such as rape. The Sexual Offences Act criminalized sex trafficking under its “forced prostitution” and “child prostitution” provisions and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other grave crimes, such as rape.

Implementing policies that mitigate climate change impacts, enhance economic resilience, and strengthen legal measures against trafficking can collectively contribute to alleviating this critical issue. What we need the governments to implement are:

  1. Policy Strengthening: Enhance and enforce anti-trafficking legislation, ensuring stringent penalties for offenders and facilitating expedited legal processes.
    2. Awareness Campaigns:Implement widespread awareness campaigns to educate communities about the tactics used by traffickers, empowering potential victims to recognize and resist these schemes.
    3. Collaboration with NGOs: Strengthen collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on counter-trafficking initiatives, leveraging their expertise and resources to address the issue effectively.
    4. Victim Support Programs: Establish comprehensive support programs for victims, including counseling, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society, to address the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by trafficking.
  2. International Cooperation: Foster collaboration with international bodies and neighboring countries to create a unified front against cross-border trafficking networks.

By implementing these measures, Sierra Leone can take significant strides in eradicating human trafficking and safeguarding the well-being of its women and children.

It is crucial to address both the environmental and economic dimensions to combat human trafficking in Sierra Leone effectively. Implementing policies that mitigate climate change impacts, enhance economic resilience, and strengthen legal measures against trafficking can collectively contribute to alleviating this critical issue.


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