2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Sierra Leone


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 to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Sierra Leone remained on Tier 2. These efforts included significantly increasing investigations and prosecutions, allocating funding to an NGO for protective services, and adopting a new anti-trafficking national action plan. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Shelter and services, especially for male victims, remained inadequate and limited to Freetown. The government continued its moratorium on labor migration, increasing vulnerability to trafficking. Law enforcement did not investigate past reports of corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes.


Expand victim shelter and services, including for male victims, outside of Freetown. • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, following due process, and sentence convicted traffickers with significant prison terms in accordance with the law. • Train police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. • Train all officials on the standard victim identification measures and national referral mechanism to ensure trafficking victims receive timely services. • End policies that encourage labor migration to occur through informal channels, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. • Implement the new Labor Migration Policy, including pre-departure education about labor rights, improving recruitment agency licensing procedures, and increasing the capacity of Sierra Leonean missions to support victims. • Amend the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove sentencing provisions that allow for a fine in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking offenses. • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including Sierra Leonean women traveling abroad for domestic work, women in commercial sex, irregular migrants, children in informal foster care arrangements, and Cuban medical professionals. • Continue efforts to raise public awareness of trafficking. • Coordinate with the governments of Liberia and Guinea to prosecute transnational cases, coordinate victim protection, and prevent trafficking. • Improve data collection on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim assistance efforts.


The government moderately increased 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 in lieu 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. Draft legislation to replace the 2005 anti-trafficking law to remove the possibility of a fine in lieu of imprisonment for convicted traffickers, increase penalties, and improve victim protection measures remained pending at the close of the reporting period.

The government reported investigating 72 cases, prosecuting at least 30 defendants in 33 cases, and convicting one trafficker during the reporting period; this compared with 30 investigations, prosecution of nine defendants, and conviction of three traffickers during the previous reporting period. The convicted trafficker fraudulently recruited a Sierra Leonean woman and exploited her in domestic servitude in Oman; the court sentenced him to eight months’ imprisonment and a fine as victim compensation. Judicial inefficiencies, general corruption, and procedural delays prevented courts from holding traffickers accountable and diminished faith in the judicial system. As a result, victims’ families often accepted payments from traffickers rather than pursue cases in court, and families sometimes exerted pressure on victims to not participate in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers due to security concerns, community ties to alleged traffickers, and the high cost and travel required to participate in such cases. In many cases, either victims did not agree to testify against their traffickers and prosecutors dropped the charges or victims could not meet the travel requirements for court appearances and judges dismissed their cases. During the reporting period, the government continued to expedite trafficking cases by referring trafficking prosecutions directly to the High Court, bypassing the preliminary investigation stage, which sometimes was a three-year process. In addition, the chief justice assigned a dedicated judge and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) assigned special prosecutors for trafficking cases. In previous years, traffickers reportedly bribed prosecutors not to prosecute cases and bribed judges to dismiss cases; it is not clear whether this remained an issue. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes, particularly in the judiciary, remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement and judicial action during the year. In a previous reporting period, an NGO alleged police officers raped potential child trafficking victims and, in some cases, transported victims to police stations where they were sexually abused.

Due to the pandemic, the government did not report providing specialized anti-trafficking training to law enforcement or judicial officials, compared to training 74 law enforcement officials, 120 border officials, and 30 judges, magistrates, and prosecutors in the previous reporting period. The government continued to cooperate with the governments of Guinea and Liberia on trafficking cases and border security, and it implemented standard operating procedures on victim identification with the Government of Guinea during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the government cooperated with the Government of Liberia on two trafficking cases, with one case resulting in the arrest and extradition of one alleged trafficker to Sierra Leone. In the other case, the governments assisted the Government of Liberia in investigating a Liberian recruitment agency exploiting Togolese and Guinean workers in Sierra Leone.


The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 73 trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 76 victims identified in the previous reporting period. This included 29 women exploited in forced labor, 22 children exploited in unspecified forms of trafficking, and 22 foreign male victims exploited in unspecified forms of trafficking. Officials referred women and child victims to NGOs for shelter services, while authorities temporarily sheltered male victims at law enforcement facilities. The government had standard procedures to identify trafficking victims, including victims among vulnerable populations, and refer them to services; however, inconsistent application and lack of training on the procedures delayed provision of services to victims. In some cases, victims slept at police stations due to a lack of appropriate housing authorities, especially for male victims, and Ministry of Social Welfare (MSW) officials did not uniformly implement the standard protocols for referring victims to NGOs for specialized care.

The government relied on NGOs to care for trafficking victims; however, the government allocated 50 million Leones ($5,000) and provided limited food assistance to an NGO operating a shelter specifically for female and child trafficking victims in 2020. During the reporting period, the shelter provided medical, psycho-social, educational, legal, vocational, family tracing, and reintegration support to at least 52 trafficking victims; unlike in previous reporting periods, adult victims were permitted to leave the shelter unchaperoned. Another NGO operated a shelter for vulnerable children, including trafficking victims. No shelters could accommodate adult male victims. The government sometimes provided adult male victims with funds to rent housing during investigations, but often they slept at police stations while investigations were ongoing; 22 foreign male adult victims identified during the reporting period stayed at Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU) facilities during an investigation, and the government did not refer them for additional services. In some cases, law enforcement temporarily sheltered child victims in their own homes during investigations. The government assisted in the repatriation of 130 Sierra Leoneans from Lebanon, many of whom were domestic workers, including potential trafficking victims, by providing travel documents and purchasing airline tickets. The government also assisted in the repatriation of 80 Sierra Leoneans from Kuwait and two Sierra Leonean child trafficking victims from Guinea. The Sierra Leonean embassy in Senegal assisted an international organization in repatriating 59 Sierra Leonean victims by providing travel documents and paying for mandatory COVID-19 tests. An international organized identified and assisted at least 97 Sierra Leonean trafficking victims exploited in the Middle East during the reporting period.

The government supported victims participating in trials against their traffickers by providing immigration relief, legal services, transportation, and lodging. In addition, prosecutors requested closed court sessions to protect victims’ identities and prevent re-traumatization during trials. The government did not report how many victims, if any, voluntarily participated in investigations and prosecutions during the reporting period, compared with 51 victims during the previous reporting period. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, and at least one victim received restitution during the reporting period. While victims could file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period. The law provided legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship; the government did not report providing these services to any victims during the reporting period. There were no reports the government detained or otherwise penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, due to inconsistent application of victim identification procedures, authorities may have detained some unidentified victims.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The anti-trafficking task force, chaired by the MSW and MOJ, adopted a new 2021-2023 national action plan. The government did not report allocating funds to the government’s anti-trafficking efforts in fiscal year 2021, a significant decrease from allocating 1 billion Leones ($100,030) to anti-trafficking efforts, including implementation of the national action plan, in 2020. Regional anti-trafficking task forces amplified the central task force’s efforts in all 16 districts. In partnership with an international organization, the government trained 60 regional task force members, including government officials, law enforcement, and civil society, in three districts on victim protection. Despite the pandemic’s impact on the government’s ability to conduct in-person awareness raising activities, the task force continued radio anti-trafficking campaigns and held online panel discussions. Additionally, the government cosponsored a UNGA panel event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

The government continued its moratorium on recruitment of Sierra Leoneans for employment abroad. The government’s past and current efforts to prevent exploitation of labor migrants by restricting Sierra Leoneans’ access to safe and legal migration routes drove Sierra Leoneans to migrate through informal channels, subsequently increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. In addition to its existing u memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of Kuwait, the Ministry of Labor and Social Services (MLSS) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an MOU with the Government of Lebanon on safe labor recruitment; however, neither could be implemented while the labor migration moratorium remained in effect. While MLSS had strict licensing procedures for new recruitment agencies to prevent exploitation of migrant workers, it continued to issue business registration certificates before TOCU had finished vetting the prospective agencies. The MLSS launched its new Labor Migration Policy to improve protections for migrant workers in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans working abroad. The policy required the creation of a technical working group and included provisions on increasing capacity of Sierra Leonean diplomatic missions to provide protection services to workers abroad; increasing awareness of labor rights prior to workers’ departure through mass communication outlets such as radio, television, and billboards; improving recruitment agency licensing procedures; and developing bilateral labor migration agreements with destination countries on complaint mechanisms and migrants’ rights. The government promoted the policy in 11 districts but did not fully implement it by the end of the reporting period. The MLSS only conducted labor inspections in Freetown and within the formal sector; the government did not report identifying any potential trafficking victims during the inspections. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Sierra Leone, and traffickers exploit victims from Sierra Leone abroad. Traffickers recruit victims largely from rural provinces to urban and mining centers for exploitation in sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, portering, making ceramics, rock breaking, quarrying, street crime, and begging. Traffickers exploit victims in fishing and agriculture, and sex trafficking or forced labor through customary practices, such as forced marriages. The government reported child sex trafficking—especially of children from poor homes—was a serious problem, including at beaches and in nightclubs. Local demand fueled the majority of child sex trafficking, although foreign tourists were also clients at beaches and in nightclubs. In 2018, an NGO reported Chinese-owned companies helped to fuel child sex trafficking in Freetown, citing specifically workers on Chinese-owned fishing vessels who bring girls to their boats at night for commercial sexual exploitation. Traffickers exploit traditional foster care practices called menpikin to convince parents to hand over their children by promising to provide an education or better life but instead exploit the children in various forms of forced labor including domestic servitude, street vending, mining, agriculture, scavenging for scrap metal, okada (motorbike taxi) driving, and sometimes commercial sex. Traffickers exploit children from neighboring West African countries in forced begging, forced labor, and sex trafficking in Sierra Leone, and traffickers exploit Sierra Leonean children in Mali, Niger, and increasingly Guinea for forced labor and sex trafficking. School closures and economic vulnerability due to the pandemic are increasing children’s susceptibility to exploitation, including in commercial sex and forced marriage. In previous years, traffickers exploited Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Kenyan, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan men in forced labor in Sierra Leone. Cuban nationals working in Sierra Leone on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Traffickers have exploited boys and girls from Sierra Leone reportedly as “cultural dancers”—and possibly also for sexual exploitation—in The Gambia. Sierra Leonean adults voluntarily migrate to other West African countries, including Mauritania and Guinea, as well as to the Middle East and Europe, where traffickers exploit some into forced labor and sex trafficking. Sierra Leonean-Kuwaiti trafficking networks fraudulently recruit Sierra Leoneans for education in Europe and the United States but subject them to domestic servitude in Kuwait. Traffickers also exploit Sierra Leonean women in domestic servitude in Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, and Lebanon. Traffickers move women through Guinea, The Gambia, Liberia, and Senegal en route to exploitation in the Middle East. Since 2017, an international organization repatriated at least 1,500 Sierra Leoneans from Libya and other Middle Eastern countries, some of whom were victims of slavery and sex trafficking. In previous reporting periods, an international organization reported some Libyan soldiers sold stranded Sierra Leonean migrants in their custody to Libyan and Middle Eastern traffickers.