The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohamed Lamin Tarawalley Esq., has pledged to take critical steps in addressing human trafficking.
He made this declaration at the national conference against human trafficking, organised by the Ministry of Social Welfare in collaboration with the Vice President's office at the Freetown International Conference Centre in Aberdeen, yesterday Monday, February 28, 2202.
He said the Justice Department will continue to forge strong collaborations and increase cooperation and coordination amongst key government Ministries Departments and Agencies, as well as Civil Society Organizations, NGOs, the private sector, foreign governments, and UN agencies, in achieving the objectives of the National Action Plan.
“We shall utilize all available resources in prosecuting suspects and convicting perpetrators of Trafficking In Persons (TIP).”
Reports have indicated that over the past five years, human traffickers have exploited domestic victims, mainly from the rural provinces, at mining sites, agricultural farms, street crimes, and begging, while most foreign victims are mainly from the urban provinces of Sierra Leone, sent to foreign countries for sex trade and forced labour.
In order to address challenges faced in relation to the prosecution of traffickers, the AG strongly encourages victims to speak up about their experiences and to further matters at the court. “I shall also engage the prosecution division of my office to initiate and develop new strategies and to effectively implement the National Action Plan to prevent trafficking in persons in Sierra Leone.”
Furthermore, the AG accentuated, “the Justice Department of my office will engage the Judiciary and other relevant law enforcement agencies on not only prioritizing TIP cases to be expeditiously tried but also the continued training of judges and prosecutors to effectively implement the Anti-Human Trafficking Act for the effective prosecution of cases.”
He disclosed that the justice department has been a strong pillar of support in this fight and that he is quite sure that their commitment now is more than ever before.
The AG explained that the Office Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons report 2021 from the US State Department noted that the government had made significant progress through collective efforts and consistent actions, noting that the report also applauded the government's overall increase in anti-trafficking capacity efforts, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These efforts noted in the above report, according to the AG include a significant increase in investigations and prosecutions, the allocation of funding to NGOs for protective services and adopting a new anti-trafficking national action plan.
He further explained that in 2005, the government legislated the 2005 Anti-Human Trafficking Act, No. 7 of 2005, which criminalizes sex trafficking and labour trafficking, making the punishment “up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.” He said while this law was largely welcomed, it was not without flaws.
Adding that the 2005 Act had been criticized for allowing perpetrators to avoid jail terms by paying a fine instead.
When the Sexual Offences Act No. 12 of 2012 was passed, the AG said it criminalizes sex trafficking under its “forced prostitution” and “child prostitution” provisions and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years of imprisonment, making the crime of sex trafficking equal to the punishment for rape in Sierra Leone.
He also added that in 2019, the law was again amended to legislate tougher punishments for sexual offenses, including sex trafficking, from 15 years maximum imprisonment to life imprisonment.
As a result of the government’s persistent commitment and determination to combat this modern slavery, the AG disclosed that the government is currently working to replace the Anti-Human Trafficking Act 2005 with the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Bill 2021, which will improve victims' protection and impose sufficient sentences involving imprisonment, replacing the option of paying a fine for convicted traffickers.
“My ministry together with relevant stakeholders are working tirelessly to ensure that the appropriate authorities expedite the process of passing the said bill into a law,” the AG revealed.