Thursday, 09 December 2021 06:04


Credit: Egypt Today Credit: Egypt Today

By: Atty. Bendu Kpoto


Trafficking predates the Liberian state. In fact, Liberia’s history would be incomplete without acknowledging the gory details of trafficking that characterized significant epochs of its existence. From the repatriation of former slaves from the United States in 1821,[i] to the active participation by the indigenous population in the slave trade, and the Fernando Po Labor Crisis of 1929-30, amongst others, the past has transmitted hard facts, which undoubtedly continues to haunt us today.

Until December 2000, the term “trafficking in persons” was not defined in international law, despite its incorporation in several international legal instruments. The long-standing failure to develop an agreed-upon definition of trafficking in persons reflected major differences of opinion concerning the ultimate end result of trafficking, its constitutive acts and their relative significance, as well as similarities and differences between trafficking and related issues such as irregular migration and the facilitated cross-border movement of individuals into prostitution or irregular employment.[ii]

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, also known as the Palermo Protocol defines “Trafficking In Persons” as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by means of the threat or use of force or other means of coercion, or by abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or by the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”  

There is a dearth of information on trafficking in persons in Liberia regarding the last half of the 20th century. Even today, there exists little data on trafficking in Liberia. Such unavailability of data, however, must not be interpreted as the non-existence of trafficking in present-day Liberia but should rather be viewed in context. It is often a challenge getting reliable data due to the complex nature of trafficking, encompassing un-documentation of workers and immigrants.

Liberia remains a source, transit, and destination for the trafficking of men, women and children. [iii] According to the 2019 US State Department’s Report on TIPS, most victims originate from and are exploited within the country’s borders, where they are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, sex trafficking, or forced labor in street vending, gold and alluvial diamond mines, and on small-scale rubber plantations. Women and children from rural areas are among the most vulnerable; lured by the promise of education, better living conditions or a good job in the city. Traffickers are mostly extended family members or trusted persons from the community. Generally, victims end up forcibly employed as beggars or street vendors, in diamond mines, on rubber plantations, as sex workers or in domestic service. They often receive no pay; if they do, their ‘guardian’ confiscates the money.[iv]

Traffickers typically operate independently and are commonly family members who promise poorer relatives a better life for their children or promise young women a better life for themselves, take the children or women to urban areas, and exploit them. The TIP Secretariat reported in 2015 that most victims of human trafficking are from the Southeastern parts of the country, that is Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Grand Gedeh and Sinoe Counties. The Victims are often sent to Monrovia or to large plantations such as Firestone Rubber Plantation Company in Margibi County, the Weala and Salala Rubber Plantation companies etc. (Second NAP 2019). Traffickers are also often well-respected community benefactors who exploit the ‘foster care’ system common across West Africa. Orphaned children are vulnerable to exploitation, including in street vending and child sex trafficking.[v]

As a destination, Liberia has seen an influx of young women from other countries in West Africa trafficked by their parents for forced or arranged marriages. The victims are held captive in their matrimonial homes, without access to the outside world and often without any identification documents.[vi] Also, women from Tunisia and Morocco have been exposed to sex trafficking in Liberia. In 2018, reports emerged about seven women who flew from Morocco, Tunisia and Cote d'Ivoire, with hopes of earning US$1,000 monthly at a supermarket or restaurant, but ended up having their passports seized, and then demanded by their trafficker to engage into sex work. They were threatened and beaten whenever they refused.[vii] There are also documented reports of women in sex trafficking in Chinese-run hotels.[viii] Liberia is also a source. About 60 Liberian young women between the ages of 22 and 34 were allegedly trafficked into Lebanon between 2011 and 2012. The women were reportedly lured to Lebanon, believing they were going to get good-paying jobs, but ended up being housemaids and "slaves" for Lebanese landlords. 14 of the more than 60 Liberian girls were returned to the country in 2015 following protests and public outcry.[ix] Unfortunately, the women’s quest for justice came to an abrupt end when the Court ruled that state lawyers handling the case did not have license to practice as besides the case lacked direct evidence.[x] All these accounts continue to hamper anti-trafficking efforts.

Corruption plays a major role in trafficking. According to Transparency International, trafficking affects an estimated 12 million victims around the world and more than half of the victims are women and girls. Women have become victims due to their quest for better living, better incentive due to the high inequality on the job market, their limited education level, and lack of opportunities. Corruption is increasingly cited as a key reason for why trafficking continues and traffickers remain free. Corruption both facilitates trafficking and feeds the flow of people by destabilizing democracies, weakening a country’s rule of law and stalling a nation’s development. At the same time, trafficking, which can involve global or regional networks, contributes to a country’s corruption.[xi] The trade undermines development and put cash in the hands of criminals to build a bigger network.[xii] To function, trafficking relies on pay-offs to police, judges and ministers at all levels. Broader attention needs to be paid to this nexus between corruption and human trafficking. Despite advances, both issues tend to be tackled independently without recognizing their inter-linkages. Only by addressing them together will related efforts to stop trafficking be more successful. More must be done to ensure that more people, especially women and children, are not victims of trafficking.



[ii] Issue Paper on the International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons

[iii] U.S. State Department Report 2017


[v] 2019 US State Department Report



[viii] 2019 US State Department Report



[xi] Microsoft Word - TI-Working_Paper_Human_Trafficking_28_Jun_2011_CM.doc (


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