14 June 2006

Liberia: Adoption Or Child Trafficking

"Liberia is a source, transit, and destination country for children trafficked for forced labor and sexual exploitation; the government must therefore integrate into each of these large objectives strategies for combating trafficking in persons." These were the words of a U.S. State Department report released early this month. While the report conceded that the issue of child and human trafficking in Liberia is a special case because it was in political transition during the reporting period, it indicated that Liberia's trafficking picture has become grave and requires urgent government intervention.

"Most trafficking occurs within the country, though some children are trafficked to Liberia from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire and from Liberia to Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, The Gambia, and Nigeria," the report said.

The reports did not also say how and under what conditions these children were taken from their parents and guardians, but noted that they were trafficked for domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, agricultural labor, and street vending.

Those trafficked by individuals from neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, the report said, were are used to fight a proxy war in which they were used as guinea pigs at battlefronts to test the safety of the terrains.

"There are reports as well of some orphanages obtaining children through abduction or fraudulent means and exploiting those children in the commercial sex trade or for hawking in the street," the report revealed, adding that the NTGL was unable to deal with the problem because some of its members allied with rebel groups that were involved in trafficking in persons for the Ivorian war.

Some kids as young as five months, according to recent reports, were abducted by white folks who come into the country under the guise of rendering humanitarian services.

"Some women on the Mercy Ship use their Liberians contacts to take away children under the guise of adoption without the proper involvement of the government. Also involved in this practice are heads of some mushroom churches with contacts in the U.S.," one resident of New Kru Town told The Analyst recently.

It is not clear how that was possible, but the State Department report said while the transitional government may have lacked the wherewithal to deal with the situation, it also demonstrated insufficient will to combat the trafficking.

This, according to the report, is despite the fact that in June 2005, the government passed a statute prohibiting all forms of trafficking.

"That law, however, provides a weak, one year minimum sentence, gravely insufficient to deter trafficking crimes and reflect their heinous nature," it noted.

It said after the passage of the bill, the NTGL and the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) participated in bi-monthly ad hoc anti-trafficking taskforce meetings chaired by the Ministry of Labor.

According to the report, the NTGL also closed down a number of orphanages allegedly involved in child trafficking, though most of these cases appeared to be fraudulent adoptions rather than trafficking.

It said in addition to the shutting down of orphanages, the NTGL established a Women's and Children's Protection Section of police, designated to address trafficking but that these measures did little or nothing to alter the situation as child trafficking continued unabated while government appeared impotent.

The report revealed that the government prosecuted a suspected trafficker in 2005 under a kidnapping law, but acquitted him for lack of evidence.

Up to date according to the report, no one has been convicted for child trafficking even though the practice was prevalent as traffickers become bolder, more cunning, and oftentimes defiant.

The Women's and Children's Protection Section of police received training and logistical support from UNICEF, according to the report, but that there was increased training needs for government officials responsible for the prosecution and prevention of child trafficking.

"A prosecutor lacking knowledge of the new trafficking law pursued a trafficker under a 'crime facilitation' law," the report noted in an effort to justify the call for additional training for government officials.

It said now that a new government was inaugurated in January this year, there was no excuse for the practice to continue to flourish as it were during the transitional period.

"As Liberia rebuilds, strengthening its democracy, national security and judicial system, the government should integrate into each of these large objectives strategies for combating trafficking in persons," the report said.

In particular, it noted, the government should increase its penalties for trafficking, improve efforts to enforce its trafficking law, strengthen efforts to protect victims and better educate government officials and the public about trafficking.

Commenting on the State Department's report during a press conference in Monrovia yesterday, the country director of a local NGO the A.G. Charities Faith Consortium, William Davies, said his organization conducted a series of workshops against human trafficking in the Bo Waterside Community in Grand Cape Mount County.

The workshops, he disclosed, provided specialized skills for 24 law enforcement officers investigating trafficking issues.

He said the training in the area was supplemented by a series of sensitization campaigns in schools in the areas where pupils and instructors were educated on the differences between abduction and human trafficking.

Amongst those who received special training, he revealed, were officers of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN), Liberia National Police (LNP), National Security Agency (NSA), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and customs, amongst other security entities.

The fact that even while this evil practice received some attention in the past without success, prompt observers to agree with the State Department that the government of Liberia ought to do something about the drain on Liberia's humanity, human resources, and future.

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