By Cheryl Thomas
The Ministry of Social Welfare last week handed over a report of an investigation into the suspected trafficking of 11 children.
The children were recently returned home after been rescued from captivity in Mali, where they were taken to.
The findings of the assessment are contained in the report presented to representatives of the Family Support Unit (FSU), the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Sierra Leone Police, who are expected to mount thorough investigation into the mater in anticipation of possible prosecution of the perpetrators.
A statement issued by the Social Welfare Ministry indicates that the children ages three to 15 were smuggled from Sierra Leone to the Malian capital, Bamako by three unnamed suspects, who are said to be in the custody of Malian authorities.
All 11 of them were transferred back home by officials of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Guinea between 2nd and 7th November, 2023, according to the ministry.
Speaking at the ceremony marking the handing over of the report, Minister of Social Welfare, Melrose Karminty, hailed the three law enforcement agencies for their collaboration, noting that the “symbolic” handing over signified a shift from the traditional referral mechanism to a robust Task Force approach, which is consistent with the 2022 National Referral Mechanism on Victim Protection.
John-John Whitfield, Media Officer, Ministry of Social Welfare, told ManoReporters that with the traditional approach mechanism, previous suspected cases of trafficking or migrant smuggling were sent to any of the law enforcement players for investigation before it reached the ministry.
“So, the process of investigation was sometimes slow. But with the implementation of the Anti-trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act of 2022, the Robust Taskforce Approach now creates a room for the minister through MSW, the leading ministry in the fight against trafficking, to produce a preliminary assessment on suspected cases, followed by a…discussion with the law enforcement players on responsibilities, action plan and timeline for suspected cases,” he said.
According to Mr Whitfield, the outcome of such a meeting is usually reported at Cabinet level for monitoring.
According to the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report for Sierra Leone, over the past five years, the country has recorded numerous victims of human trafficking, involving human traffickers who exploit Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.
Within Sierra Leone, the traffickers used to recruit victims largely from rural provinces to urban and mining centers for sex and forced labour in domestic service, artisanal diamond and granite mining, petty trading, and various other sectors of the economy. The traffickers also exploit victims in fishing and agriculture.
Out of Sierra Leone, victims are taken to neighbouring countries within West Africa like Mali, Niger, Liberia, Gambia and Guinea, and in Asia, they find themselves in Qatar, Kuwait and Lebanon, where many engage in prostitution.