Defence for Children International-Liberia (DCI-Liberia) has re-launched its standard operating procedures (SOP) to combat child trafficking between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The SOP, which was inaugurated last year, focuses on the training of border security officers and local community actors in advance security methods to combat child trafficking between the two countries. Although the SOP document is not legally binding, its intent is to put measures in place that pressures state and non-state actors to implement and enforce national laws and policies that prohibit child trafficking.
“The purpose of the SOP is to provide a framework for cooperation, which can facilitate effective collaboration between border frontline security officials, community leaders and civil society actors in the two countries to address child trafficking based on trust, adherence to regional and international obligations, and service to protect their citizens, particularly vulnerable children against cross-border exploitation and abuses,” Atty. Foday M. Kawah, DCI-Liberia Executive Director said.
Atty. Kawah added that the coming of the SOP will put in place measures for accountability, including data collection and documentation of cases of trafficking at the border areas; provide clarity on the roles and responsibilities of each sector and their interrelatedness.
“The SOP will enable security officials to vigorously check the travel documents of people traveling with child or children before allowing them entry,” he said.
Atty. Kawah furthered explained that SOP will also support law enforcement officers and community leaders will have knowledge on how to protect victims of trafficking and other forms of child abuse, violence, and exploitation.
“With the SOP, child-based organizations (CBOs) and other community action groups will learn research skills to document cases of child trafficking to enable evidence-based advocacy and lobby initiatives aimed at policy reform and increased government’s efforts in combating child trafficking,” Atty. Kawah added.
The re-launch of the SOP comes at the time when the US Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIPs) report on Liberia reveals poor record-keeping and inadequate resources hindering reliable data collection to the extent that statistics were often not disaggregated to differentiate trafficking from similar crimes.
According to the report, the majority of law enforcement officers — Immigration and social service personnel, lack training on such procedures and, at times, identify some trafficking victims as victims of other crimes.
The report added that many officials continue to view internal trafficking, especially child domestic servitude, as a community practice rather than a crime. Due to this lack of awareness of trafficking among authorities and communities, as well as insufficient government resources to identify trafficking victims, most trafficking victims remained unidentified.
Before the re-launch of the SOP, the government in November 2018 finalized the national referral mechanism to direct victims towards services, but such a mechanism has not yet formally endorsed the mechanism before its implementation. As a result of this situation, the government remained without a formal process to refer victims to care and agencies responsible.
To improve its fight toward child trafficking, the government has initiated a specialized system that prohibits a single partner/ guidance to take a child/ children out of Liberia with the approval of the other partner.
In remarks during the re-launched of SOP at a local resort in Monrovia yesterday, Col. Bolley B. Morlu Sr., LIS Chief Anti-Human trafficking and Migrants Smuggling Officer, said the government is working to combat child trafficking but it is faced with numerous challenges, mainly the country many illegal entrances. He said Liberia has 177 borders of which 46 are legal while 131 are illegal.
Col Morlu added that with the huge numbers of illegal borders between the two countries, “the government needs serious help from well-meaning organizations to combat child-trafficking.”