It’s estimated that anywhere from 12-million to 27-million people around the world are victims of human trafficking. Humanitarian agencies say human trafficking is a 32-billion dollar a year industry. Sierra Leone is one of the many countries where it takes place.
World Hope International operates the Trafficking in Persons Recovery Center in Sierra Leone. It describes it as a holistic, high-trauma aftercare facility. WHI Vice-President of Programs John Lyon said that traffickers lure people by making false promises of jobs or a better life.
“In Sierra Leone, what we’re finding is two principle forms of trafficking – particularly in the labor trafficking area, as well as sex trafficking. It’s hard to put numbers around it. Every country in the world has problems finding highly accurate numbers of what actually is the scope of this problem,” he said.
Before you can treat victims of human trafficking, you have to find them.
“We had a case in northern Sierra Leone where a smaller mining firm got young kids to work in this mine. They were burrowing under the earth and some of the kids were actually killed in the mine. The kids were trafficked. They weren’t paid reasonable wages. Our program helped identify that case and brought it to the attention of the local authorities and helped prosecute the case with the Ministry of Mines, as well as with police,” he said.
Human trafficking not only comes by land, but by sea.
“We’ve also seen cases involving foreign fishing firms that come in and traffic girls to their ships for purposes of sex. We had one specific case just outside of Freetown where a foreign shipping firm kept docking near the village where we’d been working. And these girls would go to these ships. It came to light that the guys on the ship would come to shore and they’d say, you know, come over to the ship. We can get you a job. We can get you a better life. But what turned out was that they were just using these girls for sex.”
Lyon said the fishing vessel actually raised anchor and set to sea with several girls on board. WHI reported its findings to local authorities, who intercepted the ship and rescued the girls.
World Hope International has set up 58 parent groups in the country that watch out for possible human trafficking.
Lyon said, “In Sierra Leone, the local villages are really the structure that you need to work through to really accomplish any kind of large-scale goal. And so in these 58 villages, we’ve worked with the villagers to help educate and sensitize the villagers as to what human trafficking looks like. What does a human trafficker do when he wants to traffic somebody? Then once that’s been identified in a village they’ll report that to police or other NGOs or the Ministry of Social Welfare. So there’s that referral network that we’ve helped develop.”
The parent groups have helped identify a number of criminal activities, not just trafficking.
Once children or adults are freed from or escape from traffickers, Lyon said, they need help healing and reintegrating.
“We’ll provide treatment for the victim, education, health treatment, as well as mental health treatment. What makes our program very unique in Sierra Leone is that we don’t have a limit to how long that client can stay in our treatment facility. The client can stay as long as it takes for them to be treated and reintegrated into their community.”
Reintegration includes regular meetings by WHI staff with the children and their parents – ongoing monitoring to make sure they haven’t fallen victim to traffickers again – and possible jobs.
The U.S. State Department recently upgraded Sierra Leone’s status in its annual Trafficking in Persons report. Lyons says it’s an indication that WHI programs and similar efforts are having a positive effect.