By Alhaji Haruna Sani
Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APPRIES) have team up on a two-day Regional Conference of ECOWAS Member States to end human trafficking.
The conference which commenced yesterday, 25th April at the Freetown International Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown was organized on the theme “Charting a way forward for deeper cooperation in ECOWAS to end Human Trafficking.
The objective of the event is to share lessons learned in the implementation of the Member States’ respective Trafficking in Person (TIP) National Action Plan (NAP) to improve protection, prevention, prosecution and partnerships in fight against TIP. The conference is also geared towards proposing targeted strategies and plans specific to regional experiences and needs.
In his key note address, President Julius Maada Bio said Human Trafficking is one of the greatest injustices in recent times, stating that its toll on human capital development and on the long-term economic and social development of countries in the ECOWAS region is unquantifiable.
President Bio said among many actions, his government since 2018 has undertaken policy and legal reforms to enhance the fight against human trafficking. “In 2022, the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrants Smuggling Act addressed lacunae in the previous law and recognizes the role that migrant smuggling plays in facilitating human trafficking,” he noted.
He informed the gathering that in 2020, Sierra Leone secured its first conviction for human trafficking and several convictions have been recorded since.
He promised that Sierra Leone will continue to make the great progress in its domestic efforts to curtail human trafficking; adding that the transnational nature of human trafficking within the ECOWAS region calls enhanced regional cooperation.
President Bio point out that the conference is an opportunity to strengthen regional coordination and cooperation through shared experiences, maintaining that the roadmap will be a guidepost for the region, and the jointly agreed upon interventions will reflect and amplify collective goal to combat human trafficking.
Director of APPRIES, David Okech, said the regional conference of ECOWAS States on Ending Human Trafficking occurs at an auspicious moment. He said APPRIES acknowledges that human trafficking is a regional issue.
He went on to state that APPRIES’ research in three ECOWAS countries –Guinea, Senegal and Sierra Leone shows that children are being moved across borders for the purpose of labour trafficking and that girls and young women are being moved across borders for the purpose of sex trafficking. “Our reports consistently point to the necessity of a regional framework to combat these issues”.
Director Okech said the conference signifies that ECOWAS members understand the cross-border nature of Human Trafficking and that they are taking the lead in this regard.
“APPRIES is honored to work with governments, service providers, and research partners to collectively implement solutions and strategies to effectively reduce human trafficking through a regional approach. We look forward to the good work that will continue when this conference comes to a close,” he said.
Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, President, ECOWAS Commission, applauded the Government of President Bio for his leadership in combating human trafficking. He said in view of the cross-border nature of human trafficking, the Government of Sierra Leone has taken the commitment further by mobilizing other ECOWAS Member States and critical stakeholders to build consensus on counter-trafficking initiatives.
He said the fight against Human Trafficking is a moral and a humanitarian imperative for ECOWAS and the phenomenon represents a serious obstacle to human security and to peace in general.
Earlier on, the Minister of Social Welfare, Madam Baindu Dassama highlighted some of the several achievements in combating trafficking under the New Direction Government.
In her video message, Cindy Dyer, Ambassador-at-Large, U.S Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons assured continuous commitment to engaging governments in the sub region to support their efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking.