President Julius Maada Bio has addressed the first regional conference of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to chart ways for deeper cooperation to end human trafficking, highlighting some of the challenges.
The President observed, in his keynote address, that while the meeting of representatives from member countries was timely and crucial, it also demonstrated the importance of consistent collective action in response to the evolving nature of human trafficking.
“This Conference offers a new opportunity to enhance regional collaboration on information sharing, victim identification, and providing services to survivors. It is also an opportunity to strengthen the regional referral system and to intensify the rollout of the ECOWAS Biometric ID system that will facilitate the safe movement of people across ECOWAS.
“My Government is championing this effort to scale up the fight against human trafficking in the sub-region because of the many lessons learned during our efforts to quell trafficking here in Sierra Leone since I took office in 2018.
“We soon realised the need to focus first on creating a simplified, holistic, and enabling legal environment for rights-based issues like human trafficking to be addressed by the whole-of-Government.
“We also built a strong rights-based social protection framework that our ecosystem of new laws upholds. These include the amended Sexual Offenses Act of 2019, the Anti-Human Trafficking (TIP) and Migrant Smuggling Law of 2022, and the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act of 2022.
“This focused approach allows us to better fight against human trafficking in Sierra Leone, especially in prosecution and the provision of victim services, especially for women,” he said.
He later opened the two-day conference and said he looked forward to the endorsement of the conference roadmap by the participating member state ministers and its adoption by the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.
The ECOWAS President, His Excellency Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, thanked and expressed his profound gratitude to President Bio, the government and people of Sierra Leone for co-hosting the conference.
He said one of the key challenges facing West Africa today was insecurity, pointing out that the drivers of insecurity in the region included terrorism, unconstitutional changes of government, environmental crises, and armed conflicts, among others.
“Human trafficking is one facet of the insecurity that undermines regional peace, and it is driven by organised crimes. Despite individual efforts by governments, human trafficking, and its associated ills remain a major obstacle to human security.
“A recent survey indicates that there are approximately 3.5 million people who are trafficking victims at any given time, with the highest proportion of trafficking persons detected in West Africa. Around 99 percent of the victims who are trafficked in the sub-region or in their own hands are children, are trafficked for the purpose of forced labour.
“It is in this context that ECOWAS considered the fight against human trafficking as more than just humanitarian intervention. ECOWAS is of considerable importance to governments like Sierra Leone’s. This conference is expected to produce an implementation program that will be implemented as a component of the ECOWAS plan of action to combat trafficking in persons, especially women, and children.
“Excellences, ladies, and gentlemen, allow me at this junction to place on record our appreciation for the commitment of the government of Sierra Leone to the ratification of the Convention on Trafficking in Persons.
“Sierra Leone has taken an important step towards combating human trafficking, including the review of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 1805, bypassing into law the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Act of 2022,” he ended.
The Conference will feature a closed-door Ministerial roundtable to finalise the roadmap for the enhanced Combat of Trafficking in Persons in the region, experience sharing amongst member countries on the implementation of their respective Trafficking In Persons, TIP, action plans and presentation of the outcomes from the Mano River Union TIP Conference held in Sierra Leone in 2022.