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Treat traffickers as rapists

-Gender Ministry seeks tougher punishment

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Acting Gender Minister Madam Alice Howard has recommended here that the law on Trafficking In Persons (TIPs) should be rated high, and that it should have tougher punishment enshrined on the country’s statute books for traffickers just as it is with rapists in an effort to get rid of TIPs.“Trafficking law should be … rated as high as rape case. Not someone going to jail for one year and then be released and then continue in another community. It should be rated as high as rape case so that we make it serious,” she says.

The call came Wednesday, 13 November at the commencement of a high level inception meeting and training of trainers for Liberia Media Development (LMD) partners on TIP in Sinkor, suburb of Monrovia.Relevant government and private institutions including the police, immigration, Labor Ministry, Gender Ministry, the media and other stakeholders are taking part in the three – day inception meeting and training with the aim of helping to provide new skills that will help to educate the public on TIPs and law enforcement.

The training on TIPs comes after Liberia has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List by the U.S. State Department through its annual TIPs report last June.This downgrading of Liberia marks the third consecutive year, and it rings a bell that the country needs to direct human efforts and resources toward the fight against TIPs if it must have good standing to access non – humanitarian development funds from the U.S.

Authorities knowledgeable in the sector say TIPs occur in several forms, including taking family or other people’s children under your care through deception that they will be given better opportunities like schooling, when the actual intent is to later abuse their rights, use them for labor or as breadwinners, among others.

Madam Howard stresses here that officials should be trained in identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, as she highlights women and children as the most vulnerable when it comes to trafficking, especially in Liberia.

She calls for the collective efforts of all, inclusive of the government, the citizens, civil society, partners and the media to combat trafficking in person in the same way as they did in the fight against Ebola so as to be able to get rid of trafficking here.
She suggests that if there can be increased efforts in investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of trafficking, the country will move forward.To achieve this goal, Madam Howard indicates that training is needed and law enforcement officers need to be equipped as well.

“I’m just going to say our own involvement with trafficking in Liberia, we are not doing a lot because we all know the constraints in Liberia. But the Ministry is active on the Task Force and we work collaboratively with the Labor Ministry and other agencies and ministries that are involved with trafficking,” she says.Minister Howard reveals that they sometimes provide survivors with food items, house them for a while, saying because of cost “we can’t keep them too long.”

Also speaking, Labor Minister Mr. Moses Y. Kollie notes that the LMD, being one of the newest local partners to the Anti-Trafficking Task Force, joined the task force in late August this year and expressed its willingness in initiating strategies that will eradicate the issue of Trafficking In Persons in Liberia.Minister Kollie assures the LMD / Internews that the Government of Liberia through the Task Force is prepared and willing to further strengthen the partnership so as to achieve the four key thematic areas inclusive of prevention, protection, and prosecution and [partnership].

Earlier, Liberian Immigration Service (LIS) Head of Anti – Human Trafficking Col. Bolley B. Morlu pledges the support of the LIS in combating TIPs here, saying Immigration is the first point of contact for people entering Liberia.Out of 177 point of entry into Liberia, Col. Morlu reveals that LIS officers are deployed at 46 entry points, while 131 entry points are still “left vulnerable and routinely patrolled” by LIS Border Patrol Unit.

Col. Morlu notes that he was very much disheartened to learn that Liberia has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the third time.“And because of this we on this day want to pledge our best endeavors and efforts in helping the national task force, not to completely eliminate – because it’s difficult – but to reduce the number of trafficking in this country,” Col. Morlu says.

USAID Acting Mission Director Madam Rebekah Eubanks recalls that last June, for the third consecutive year, the U.S. State Department placed Liberia on the Tier 2 Watch List in its annual Trafficking in Persons report.

“This ranking reflects the U.S. Government’s assessment that the Government of Liberia is not fully in compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking that regulate U.S. foreign assistance,” she says.

Madam Eubanks adds that what this means for Liberia and Liberian trafficking survivors is troubling in its own right, adding that it also has important implications for the future of U.S. assistance to Liberia.

She urges the Government of Liberia to put into place and enforce policies that demonstrate increased efforts to combat human trafficking, investigate and prosecute traffickers, and protect survivors by early next year or Liberia will be downgraded to Tier 3, and lose access to all U.S. government non – humanitarian development funds.

“USAID is committed to working with our partners to help make sure that doesn’t happen. We are looking across our programming to identify ways we can support Liberian efforts to counter trafficking across the country. That is why we are here today,” she notes.She also reminds the Fourth Estate of its critical role in raising these important issues, facilitating public debate and holding leaders to account. Internews Country Director Jan McArthur expresses delight to work collaboratively on such a high level with the U.S. Government and the Liberian Government, saying she is truly honored for LMD to be invited to support such effort in anti-trafficking efforts in Liberia.By Winston W. Parley

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