Settled with freed slaves from the US after 1822, and founded as a republic in 1847, Liberia was named to mean “the country of the free.” But today, men, women and children are trafficked into slavery within Liberia, and children are brought into the country for domestic and sexual slavery from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Children are also trafficked out of Liberia to Guinea, The Gambia, and Nigeria—as well as to Cote d’Ivoire for use in combat. And during Liberia’s civil war, which ended after 14 years in 2003, both government forces and rebel factions forcibly recruited many thousands of children for use in combat and as messengers and porters. Ruth Kamara was trafficked into sex slavery in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, in the early 1990s. She was brought from Sierra Leone, where women and children are also trafficked out to Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, the Middle East, and Europe. As in Liberia, a civil war in Sierra Leone between government and rebel forces has prompted forcible recruitment for combat. In addition, that war of 1991-2002 displaced more than two million people, many of whom became at risk of exploitation by traffickers. There are no reliable statistics for either Liberia or Sierra Leone, but more broadly, across all the countries of West and Central Africa, around 300,000 children are trafficked into slavery each year. Now fashioning the abolitionist movement as a mini civil war that she is “ready to fight,” Ruth explains that her weapon in that war is her testimony as a survivor. She speaks to people in her country, defines human trafficking for them, and then will “always back it up with my story.”
At the time I was 19, and a friend of mine asked me to go and spend time with her in Liberia. We went to a man, and she introduced me to the man like, “this is the one that we are going to Liberia with.” Then all of a sudden she told me like, “oh I forgot one document. Let me go home so that I will go and collect it.” I said, “ok, I hope you will come later.” She left. That was the end. I never saw her again.
We left in the car, me and the man. So, after a day or two, we reached Monrovia. He took me to a big compound, telling me, that’s the room that they found for me. That night he asked me to have sex with him. I said, “no, this is not the arrangement, because my friend said we are just coming to spend time here.” Then, in that room, he told me, “don’t you know I am your boss? I bought you from that lady.” After having the sex with him, he kept me in the room, employing other men to come. I was there for two years.
I’m a survivor. So I’m not ashamed to tell them: “I was there, but God brought me out for a special purpose.” And this is the purpose, to tell my testimony, and tell people that this thing is happening. Now I talk in villages and schools, telling them about my past experience. After giving them the definition of human trafficking, I always back it up with my story. So people will know that this thing is a real thing. It is happening. I am hoping that this thing will come to a stop. We are ready to fight what is going on now.
Narrative as told to the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST), with implementing partners World Hope International and World Relief, January 2006, in Makeni, Sierra Leone.