MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has shut down a government office suspected of issuing fraudulent birth certificates to facilitate child trafficking, a justice ministry official said Thursday.
Deputy Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh told The Associated Press that the president took the decision to close the Bureau of Vital Statistics at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare last week due to "increasing reports of the issuance of birth certificates that have been used to procure passports and then used in return to facilitate the trafficking of children."
Liberia requires a birth certificate in order to issue a passport.
"There have been reports that Liberia has been used as a transit point for many of these things," Sannoh said, adding that some of the victims were Liberian and others were from regional neighbors such as Guinea and Ghana who were passed off as Liberian. He could not provide an estimate for how many children were suspected of having been trafficked.
Sannoh said the suspected destination countries included the United States and Australia.
In its 2013 report on human trafficking, the U.S. State Department said Liberia was a source, transit and destination country for adults and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, with most victims being Liberians exploited within the country.
The report said Sirleaf's government had not demonstrated increasing efforts to address the trafficking problem in the past year.
In January 2009, Liberia announced a moratorium on foreign adoptions after the system was found to be riddled with corruption. A 2007 assessment produced for the United Nations children's agency UNICEF found that "many" children had entered the system through "fraudulent means, mostly through false promises designed to deceive birth parents into relinquishing them."