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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Children’s forum takes on trafficking and other concerns

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006
Fifteen-year-old Esther Koroma of the St. Francis Secondary School was concerned about the school dropout rate for girls and the problem of incest.

By Alusine Savage and Sabine Dolan

MAKENI, Sierra Leone, 6 March 2006 – In the impoverished town of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone, teenagers recently engaged in a lively discussion with the UNICEF Representative for Sierra Leone and the Chairman of the local District Council. Topping the agenda: the issue of child trafficking.

The meeting was the second in a series organized by the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. It was chaired by 17-year-old Fatima Turay, who voiced her concern about the menace posed by child trafficking in the midst of the region’s dire poverty.

“Usually parents, especially those in the rural areas, are lured to give away their children under false promises of a better life and education in the towns and cities,” said Fatima. “Unfortunately, these children end up being used as street hawkers, domestic slaves and prostitutes by their so-called benefactors.”

Fatima called on authorities to give priority to protecting children through, among other measures, passage of a Child Rights Bill that would enable advocacy groups such as CFN to seek redress for these abuses.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006
The Children’s Forum Network meeting, chaired by 17-year-old Fatima Turay, focused on the issue of child trafficking. Reports of trafficking have increased since the end of Sierra Leone’s civil war in 2002.

Sexual exploitation and labour

Child trafficking in Sierra Leone has become a more significant and complex problem since the decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002, left thousands of children displaced, separated from their families and orphaned. The country is a source for both internal trafficking of children (from rural to urban areas) and trafficking abroad.

The victims of child trafficking are both males and females of varying ages. Trafficking occurs for a range of purposes, including sexual exploitation (such as prostitution and early marriage) and forced labour (in domestic work, mining, fishing, trading and vending, and agriculture). Children are also trafficked into begging, petty crime and adoption.

While there are no concrete numbers on how many children have been trafficked in Sierra Leone, media reports of trafficking cases have been persistent in recent years.

Legacy of civil war

Other concerns raised during the Makeni forum included the significant school dropout rate for girls and the problem of incest.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006
Bombali District Council Chairman Eric Dura Sesay pledged to work closely with the children.

Fifteen-year-old Esther emphasized that even though education is tuition-free, girls still drop out when school authorities demand other fees – for equipment and furniture, for example. This often results in parents giving the girls away in marriage at an early age, she said.

Esther added that incest is becoming pervasive: “Parents, especially mothers, condone rape and unlawful carnal knowledge in the home in order to maintain their marriage and for fear that the family name will be brought to disrepute.”

Eric Dura Sesay, the Chairman of the Bombali District Council – the local government body encompassing the town of Makeni – acknowledged at the meeting that child trafficking, as well as rape and incest, are common problems in the district.

Mr. Sesay pointed out that Makeni had been seriously affected by the civil war and now faces enormous challenges in social integration and unemployment. These challenges are reflected in a continued high level of poverty that is the root cause of child trafficking and prostitution, he said.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006
UNICEF Representative Geert Cappelaere promised to take the issues raised during the forum to various ministries and partners and to brief the Children’s Forum Network on the results.

Noting that the Children’s Forum Network was well informed on the issues, Mr. Sesay pledged to work closely with the group and bring frequently discussed concerns to the authorities’ attention.

Community-based prevention

The UNICEF Representative, Geert Cappelaere, welcomed a CFN initiative to hold nationwide consultations on the needs of children. He promised to tour the country and listen attentively to the views of children at these meetings. “It is always rewarding to listen to the children,” he said.

Mr. Cappelaere added that he would bring the concerns raised by children at the meeting in Makeni to various ministries and partners, and provide feedback on the results.

UNICEF is seeking to raise $50,000 to establish a community-based program for the prevention of child trafficking in Sierra Leone. The one year project will be coordinated with several government ministries, non-governmental organizations, District Councils and embassies.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.



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