Lack of shelter hinders fight against child labour in Sierra Leone

Alusine Sesay: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 May 2023:

Senesie, 13, spends nine hours daily at a quarry site at No 9 in Koidu Town, Kono District smashing rocks into gravel size for sale. He does this to assist his uncle to make a living.

Senesie spent nine hours in the quarry daily to crush stones using a hammer.  He says he reports to the quarry at 8am and returns home at 5pm. He said has never been to school even though successive governments in Sierra Leone have implemented free primary education for the past 15 years.

Sensesie was given for adoption (menpekin) to her uncle to pursue his education, but he is subjected to child labour. (Photo: Senesie, 13, smashing rocks at quarry site in Koidu Town).

Senesie’s situation is not unique. In the district, children as young as five years have been subjected to exploitation.

Five-year-old Komba Fillie (not his real name) was engaged in the crushing of stone to gravel. He was assisting his 65-year-old grandmother Sia Komba to gather gravel for sale.

Trafficking, according to the United Nations, involves three main elements:

  • The act: Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons.
  • The means: Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
  • The purpose: For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.

Kono district tops the list of districts with the highest prevalence of child labour, according to a study conducted by the African Programme and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES) in 2020.

(Photo: Five-year-old boy engage in crushing stone in Koidu Town)

The study shows that the highest rates of child trafficking were found in Kono (45.7%), followed by Kailahun (32.9%), and Kenema (26.6%). The highest rates of child labor were also found in Kono (52.3%), followed by Kailahun (34.7%), and Kenema (28.8%) among the household sample of children aged 5 – 17 years old.

The numbers are alarming despite the government’s national and international obligations to combat child labour.

The lack of shelter to hold children subjected to child labour in the eastern district of Kono is hampering efforts to combat the menace in the district.

The government is obliged under the Sierra Leone “Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Act 2022”to protect survivors of human trafficking through the establishment of interim care facilities or rehabilitation shelters for victims.

The Head of the Family Support Unit (FSU), Tankoro Police Division, Deputy Superintendent of Police Sahr Denis Gborie said that the lack of care facility in the district is deterring efforts by the police to fight against human trafficking/child labour. He said that when matters of such nature are reported at the police station there were instances where victims were taken to Freetown and later brought back to Kono during the investigation because of lack of shelter in the district.

“The lack of care centres is a major problem in dealing with crimes against children in the district,” he said.

It is also claimed that police officers in the district occasionally leave the victims in the care of the person who is accused of perpetrating child trafficking, and they sometime shelter kids at police station.

(Photo: The Head of FSU, Tankoro Police Division, Deputy Superintendent of Police Sahr Denis Gborie)

Aiah Kelly is a social worker from the Ministry of Social Welfare who is attached to the Tankoro Police Division to deal with social welfare cases. He said housing victims of child labour and trafficking has been a major problem in the district.  He said there were times when they were overwhelmed with such cases, and they were constrained in providing shelter for the victims since the district is without one.

He said that sometimes a non-governmental organisation World Hope provides temporary shelter for victims. “Sometimes the members of the Child Welfare Committee in the district decide where victims are to be sheltered,” Kelly said.  He said that there were moments when they did not know where to shelter the children because even the non-governmental organisation World Hope which sometimes comes to their rescue does not have a shelter in Kono district.

A member of the Child Welfare Committee in the district, Kumba Nyuma is displeased about the lack of shelter in the district. She accused the government of not doing enough to combat child trafficking.  She said that provision of shelter is critical in combating trafficking.

“I see no reason why the authorities should not provide rehabilitation centres to temporarily house victims. It is disheartening that we as a nation are unable to provide the necessary facilities to protect our children and improve our international rating. This is   unacceptable,” Nyuma said.

Shelter for victims of trafficking remained inadequate and limited to Freetown; and the government did not report providing any funding to support to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) providing the majority of victim shelter and services, according to the U.S Department of State “2022 Trafficking in Persons Report: Sierra Leone”.

The report indicates that the government did not meet the minimum standards in the fight against human trafficking in several key areas including provision of shelter and services to victims of child trafficking. The report documented that the provision of shelter remains inadequate and limited to Freetown.

Sia M. Lajaku -Williams has extensive knowledge of child rights issues and has worked for many international organisations. She is currently a consultant at the African Programme and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES). She said that trafficking does not require movement across borders. She said that in some cases children could be trafficked and exploited from their own homes.

Sia said that a range of services could be provided to victims of trafficking at rehabilitation centres.  She said that long term recovery, rehabilitation and integration of trafficking victims could involve educational and economic opportunities as well as extended psychosocial care which are provided at rehabilitation centres.

She said that many shelters provide a range of educational opportunities, including formal and non-formal education, life skills and vocational training.

The consultant said the centres should also provide victims with economic opportunities to avoid re-trafficking. She said that shelters should provide income earning ventures to victims.

Sia said that the shelters are important because victims are provided with psychosocial support since they have experienced severe physical and psychosocial trauma.

She said the shelters also reintegrate trafficking victims which is often a difficult, complex and long-term process.

She urged the authorities to establish reintegration centres across the region because it is a critical component in the fight against human trafficking.

(Photo: Sia M. Lajaku -Williams, consultant, APRIES)

The Executive Director of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force Secretariat, Ministry of Social Welfare, Mr. Dehunge Shaika said that the government is working to establish shelters across the regions. He said that the government don’t want to institutionalized children, adding that it is best for children to grow up with their parents. He said that the Government is committed to strengthening its efforts to combat human trafficking and better protect trafficking victims.

Child labour can result in extreme bodily and mental harm and even death, according to UNICEF.” It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. It cuts children off from schooling and health care and restricting their fundamental rights.”

Child labour is a term used to describe work that deprives children of their childhood, endangers their health and wellbeing, and hinders their personal development.

Editor’s Note

This report was produced with support from Center on Human Trafficking Research and Outreach (CenHTRO) at the University of Georgia, USA.


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