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By Femi Best Leone Mar 2019

"children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour in Sierra Leone, in diamond mining, commercial sexual exploitation, and dangerous agricultural tasks"

The International Labour Organization (ILO) refers to Child Labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. In Sierra Leone, Child Labour is a common practice in both urban and rural communities. When you take a walk along the streets of urban and rural settings, one could see children under the age of eighteen carrying heavy loads on their heads walking long distances to sell their wares. In the mining sector also, children below the age of eighteen are engaged in full-scale mining rather than going to school.

According to the United States Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) 2017 report, children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour in Sierra Leone, in diamond mining, commercial sexual exploitation, and dangerous agricultural tasks. The report notes that 51.3% of 5 to 14-year-olds are working, whereas 43.3% combine work and school. The ILO Report 2016, states that child labour remains a fundamental challenge confronting human rights defenders. However, despite enormous social reforms generated around this sensitive issue, it is estimated that more than 200 million children worldwide are still engaged in child labour and a staggering 115 million at least, are subjected to its worst forms.

Hidden Voices Salone went about in the streets of Freetown to speak with some school going children, and others caught up in this practice.

Tamba Gborie (14 years) - “I sell water in the street rather than going to school because I come from a poor home and my parents cannot afford to pay my school fees.”

Amadu - ‘’I attend school in the afternoon but my parents will not allow me to sit idle at home so they give me groundnuts to sell so that I will get my school lunch.’’

Kadiatu Conteh (12 years) - “I sell assorted sweets along Abacha Street in Freetown. I do not like to sell but I have no option because the income derived from selling sweets is partly used to prepare food for the household”.

Memunatu - ‘’Child Labour is not good for children because the rights of children is being abused by some adults. We have nobody to complain to.’’

Namisa - ‘’Parents who use their children as Child Labour must be punished according to the laws on Child Labour. Again, the government must also educate our parents that Child Labour negatively affects the sound development and growth of children.’’

Raping of under aged children who are sent out to the streets to sell by some parents has been a serious concern for many citizens. Rosaline Kamara had this say: ‘’In most cases, some children who sell on the streets late at night are taken to the homes of some men and raped.’’

This is a cause worth fighting for by all, as it concerns every Sierra Leonean at home or abroad. While some may argue that, it does not directly affect their family; this issue has the potential to rob Sierra Leone off future nation builders. Today, Sierra Leone is known as a source, transit, and destination point for children trafficked for forced labour in domestic work, diamond and granite mining, begging, and commercial sexual exploitation according to ILAB, and this can only change if we all commit to doing something about it

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