As Sierra Leone commemorates 200 years of the abolition of the slave trade Although 25th March marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act, slavery still exists today in various forms with the most critical being that of trafficking in humans, especially children.
Globally, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year for the purpose of exploitation, including for prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Trafficking in humans is more lucrative than drug trafficking; an estimated $9.5 billion USD are generated per year from trafficking in humans, attracting organized criminal gangs and leading to corruption on a global scale. Sierra Leone once the haven for freed slaves, for which its capital, Freetown, got its name, continues to grapple with several post conflict emerging challenges, including that of child trafficking.
Child trafficking victims include both boys and girls of varying ages. Trafficking occurs for a range of different purposes including sexual exploitation (prostitution, marriage), labour (domestic work, mining, fishing, trading and vending, agriculture), begging and petty crime, adoption, etc.
A recent Situation Analysis on Child Trafficking (2005) reveals that Sierra Leone is primarily a source country both for internal trafficking (from rural to urban areas) as well as for trafficking abroad.
The factors that contribute to the vulnerability of children are rife in Sierra Leone. Birth registration which is a basic right of every child is only at 48%, leaving over 50% of children without an official identity.
An estimated 11% of Sierra Leonean children are orphans (they have lost either one or both parents). Such children are prime targets for both internal and external trafficking.
High poverty levels, challenges to the rule of law, porous borders with neighbouring countries and social conditions, including limited educational levels, harmful practises like forced marriages and violence are also contributing factors to trafficking of children.
Children’s survival and development are therefore threatened, and their rights to education, health and protection are denied.
In order to provide adequate response to this challenge, the Government of Sierra Leone has enacted “The Anti-Human Trafficking Act, 2005”. As mandated by this Act, an Inter-Ministerial Committee and Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force have been established.
A 2007 Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan has been approved with the assistance of the ECOWAS, Anti-Trafficking Unit. The Government of Sierra Leone has also signed the “Multilateral Cooperation Agreement to Combat Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children in West and Central Africa”. The UN Country Teams in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire along with the Mano River Union have identified child trafficking as an inter-country priority issue which requires integrated monitoring and response. Commenting on the occasion, the UNICEF Representative, Mr Geert Cappelaere, expressed concern that “the situation of the 2.3 million children living in Sierra Leone (close to 50% of the total population) therefore remains dire.
He called on all parties to serve as 21st century abolitionists to put an end to many existing violations of children’s protection rights. “We as UNICEF” he went on ”are committed to support the Government to build a protective environment for every child, one which safeguards children from violence, exploitation and abuse.”