‘Street children are more vulnerable to Ebola’
By Hassan G. Koroma
Child Protection Programme Manager at Save the Children International, Martha Bangura, has said that child street hawkers are more vulnerable to the deadly Ebola virus than any other demographic group.
Ms. Bangura was speaking at the Kingtom Police Mess during a one-day seminar on ‘Operation Dawn’ organized by the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Save the Children International.
‘Operation Dawn’ has a strategic goal to getting child street traders off the street and to support them through formal education.
Quoting medical sources, she said the Ebola virus spread from one person to another through direct contact, thus children selling on the street are highly vulnerable because they come in contact with different people.
She said many laws have been promulgated in the country, inspired by international law, to seek the interest of children, but lamented that a good many of those laws lack effective enforcement.
She revealed that her organization conducted a survey on street children in Freetown nine years ago, which indicated that there were more than 9,000 street children just within the radius of Eastern Police and Calaba Town. She added that the figure would have escalated with majority of those children having graduated to become thieves and prostitutes.
She called on those implementing ‘Operation Dawn’ to take cognizance of children who are active on the street at night, as well as those who sell wares in the street during the day because “if nothing is done, those children would grow up and become troublemakers in the country”.
Chairman of the event, Inspector Brima Vonjo, who is also a Public Health Officer, said their work is to ensure that child abusers are brought to court to face the full force of the law.
He said ‘Operation Dawn’ has no definite ending, and warned parents or guardians who fail to send their children/wards to school and instead send them to sell on the street that they would have to pay a fine of Le500,000 or a jail term of one year.
Director of Gender in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Charles Vandi, said his ministry is not a law enforcement agency but rather identifies and reports the problems to a body that is responsible to tackle them.
He opined that most children on the street are trafficked from the provinces to the city, while domestic violence against children also cause the latter to seek refuge on the street.
He said the ministry is working on the Domestic Violence bill, and that part of their current challenge is how the Sierra Leone Police investigate and charge matters in respect of domestic violence to court.
Also speaking, Commissioner of the newly established National Commission for Children, Ms. Olayinka Laggah, pledged that the commission would support ‘Operation Dawn’.