January 29, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Despite efforts to empower women and children in Sierra Leone by the government and non-governmental organisations, many are still struggling to eke out a living in especially the capital, Freetown.
Most of these women are single parents, while their children are orphans. On a daily basis they do backbreaking jobs to earn their livelihood. They are most times found in slum communities in Freetown, where they also grapple with diseases, hunger and poverty, by the very nature of the job they do.
Samuel Kamara, a Junior Secondary School (JSS) pupil, aged 14, whom this reporter met at the Kingtom dumpsite in the west-end of Freetown in the early hours of Thursday morning, said he survives by searching for scrap metals, recycled water plastics and aluminum cans at the dumpsite and sell them to Lebanese, Indian or Fullah traders. He disclosed that he sells the aluminum for the sum of two thousand Leones (less than half a dollar) per kilogram and that he collects at least two 50kg bags of aluminum cans each day.
“I do this to get my livelihood, transport fare to and from school and also my school fees. The government is only paying for girls in the junior secondary school and not boys, so it is very difficult for me at the moment, but I thank God there is a dumpsite where I can come in the morning to search for scrap metals and recycled water plastics,” he said.
He added that scavenging for aluminum cans, recycled water plastic and scrap metals is very tedious as he bends on one side of his body to dig and search for what one wants in the dumpsite.
Having lost his father, he now lives with a blind mother who begs in central Freetown. Thus, unlike other boys his age, he has to go the extra mile to ensure that he survives and continues his schooling.
Isatu Sesay, 13, has dropped out of school but she expressed desire to return. Her mother, a single parent, also searches for scrap metals, recycled water plastics and aluminum cans at various dumpsites in Freetown.
“My mother does not have money to pay my school fees; there are three of us and I am the eldest. She has to take care of all our needs like clothing, food, medical and shelter,” she said.
Isatu’s mother, Aminata Kamara, said that as a single parent she has to do backbreaking jobs to feed, cloth, shelter and take care of the medical bills of her three young children.
She disclosed that her children and her contract diseases like malaria on a regular basis as a result of frequent mosquito bites in the slum community they reside, while coughing has become part of the occupational hazard they have had to endure because of inhalation of dust from the dumpsites.
Addie Valcarcel, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator at the National Commission for Children, said that the commission is against child labour, noting that they are currently embarking on an eleven days campaign to sensitise people on issues relating to child chores at night, sending children to sell wares on the street, among others.
She said the commission monitors and coordinates the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, the African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child, and Part III of the Child Right Act of 2007.
“The commission also renders advice to the government on policies for the improvement on the condition of the child. There is too much dropout of school girls due to early marriage, but we have been implementing a project to reintegrate the girls back to school,” she said.
Deputy Director of Children’s Directorate at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Joyce Kamara, said her ministry would have to work with the National Commission for Children in their campaign against child labour to visit dumpsites, as well as do contact tracing to reunite children with their families.