The risk of children employed in Abattoirs

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By Mohamed Special ContehText Box: o

Child Labour is a common practice in Sierra Leone. Cow yard is one area where the practice is increasingly becoming prevalent and the problem seems to be overlooked by authorities.

According to a January 26th 2023 report from APRIES (African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery) on Child Trafficking and the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Sierra Leone Pottering, Fishing, Mining, Construction, domestic work and street vending were found to be the most prevalent forms of labour children are exploited in. It was reported that 36.19% of children in the Eastern Region alone has experienced child labour.

However, there are 1000s of children exploited in other reported forms of labour one of which is the slaughterhouses or cow pen commonly known as COW YARD.

In every major town and in all cities in  Sierra Leone, a cow yard is found and in most of these places there are children working as a labourers. These children work long hours with little or no breaks which mostly affects their education and development. They are often subjected to physical abuse by their employers. The work they do includes killing and slaughtering animals, handling sharp knives and other dangerous tools, and carrying heavy carcasses. The work environment is unhygienic, and the children are at risk of contracting diseases and infections.

Edward Kamara, (not his real name), an underage boy who is working in a cow yard in Makeni, said he earns Nle,20 per day to support his mother. Edward’s mother explained that, raising 5 children as a single parent has been very challenging for her so Edward has been the one fending for the family.

Edward explains his experience. When I started coming to Cow yard, I felt really bad. I couldn’t sleep when I saw the first cow I saw  slaughtered.”

 He recounts the suffering the animals went through when they are slaughtered and how the images he first saw of an animal being slaughtered keeps tormenting him.

Edward like many other children working in cow yards, suffers mental illness when they first started working but after sometime, everything becomes normal for them. Some even felt disappointed if not given the chance to slaughter animals in a day.

 I met Lamin, a 14-year-old working in a cow yard in Kabala.

 “Before, I was scared but now I like to slaughter because only when we kill animal we make money,” he said.

Witnessing the horror of slaughtering and taking the lives of animals becomes normal for these children as their work comes with blood in their hands every day.

 “My heart is emboldened so much that I don’t fear blood anymore”.Said Lamin. As their work in cow yards expose them to witnessing and participating in killing of animals, can this influence the behaviours of Lamin, Edward and 100s of others around the country working in cow yards?  

“I have stabbed my friend before, we all work in this cow yard but he wanted to take advantage of me so I stabbed him,” Lamin confesses to stabbing his friend for taking a piece of his meat.

Children exposed to such cruelty at a very young age are affected in so many ways and their immediate and longtime behaviours in society can be influenced.

Child labour is a violation of human rights and is illegal under international and national laws. The Government of Sierra Leone has taken steps to address this issue by enacting laws and policies to protect children from exploitation.

 However, the efforts in raising awareness on these laws is minimal  and that also affects enforcement and policies and many employers continue to exploit children.

Labour exploitation affects the child’s education, growth and development but when a child is exploited in a place where they use knives, machete and sharp objects, over time using these objects can influence their behaviour.

Doctor Sanor, is a psychology Lecturer  at the Earnest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology in Makeni, believes there are immediate and longtime effects on  children working under such conditions.

“We have what we call nature and nurture. Whatever behaviour one putting on is greatly influenced by the people he or she is interacting with. Having these boys involved in this process has a lot of immediate and long-time effects on their lives,” he said.

Some of the immediate effects Doctor Sanor said are, the boys will develop a mind of killing and may not be afraid of killing humans.

 He said there are diseases that comes from animals and transfer to humans like Zoonotic that these boys can develop too. The rate of drop outs among such children will be high and being exposed to playing with money at a very tender age even though it is not always theirs, any interruption of that process will lead them to become thieves. 

However, the longtime effects doctor Sanor said, “Psychologically, they will develop what is called the internal world of the community as a result of their failure.”

With his experience and expertise in psychology, doctor Sanor believes after dropping out of school, those children are going to be a burden to the community and have the tendency as well to abuse substances as a wrong means of relieving their stress.

Frequently, the Sierra Leone police receives complaints of crimes committed by boys under age and some of these are very serious crimes punishable by law.

Regional media officer North East Region, SGT, John Abass Kamara, told this writer how children are engaged in excessive substance abuse and commits crimes such as larceny, sexual penetration of underage girls and many other crimes.

“Young boys involve in assaulting- this include fighting, stabbing and wounding others. Most times, you see regret and remorse in them after they commit the offence,” SaidSGT, John Abass. T

he police like other citizens sees the vulnerability and innocence of those children whose actions are often influenced by the society/environment they lived.

Do children exposed to blood and killing animals as they work in cow yard have the potential to commit such crimes more frequently than others? 

Many people exploiting these children in labour don’t know what is wrong in what they are doing. In a survey I did on this report, over 50 people were randomly asked what child labour is and the difference between child labour and child work and not more than 10% knew what child labour is. This clearly shows that there is need for awareness of the child protection policies.

Child Labour is a crime in both international and national laws, I call on those responsible to double their efforts

 All names have been changed to protect the identity of the contributors to this report.

Journalism Centre on Global Trafficking sponsored this story with support from the CeNTHRO, University of Georgia.

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