By Prince C. Kamara
Mrs. Marian Jannah Harding Tommy nee Gindeh is Senior Services Officer Anti-Human Trafficking in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. She
In a snap interview with AYV, she explained that this project is being implemented by the British Council in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) but that it is just a pilot program targeting six schools in the Western Area namely St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG), Government Model Secondary School, Albert Academy; and two schools in the east including Peninsular Junior Secondary School.
She added that the objective of this program is to stop Sierra Leone school children and young adults from attempting what has become known as ‘Temple Run’ that involves traveling to places like Italy, Spain and other western countries via Libya and the Mediterranean Sea at very high personal risk to life and possible death.
“Our children and young people are mistaken in thinking that successful life can only be achieved when they travel abroad, forgetting that all it takes for one to be successful in life is to study hard and participate in events that promote well-being and national cohesion,” Mrs. Harding-Tommy said.
She added that there have been several instances where children and young adults from Sierra Leone and other African countries have been incarcerated, taken advantage of and even killed by their hosts or die due to rough treatment they encounter during their sojourn.
According to Mrs. Marian Jannah Harding-Tommy, the ministry in collaboration with the British Council is capturing our young people at this tender age to teach them about the ills and negative things about child labor and child trafficking which are inseparable ugly twins. “We tell them about the dangers of child labor and child trafficking in Sierra Leone and inform them that the people involved in this are merely exploiting them and turning them into sex slaves or commercial slaves who work for the benefit of their ‘owners’.”
She said: “We inform them that anyone who sends or places a child in any situation whereby the child is exposed to hard labor and cannot access education is criminal and this must be investigated and eradicated. There have been incidents of people that have taken their relatives children or from orphanages in the provinces on the pretext of providing them education but on the contrary, once the children are with them, they resort to turning them into practical slaves by sending them to sell various wares on the streets or they send the girls into early marriage or sell them into sex slavery,” she explained further.
“It is precisely to stop such treatment that the British Council initiated this program called ‘Open Your Eyes’ to campaign against child labor and child trafficking which is taking a toll on the children of Sierra Leone and Africa as a whole. This is a community and school-led pilot project which we intend to replicate in the provinces as that is another area where child labor and child trafficking happens without any serious consequence for the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
Four thematic areas dealing with what child trafficking and child labor is; how it affects the child and the community; who are the people responsible for perpetrating child labor and child trafficking and how child labor and child trafficking can be stopped were discussed. Four groups discussed these topics and at the end of thirty minutes they presented their findings in bullet points to a crowded FSSG hall.
Present at the auspicious occasion were FSSG and St. Joseph’s Secondary School pupils alongside their parents. Other guests were drawn from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the British Council.
Eminent personalities made statements on the dangers of child labor and child trafficking and what children, the community and the country can do to combat this ugly scenario with the aid of legislative instruments, political will and other pressures including media and civil society pressures.