“Enough is enough, is a phrase we often hear when girls talk about the abuse they suffered” says Mary Kawa a social worker of Don Bosco Fambul. “The girls use this expression to describe the moment when they were not able to keep quiet anymore because they could not bear the pain any longer. Enough is enough, is what they felt when they took the decision to run away, to call the 323 Child Line or to seek help from a person of trust.
Don Bosco Fambul is launching this campaign to make the voices of these girls and boys heard all over the country – to shake up the population to end violence against children.
Testimony of Mariama* Don Bosco Fambul’s Girl Shelter
My name is Mariama. I am 14 years old. I am an orphan. I lost my parents at a very tender age. My grand mum took me to my aunt in Makeni. My aunt gave me things to sell (charcoal and others). When I refused to sell she threw me out of the house. I started selling my body to men for money. My aunt returned me back to my grandmother in Freetown because of that.
Due to the health state of my grandmother, I started sleeping with men again in order to survive. I later discovered that I was pregnant. Don Bosco Fambul discovered me and took me to their shelter, cared for my pregnancy and my baby. My seven months old baby and I are living happily in the shelter. The social workers taught how to use my hands and my brain to make a living instead of using my body.
Thanks to Don Bosco and the social workers for their timely intervention in my life and that of my baby. I am appealing to Don Bosco to continue rescuing girls in the situation of prostitution as their lives are always in danger.
Testimony of Aminata*
My name is Aminata, I am 15 years old. My father gave away my twin brother and I to the wife of his friend because our mother was insane. I grew up to know her as my mother, but I was never sent to school. I sold all sort of things at the market during my stay in the hands of the said mother.
At age 13 her eldest son age 45 comes home from France, he told his mother that he wanted my hand in marriage. She immediately agreed and asked me to accept him as my husband. During this period, he had sexual intercourse with me on several occasion. Some of my neighbours used provocative words against me in the community called me “marry woman.”
The community people should have reported the issue to the police – Family Support Unity – when my husband sold me to a woman called Isata in Guinea for Le 5’000’000.
I worked every day from morning to evening without any time to rest. One day I was very tired, but when I told her about it, she threatened to kill me – saying she brought me purposely to work for her. So I ran to the nearest police station and reported the matter.
Consequently, I was brought back to my husband in Sierra Leone. While in Freetown, I decided to run away, my husband’s younger brother promised to pay my transportation to go in search of my mum in Bo. But he requested for sex with me twice before he gave the money to me. I then travelled to Bo, but unfortunately cannot find my mum. I eventually returned back to Freetown. Upon my arrival, my husband started harassing me for sex and will easily beat me up if I refused.
So I decided to visit the Allen Town police station and reported the matter. The Family Support Unit then referred me to Don Bosco Girl’s shelter for care and protection while the police were investigating the matter. The matter has been charged to court and I had testified at the Freetown Magistrate Court number 1.
Goals of the campaign
The main goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about child rights and to encourage the population to break the silence and to speak up against child sexual abuse. Don Bosco Fambul wants to make its voice heard loudly all over the country. The campaign calls on parents, teachers, neighbours and authorities to no longer close their eyes and keep quiet in face of this unbearable injustice and use the pathways such FSUs or 323 Don Bosco Child Line to report cases and seek help.
The majority of child abuse cases occur at home – in the private sphere. Usually the perpetrators are relatives, neighbours or persons of authority and often these cases are kept under the carpet. Many children who suffer abuse keep silent out of fear or shame. Reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg. During the coming six months a team of Don Bosco Fambul staff will reach out to communities in all four provinces and the Western Area to inform them about existing laws, child rights and the parent’s duty to protect their children. Additionally, radio jingles in different languages and radio talk shows will be broadcasted in Freetown and the provinces to raise awareness about the risks and consequences of child abuse and to encourage people to report cases. Previous campaigns proved to be successful as the increased number of calls to the 323 Child Line after reaching out to communities clearly indicates.
Facts and figures
The high rate of child abuse, early marriage and teenage pregnancy is alarming. A recent study of “Statistics Sierra Leone” shows:
- Child discipline: 84% of children age 10 -14 experienced violent disciplines in the last month, 26% of these experienced severe physical punishment
- Child labour: 44% of children between 5-17 years old work under hazardous working conditions
- Child marriage: on the national level 30% of girls are married before age 18, 13% before age 15. In the rural area 42% of girls are married before age 18 and one out of five girls is married before age 15
- Early childbearing: on the national level 31% of women age 20-24 have had a live birth before age 18 and in rural areas 38%
Reported cases of domestic violence, sexual penetration and rape
- From January to December 2017: The FSU recorded 2’506 Sexual Penetration cases and 103 rape cases
- From January to December 2018: The FSU recorded 11’168 cases (including Domestic Violence, Sexual Penetration and Rape), out of these cases there were 2’726 Sexual Penetration cases, 205 rape cases
- From January to March 2019: 963 cases of Sexual Penetration and 28 rape cases were recorded. Nationwide every day more than 10 cases of Sexual Penetration are reported to the FSU.
Don Bosco Fambul Programmes
- Girls Shelter: Since the opening of the girls’ shelter in 2010 Don Bosco Fambul has managed over 1’200 cases of sexual abuse, child cruelty and other forms of abuse with 90% of the reported cases being sexual offences. Currently 51 girls between 8-17 years old live at the girls’ shelter.
- Girls Shelter +: Doing street work Don Bosco Fambul has discovered a big number of girls who are suffering sexual exploitation. The girls are between 9 to 17 years old and work on the streets of Freetown, at markets, brothels and night clubs. At the moment 22 girls find a safe space at Girls Shelter +. Since the inception of the programme in 2017 432 girls have been rescued from the streets.
- Hope + is a programme that empowers girls who are sexually exploited through education and skills training. It started in July 2018 and it has recruited 142 girls for skills training (1 security agency, 37 hair dressing, 51 catering and 53 tailoring) and 146 beneficiaries for the formal schooling (37 primary, 48 JSS and 61 SSS). The plan is to take 600 girls more in the next 2 years.
- Don Bosco Mobile is a street work programme. A bus goes around Freetown Municipalities talking to children and teenagers who are on the street. Social workers provide emergency assistance and counselling to the children.
- 323 Child Line: Don Bosco offers the services of the 323 Child Line to fight child abuse. The Child Line is a free, anonymous and confidential line at the service of children and young people who are suffering different kind of crisis. We receive an average of 150 serious calls weekly which demand counselling and follow up. Don Bosco is working hand in hand with the government (Ministry Social Welfare, Directorate of Children’s Affairs, the Anti-trafficking Task Force, SLP, FSU, Legal Aid Board, etc.) and several NGOs. When a case of sexual abuse is reported through the 323 Child Line, Don Bosco acts immediately and very professionally to bring the victim to its safe home for temporary shelter, psychological counselling and legal support.
- Legal assistance: A legal team provides free legal advices and services to survivors of abuse. It follows up with the investigation carried out by FSU and accompanies children to the courts to ensure their access to justice.
The international Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) that Sierra Leone ratified in 1990 is the most important legal instrument. It protects fundamental rights of children and clearly states the duties and responsibilities of parents and the state to protect children from all forms of abuse and exploitation:
- Article 19: Protection against violence, injury, abuse, neglect or negligent maltreatment or exploitation (physical or mental), including sexual abuse
- Article 28 & 31: The right to education, rest and leisure
- Article 32: The right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing work harmful to his or her health or development
- Article 34: Protection from all forms of sexual exploitation or abuse
- Article 36: Protection against all forms of exploitation which is prejudicial to child welfare
- Article 37: Freedom from torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment and any unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty
- Article 39: The promotion of physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of the child victim
The Optional Protocol (CRC) focuses exclusively on the critical issues of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It explicitly states prostitution and trafficking in children as a specific form of violating the rights of the child. The Optional Protocol was ratified in 2001.
In 2002 Sierra Leone ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.
On the national level the Child Rights Act 2007 promotes the rights of the child compatible with the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. It sets the minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years. However this is contradicted by the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2009 which allows children at 16 to get married with parental consent. The Sexual Offences Act 2012 sets the minimum age of marriage at 18.
The Child Right Act is very clear on the duties of the parents:
- Article 26 (3) (…), every parent has rights and responsibilities whether imposed by law or otherwise towards his child which include the duty to (a) protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exposure to physical and moral hazards and oppression;
- Article 33 (1) No person shall subject a child to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment including any cultural practice which dehumanises or is injurious to the physical and mental welfare of a child.
Follow up on the Emergency of Rape and Sexual Violence
Following President Julius Maada Bio’s declaration of the Emergency on Rape in February 2019 a working group has been constituted to develop and review the Sexual Offences Act of 2012, the health policy of Sierra Leone and to develop a policy to create more safe homes across the country. The Sexual Offences Amendment Act 2019 is now before Parliament for consideration.
Don Bosco Fambul welcomed the declaration of the Emergency on Rape and the measures announced by the president, such as the creation of a Sexual Assault Syndicate (SAS) in the police, the creation of a division in the High Court that will specifically deal with sexual offences and the promise that government hospitals will treat survivors of rape for free. Don Bosco Fambul noticed in respect to its cases that free treatment for girls who suffered sexual abuse is still not available at government hospitals and is following up on this and the other measures announced.