Patricia Lamboi dropped out of school so she could sell herself to men at the local nightclub. The teenager lost all of her family apart from her elderly grandmother to Ebola and, without prostituting herself, she fears she will starve.
The 16-year-old admits she feels “shame” for what she does — but sleeping with two or three men a night means enough cash for food for the week.
Her plight is becoming the norm in a country where more young girls than ever have become heads of households, with no means of supporting themselves or younger siblings who rely on them.
“When my parents died, I started going to the club,” she said. “I sleep with men to get money. I don’t feel good, but we need food.”
Patricia, who lives in the town of Makeni, in the north of the country, added: “If I didn’t go out at night, I don’t eat, my grandmother doesn’t eat. We will have no food in our belly.”
Another teenager, an hour south, cradles her day-old baby — a child she bore after being abused by a local man following the loss of her parents to Ebola.
Hawa Kabia said that after they died she was preyed upon by an older man, who coerced her into having sex in exchange for food.
The 17-year-old, who is suffering from health complications after giving birth, looks forlornly at baby daughter Haju, as she explains that all she can think of is what she has lost.
“I am only 17 and now I am responsible for my siblings and a baby,” she said. “I’m not coping. When my parents were gone and I was pregnant I used to just sit and cry but I know I have to be strong.”
Hawa, who is staying temporarily with a friend’s family in the village of Waterworks, added: “After my parents died I was looking after my younger siblings. We had nothing and then a man said if I went with him he would give us food and money.”
Her social worker Alimamy Bobson Sesay — who is employed by UK-based charity Street Child — said: “There are men who prey on girls just after the loss of their parents.
“They take advantage of them, promise them everything, but disappear afterwards. There are many of these young girls. Since Ebola we are seeing more and more teenage pregnancies.”
Fatmata Kabia, 16, is a mother, an orphan and also head of her household. She conceived after being raped by a 43-year-old man who was tutoring her.
“My mother is dead and my father is dead, they died in one week of each other,” she said, dabbing her eyes with the skirt of her school uniform. “I sell wood after school to make money to feed my little sister and my baby, and I walk six miles to school and six miles back.”
Fatmata, who lives in the remote village of Kontabana, added: “I miss my parents a lot, I feel so sad. The man who abused me said he would give my family money and he would educate me.
“He didn’t give us anything, and he is now also dead from Ebola.”
Back in Makeni, another Ebola orphan tells how she was forced into sex with a local man, fell pregnant but later lost the child. Aminata Kamara said that when one of the men in her village offered her money for sex after days during which she had nothing to eat, she felt she had no choice.
Sitting outside the home she shared with her dead family, the withdrawn girl told how she was impregnated by her abuser at the age of 14, but lost the child due to poor medication. “I’m confused and very sad,” said Aminata, now 15. “My parents used to help me and tell me what to do, now I have nobody.”
Nearby, Kadiatu Kamara, 18, sleeps with at least two men a night to get enough money for two meals to feed her four sisters and three brothers. The orphan said: “I can go to the market and sell products, but it is not enough money to feed all of us. I know the men are taking advantage of me but I don’t know what else to do.”
London-based charity Street Child employs teams of social workers to help girls who have fallen into prostitution or been coerced into sex. It estimates more than 3,000 across the country are at risk of abuse.
Tom Dannatt, founder of the charity, said: “Girls are at risk of having to sell their bodies when there is no other form of income. What Ebola has done on a huge scale has left adolescent girls with no adult, no caregiver, no adult to support them.”
After hearing the stories of some 2,000 girls in Sierra Leone, “the feedback is that without any means of support, they have no choice but to sell their bodies”, he added.
This Is Sierra Leone 30th Oct. 2015