Sierra Leone’s Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, delivered a keynote address at the launch of the Sierra Leone Program Against Child Trafficking last Tuesday. The virtual event marked the start of a critical initiative to combat child trafficking and care for its victims.
Funded by a $4 million dollar award from the Program to End Modern Slavery at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) at the U.S. Department of State to the University of Georgia, the Sierra Leone Program Against Child Trafficking will combine innovative research with a new, impactful program for child trafficking survivors in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Jalloh stated that the program’s “goal of reducing the number of children that are in child labor or being trafficked which denies them the opportunity of going to school and other progressive life choices is a laudable one.” He called for “deliberate and targeted action to make trafficking risky and expensive, by dealing with entrenched problems of impunity and laying a solid foundation for rule of law to be applied.”
The launch event, sponsored by the African Programming and Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES) at the University of Georgia, World Hope International, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, featured an impressive roster of speakers including Elaine French, the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy; Dr. Kari Johnstone, Acting Director of the TIP Office; Honorable Ministers Baindu Dassama and Manty Tarawalli; Honorable Deputy Minister Melrose Karminty; Dean Anna M. Scheyett of the University of Georgia School of Social Work; Dr. David Okech, the Director of APRIES; and Saidu Kanu the Country Director for World Hope International.
“We are excited that our soon-to-be-approved new Center on Human Trafficking and Outreach will build capacity within Sierra Leone through our continued work with CMDA and others,” stated Director Okech. “I tell people that good intentions alone are not sufficient in anti-trafficking work. Good intentions must be guided by concrete efforts that are based on data . . . [and] data must be interpreted within local contexts so as to provide meaningful guidance for local policies and programs.”
The program launch marks an important step towards justice for child trafficking survivors in Sierra Leone. APRIES’ research, conducted in close partnership with Conflict Management & Development Associates (CMDA) in Sierra Leone, finds that children suffering from different forms of trafficking and exploitation in Sierra Leone are trapped in their situations with little prospect of help or intervention.
In addition, a household survey conducted by APRIES and CMDA showed a number of children had been trafficked in the three study districts of Kenema, Kono, and Kailahun.
Chargé d’Affaires French challenged the anti-trafficking community to “prioritize actions and prosecutions that breakup the criminal networks and increase accountability,” and “persevere in efforts to protect survivors, bring perpetrators to justice, and keep the wellbeing of our most vulnerable at the forefront.”
“This project could not have been launched at a more appropriate time than during this COVID-19 pandemic,” stated World Hope International Director Kanu. “Lockdowns and restrictions make the plight of child survivors go unnoticed. We look forward to working with our various partners and government line ministries, especially the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Local Government, and the Ministry of Justice, and community stakeholders to reduce child trafficking in Sierra Leone.”
World Hope International (WHI) operates the only dedicated shelter for trafficking survivors in Sierra Leone. With this new program, WHI will expand its services and advocacy for child survivors in three essential areas: prosecution of perpetrators, protection of survivors, and prevention of future trafficking.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense turmoil and suffering across the world and has disproportionally affected the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, including victims of human trafficking, and increased vulnerabilities on which traffickers prey,” noted TIP Office Acting Director Johnstone. “The U.S. Government is committed to the project and to assisting Sierra Leone in its efforts to combat human trafficking. We look forward to working with you all to achieve these goals in this important work.”