Keep a child out of the streets: A commitment we must uphold for child development in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a small country on the west coast of Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to its West and Guinea and Liberia by its East. The country’s estimated population is within the region of 7.5 million. It has two main ethnic groups, the Mende and Temne, but it has a very wide ethnicity. Despite the population size, the country is ravaged with extreme poverty and homelessness particularly for young boys and girls.
The decade long internecine civil war that ravaged the country, led to the wanton destruction of lives and property and left the country’s physical, social and economic infrastructure in tatters. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives and up to one quarter of the population was displaced. And then the emergence of the obstinate Ebola scourge that gripped the country in 2014 left a devastating outcome that is still yet to be resolved. Between September and November 2011, the National Head Count of homeless children in Sierra Leone identified 49,698 children living and working on the streets of Sierra Leone. Freetown accounts for nearly half of this total; 24,615 children live and work on the streets of the capital or 49.53% of all children counted, compared with a combined total of 25,083 (50.47%) in all other towns. This statistics reveal that of this estimated number of 49,698 homeless kids, 26,569 which amounts to 53.46% are boys and 23,129 which amounts to 46.54% are girls.
It is evident that despite the civil war and the major pandemics we have encountered as a nation, maternal mortality has a significant bearing on the street child population. Children who lose their mothers in childbirth are more likely to end up living with a relative or caregiver who is either unable or unwilling to look after them. There is a greater chance of these children being mistreated or abused, or being sent to the streets to work. The prohibitive costs of education also keep many children either working in the home or working on the streets.
When on the streets these children are not protected from violence or abuse; in many cases they are entirely ‘neglected’. They do not have access to health care or food and clean drinking water, let alone a safe environment. Their standard of living is unacceptable. A huge chunk of them are not in education, even with the introduction of the free quality education, they are instead forced to undertake income-generating activities which are typically dangerous and detrimental to their physical and mental development, rarely leaving them time for relaxation or play. Indeed, the accelerated mental maturation which children on the streets must undergo means that play is almost wholly absent from their young lives. The street environment, coupled with the precarious nature of their circumstances, forces children to think and act like adults, with similar responsibilities and concerns.
Amidst the challenging circumstances, the Government of Sierra Leone continues to demonstrate commitment to the welfare of its country’s children. In its recent social protection policy document children were prioritized as the most vulnerable group requiring social service interventions, specifically orphans, disabled, abandoned children, street children, under-fives, juvenile delinquents etc.
It is now lucid that a lot needs to be done in ensuring that these homeless children are given a second chance to actualize their fullest potential. It is as a result of this dire need that Bridge to a Better Life has thrown its gloves into the rings to join the fight in ensuring that homeless kids in Sierra Leone are given a better life.
Bridge to a Better Life is a non-governmental organization based in Sierra Leone that was established in 2013 to serve as a bridge to a better life of deprived children. Ever since its inception, A Bridge to Better Life has made several donations to homeless children, school going children in deprived communities, children with disabilities, orphans etc. this venture has been applauded by the so many lives it has touched, as it has helped tremendously in the development of these kids in their pursuit of a better life.
Recounting her story, one of the beneficiaries, an Eleven year old girl Aminata Sesay (which is not her real name and surname) explained. “I lost both my parents to Ebola in 2015 when I was just three, and a friend of my late Mom had to take custody of me. I do all sorts of back breaking jobs, and she has been so cruel to me that at some point I feel committing suicide would be the only alternative for me to find respite and reunite with my late parents. Thanks for Bridge to a Better Life for the support that has helped me to have a rethink of my recourse”.
As part of its vision, the bridge to a better life is committed to seeking support to create an orphanage home that will not only provide accommodation for the kids but will also host a learning center that will provide quality education that will ignite and unlock the diverse potentials of these children and ultimately open doors to better opportunities. It is estimated according to Children of the Nation (CoTN) Organization that Sierra Leone has an orphan population of Three Hundred and Twenty Thousand (320,000) with limited orphanage homes. Therefore, the desire of Bridge to a Better Life to take on this hue with consistency is germane to the functional development of children in Sierra Leone.