With over half of Sierra Leone’s population under the age of 18, child protection issues and children’s rights are of huge concern in the West African country. Every day, children and young people face challenging social and economic problems and are left vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation in the form of child labour, child trafficking and indecent work.
In response to this, GOAL is part of an Irish Aid and EU-funded project in partnership with World Hope International (WHI) and the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC). A GOAL baseline assessment, completed as part of this project, concluded that child protection issues continue to pose a threat to the fundamental rights of children in Sierra Leone. These include their right to education, the highest standard of health care and to be protected from economic exploitation.
Child protection issues in Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, over 45% of children aged 5 -17 are said to be engaged in child labour, with over 20% involved in dangerous work.  The worst form of child labour, that of indecent work and child exploitation, is particularly common in major towns and cities such as Freetown and Kenema. Child trafficking is considered to be frequent and serious in Sierra Leone and the country is considered to be a transit point for further child trafficking movements beyond Sierra Leone.
Despite many international children’s rights policies being adopted and endorsed by the Sierra Leone authorities, the baseline assessment concludes that “the child protection system in Sierra Leone is relatively weak, under-resourced, donor-dependent and lacking coordination.” The failure of the system to effectively monitor and prosecute perpetrators is seen to be a major driving factor in the prevalence of child protection issues.
Contributing factors to child protection issues
However, it is also recognized that child protection issues also develop due to poverty and rural-urban inequality. Movement of children largely occurs from rural areas to urban settings in search of jobs and opportunities, leaving them open to abuse and child trafficking. In response, the assessment suggests enhancing living standards with the aim of reducing inequalities between households and communities.
The response of GOAL and partners
The project implemented by GOAL, WHI and the SLLC aims to reduce the prevalence and acceptance of child labour, human trafficking and indecent work in Sierra Leone, with a particular focus on women and youth. Thanks to funding from the European Union and Irish Aid, research by GOAL was carried out to contribute to the development of policies and strategies regarding the child protection system. Workshops were conducted in Kenema, Freetown and Bombali to validate the findings of this research. Recommendations were also made by participants on how communities will accept and minimize the prevalence of child labour, people trafficking and indecent work.
Through the implementing partner SLLC, the project also aims to achieve reform on the Social Security Act, extending it to protect the estimated 80 to 90% of workers involved in Sierra Leone’s informal economy. Informal sector workers remain unregulated, poorly remunerated and vulnerable to social insecurity. Many informal sectors are paid less than the minimum wage and often spend more hours on the job than stipulated by law, working in dangerous conditions with high risks of health-related hazards.
As part of the project, GOAL and its partners SLLC and WHI have been working on an inclusion programme. It focuses on women and youth and supporting them in the transition from informal to formal sector work.
The story of Haja Bilkisu Kamara
Haja Bilkisu Kamara has been trading in the ‘Big Market’ in Freetown for many years, including through the Ebola outbreak which hit business hard. After selling her handicrafts at the market for over a decade, she has changed her approach to doing business . She now focuses on keeping accurate profit and loss accounts and nurturing her relationships with her customers.
Several women like Haja have transitioned from the informal sector to build stronger businesses. This involves registering their businesses, getting invoices and receipts, doing monthly profit and loss accounts,, opening bank accounts and accessing micro and macro credits in order to grow.
Haja says: “The SLLC and GOAL have empowered me. We have gone through so many programmes that have enlightened us on how to go about business and we have learned a lot. We have been educated and would like others to benefit, especially other women, to empower more women.”
Developing security and inclusion in the formal sector, the project hopes to reduce the number of those involved in informal work, particularly women and children.
Strengthening the Child Protection System
In terms of strengthening the child protection system itself, GOAL has been giving guidance and support on improving identification, referral and support of victims of child labour, trafficking and indecent work. Implementing partners of the EU-project are working to strengthen the complaints mechanisms for labour workers and to improve women and youth participation to advocate for their rights. Training is also being provided to community and law enforcement organisations to ensure that they have sufficient knowledge of child rights, labour and trafficking law. Mass media campaigns and community dialogues are also being organised to raise awareness of the issues in the wider public and community.
 ‘A Baseline Research on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, Trafficking in Persons and Indecent Work in Sierra Leone’ (2019)
 Bureau of International Labour Affairs United States Department of Labor (2014) 2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor [https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/2014TDA/2014TDA.pdf retrieved 20/10/18]
 ‘A Baseline Research on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, Trafficking in Persons and Indecent Work in Sierra Leone’ (2019) p. 4