Sierra Leone: UK must commit existing funds to child protection as cases of sex abuse rise

International children’s charity World Vision has urged the UK government to ensure that existing resources for Sierra Leone are used to combat the increase in cases of sexual exploitation. The West African country, currently recovering from serious Ebola outbreak, has seen a rapid increase of cases of child sexual abuse according to latest studies.

A World Vision UK team that recently travelled to Sierra Leone has called on the Department for International Development (DFID) to help tackle cases of child abuse and avert a looming crisis that threaten to stunt the country’s recovery.

Rob Henderson, Public Affairs Officer for World Vision UK said: “Sierra Leone is understandably quiet fragile at the moment having taken massive social and economic knocks following an Ebola outbreak that killed over 4 000 people and left close to 9 000 children orphaned. Sadly, since the Ebola outbreak thousands of vulnerable young girls in Sierra Leone have been reportedly groomed and raped.

“The UK’s humanitarian response has benefitted many children and their families, but funding specifically targeted for child protection does not exist. Our recent mission to Freetown city, the town of Bo and other places, served to inform us that DFID needs to focus on helping the people of Sierra Leone tackle child sexual abuse. World Vision wants to see child protection included in every DFID project as standard to ensure that children who are subject to exploitation including rape can access healthcare and other services. We also want the UK government supporting the Sierra Leonean judiciary to improve its record on securing convictions against perpetrators of sexual violence,” Henderson added.

According to police records, child sex abuse rates have increased by 69% in Bo district – one of the regions worst hit by an Ebola outbreak - since the outbreak of Ebola in 2013. Girls who leave their village homes to study in towns and cities are particularly vulnerable. In most cases, parents entrust their daughters to friends and relatives in the hope they will receive a good education or better life opportunities.

***Sarah (16, not her real name) was groomed and raped by a family friend: “My family had very little money and things were tough. My father was very grateful when ‘uncle’ (a family friend) offered to cover my school fees and and let me live with him and his family. One evening, ‘uncle’ barged into my room and raped me.”

When Sarah fell pregnant her attacker offered to marry her, but this was not Sarah’s choice and not something she wanted for her or her child.

Sarah found safety in a women and girls shelter run by World Vision partners, the charity Commit and Act. She hopes to go back to school and study to become a social worker so that she can help other vulnerable children.

Mike Kane, the Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who travelled to Sierra Leone with the World Vision team, says he was shocked by the state of healthcare in the country. He said: “Sierra Leone has just 250 medical doctors in a population of 6 million. That’s one doctor for every 24,000 people. To compound the crisis, less than one per cent of the national budget is given to social welfare and children.

“DFID currently supports security and justice programmes but the culture of impunity in Sierra Leone still fails girls and women. Survivors cannot afford to bring cases to court. They can’t afford to pay for medical tests, and many cannot afford to travel to the courts – in the larger cities – to testify. This is why I support the World Vision call for our government to help tackle the scourge of child abuse in Sierra Leone,” he explained.

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Sierra Leone to improve the lives and futures of their children. You can also make a huge difference by sponsoring a child in Sierra Leone »

For more information, pictures, case studies and interviews, please contact:

Carina Wint | Media Specialist | World Vision UK | www.worldvision.org.uk Phone: +44 1908244446| Mobile +44 (0)7471216 013| E-mail: carina.wint@worldvision.org.uk | Skype: carinadwint |