Defence for Children International Liberia (DCI-Liberia), a non-governmental organization (NGO) working in western Liberia, has turned over 17 children to a Sierra Leonean NGO, the Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET). The children are all under 18.
Mustapha S. Manobah, Case Worker for DCI in Grand Cape Mount County, told a team of journalists on August 23, 2019 in the bordering town of Bo Waterside that the children are sometimes brought into Liberia by relatives under the impression that they will go to school and have a better living condition than being in their home country, Sierra Leone.
Also in another instance, Manobah said some of them come by themselves when they hear information that life in Liberia is better than in Sierra Leone. But upon reaching Liberia and finding that the information is quite different, they end up being vulnerable in communities.
The act of transporting a person to another area under deception as admitted by the DCI Case Worker constitutes Trafficking in Persons (TIP) which, according to the Canadian Department of Justice, involves an activity committed for the purpose of exploiting someone’s labor or services.
Both the children brought by others under deception and those who migrated by themselves, according to Manobah, have been facing serious challenges ranging from disappointment in attending school to lack of caretakers, thus leading some of them to survive on friends’ goodwill in communities, including Tenneh, Sinjay, Gonzodoa, and Kinjor, while others made it by themselves.
These children were vulnerable and living destitute lives, Manobah said. But he realized that some community dwellers are “compassionate” and that when they saw the children languishing, they decided to provide care for them.
According to Manobah, DCI provides psychosocial support for the children when they are identified in order to restore their minds, because they can be “played on.” This means that when the children come under the impression that they will get opportunities to go to school but later become aware of the hash realities on the ground, they turned traumatized, said Manobah.
DCI works with local community groupings in its operational area, to identify children migrating from Sierra Leone to Liberia in order to establish that their information is clear and to avoid foul play.
It can be recalled that in October 2018, DCI-Liberia reunited over 10 children with their families in Sierra Leone.
To establish all legal formalities so that the children can have records both in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, DCI-Liberia Executive Director, Cllr. Foday Kawah, said they collaborate with the anti-trafficking division of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) as well as its counterpart in Sierra Leone, to process the movement of the children from one point of the border to the other.
He said they are also working with the West African Movement for the Protection of Children regionally and sub-regionally, to ensure that children on the move, like those turned over, are reintegrated with their biological parents.
This regional collaboration, according to Cllr. Kawah, led them to receive three children from Ghana recently near the Liberia-Ivory Coast border in Nimba County. Kawah said when the children are turned over, their trusted counterparts in other countries, including Sierra Leone, follow up on them, to ensure that they have some opportunities for education after being reintegrated with their parents.
Before turning them over, their parents were identified and Isata Sheriff Fofana, who works for AMNET, was there to take them to their parents for reintegration. Isata said her organization will assist the parents with businesses to help support their children.
Bolley B. Morlu, Head of Trafficking in Person and Migrants Smuggling at the LIS, said Liberia is under watch by the US State Department on the TIP-2 watch list and the country has been given this year to fully comply by abolishing activities of trafficking in persons and other illegal movements.
He said the initiative by the DCI and its counterparts to reintegrate “children on the move” with their parents in the region is very helpful, making Liberia’s compliance felt.
Richard Henry Weller, Acting Head of Immigration in Gendema, Sierra Leone, confirmed that the children were Sierra Leoneans who may have moved across the border because of hard conditions in Sierra Leone.