Despite efforts by the outgoing government and its international partners to combat child trafficking in Liberia and the Mano River Union (MRU), reports nonetheless suggest it is indeed on the rise.
Following a series of reports of child trafficking in the MRU region in 2017 by the U.S. State Department and other organizations, including the Defense for Children International (DCI), the executive director of Defense for Children International, Foday M. Kawah, recently disclosed his institution’s strategy to reinforce the combat of children trafficking in the region.
Kawah, in a telephone conversation with the Daily Observer, mentioned that DCI is currently in close consultation with other civil society organizations (CSOs) from the four MRU countries – Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone – to help deter child trafficking in the region. According to him, the decision to advance the strategies came in the wake of increasing reports of trafficking in the region.
It may be recalled that in 2017 the U.S. State Department said child trafficking in the region has been at the same level, adding that MRU countries are the hosts and conduits for child trafficking.
It was based on these reports that DCI, in collaboration with CSOs from the other MRU countries with support from Global Human Rights based in Washington, D.C., decided to design strategies to combat child trafficking.
One aspect of the strategy and plans looks at fostering regional and cross regional opportunities with respect to how children are coming across border points, and another concerns inland trafficking. ” He further observed that weaknesses in the security sector need to be addressed adding that security agencies in the region generally lack knowledge and training in how to deal with child trafficking.
Defense for Children International (DCI)-Liberia has been active since March 2009 and was started by a group of committed and dedicated Liberians who are concerned about the deplorable situation faced by children in conflict situations or with the criminal justice system in Liberia.
Based in Monrovia, DCI gained legal status as a registered non-governmental organization in June 2009. It also has sub-offices in Bensonville and Tubmanburg in Bomi County.
The organization counts on a team of 19 people, 11 males and eight females, whose capacities have been built on issues relating to child rights and protection, juvenile justice standards in dealing with children, prevention and response mechanisms to address gender-based violence (GBV), and a wider range of interventions in advocacy, psycho-social counseling, and GBV case management.
Although there is little public awareness about child trafficking in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Kawah said, “We have been receiving many reports of cross border child trafficking.”
He pointed out that there have been reports of a lady believed to be from Sierra Leone who brought a 4-year old child to be sold in Liberia. Kawah said the woman was arrested by a DCI social worker in collaboration with the Liberian National Police Children Protection Section, adding that following her arrest she was accordingly charged and is currently in police custody awaiting prosecution.
According to Kawah, the lady (name withheld) was initially apprehended and tried in Tubmanburg, Bomi County, but due to what he termed as ‘local prejudice,’ she was transferred to Margibi County, where she awaits prosecution and sentencing.
“Following this case from Bomi County we also received another report from Ivory Coast where children were being trafficked to Liberia. We are also arranging for resettlement and social reintegration packages for these children,” he added.
The DCI executive director called for the strengthening of ‘front line groups’ solely dedicated to combat child trafficking in border communities.
“Our next strategy is to promote children’s access to social services including health and education, building their capacities in local community structures which will include children’s rights clauses among others,” he concluded.
According to the DCI official, a Child Rights Clause was enacted into law 2005 by the 52nd National Legislature, it was, however, not published in handbills to give it legal effect.