|Children Report Increased Exploitation, Teenage Pregnancies in Ebola-Affected Sierra Leone|
Phil Carroll 267.992.6356 (M)
FAIRFIELD, CONN (June 17, 2015) —
Children across Sierra Leone report that exploitation and violence
against girls has increased during the year-long Ebola epidemic, resulting in
rising cases of teenage pregnancies, according to a new report launched today
by three leading aid agencies.
Plan International, Save the Children and
World Vision International, with the support of UNICEF, recently consulted over
1,100 girls and boys aged 7 to 18 from nine districts about the impact of
Ebola, which has killed more than 3,500 people in Sierra Leone.
They shared their personal experiences and
deep concerns about the devastating long-term effects of the crisis on their
lives as part of the Children’s Ebola
Recovery Assessment report. The study
was conducted to enable children to contribute their feedback and
recommendations to the Government of Sierra Leone’s national Ebola recovery strategy.
The children viewed the country’s nine-month school closure as
being directly linked to increases in child labour and exploitation, exposure
to violence in the home and community, and teenage pregnancy.
Most of the 617 girls
interviewed said they believe that higher incidences of teenage pregnancy in
their communities are as a result of girls being outside the protective
classroom environment, exposing them to the risk of sexual exploitation or
assault. Classrooms only reopened in Sierra Leone on 14 April, after a
prolonged closure to help prevent the spread of Ebola, delaying the schooling
of some 1.7 million children.
Some children (10 per cent of the focus group
discussion participants) reported that vulnerable girls in their communities,
especially those who have lost relatives to Ebola, are being forced into
transactional sex to cover their basic daily needs, including food. Children saw
this as one of several factors contributing to increases in teenage pregnancy.
fear of sexual assault was also common among the children interviewed. A large
number spoke of at least one case of rape against a
girl in their communities, including attacks on girls in Ebola-quarantine
households. This was mainly voiced by girls aged 15-18, but younger girls
shared their concerns about rape as well. Boys were also acutely aware of the
risk faced by their sisters and friends.
“Some of our friends are raped when they go far to get water, some
are drowned in the streams,” said a young boy from Kailahun.
Children also said they were concerned about the impact of rape on
their peers, including psychological damage, pregnancy, sexually transmitted
infections, physical harm or death, discrimination and stigma.
“This report confirms that Ebola has put an incredible strain on
children’s lives and it will take time for them to recover. The impact on them
has been huge,” said Casely Coleman, Country Director of Plan International in
Children participating in the assessment suggested measures to prevent
teenage pregnancies, and also recommended actions to achieve zero new Ebola
cases, rebuild health services, and address food, money and livelihood gaps
exacerbated by the Ebola crisis. Many families lost their livelihoods during
the crisis and may not be able to afford to send their children back to school.
The three aid organisations are urging the government and
international donors to ensure that children’s voices are heard and their
concerns addressed as Sierra Leone moves towards its Ebola recovery phase.
“Children shared with us stories of missed opportunities,
exploitation, and abuse,” said Isaac Ooko, Country Director for Save the Children
in Sierra Leone. “If this recovery strategy is to be successful, it’s clear
that their needs must be considered. This means ensuring that every child has
access to education and help to recover from a year of lost schooling.”
half the population of Sierra Leone is under the age of 18.“Our
children have spoken,” said Leslie Scott, National Director of World Vision
Sierra Leone. “In this report, children clearly state that education, access to
healthcare and a safe environment to grow up in rank high on their list of
priorities. We have heard them and now we must act.”
Participants in the Children’s
Ebola Recovery Assessment recommend that the Government of Sierra Leone:
- Take effective measures to bring Ebola to an end quickly so the
recovery phase can fully begin.
- Ensure that education is accessible for
all children, including school fee subsidies and scholarships for
those who have lost relatives to Ebola, especially orphans.
- Strengthen the health system, providing additional qualified
staff, especially for rural clinics that have been abandoned by personnel
- Stop child labour and exploitation—and thereby reduce teen
pregnancies—by sensitizing parents and providing livelihoods to poor families
in order to protect girls from transactional sex.
For more information on Save the Children’s Ebola response, please visit
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.