Child drinking Water. Sierra Leone June 2008. Photo: Living Water International
www.water.cc Creative Commons Licence
In Sierra Leone, malaria is a primary cause of death with children and women being the most vulnerable. Malaria deaths in children under five have increased in 2009, killing one child every 30 minutes.1 Every fourth child dies before reaching the age of five.2
Malaria, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and malnutrition are the most common reasons for medical treatment. Only 26 percent of children sleep under treated bed nets, and just 30 percent receive malaria drugs within 24 hours of onset of symptoms. This makes the approach to malaria in Sierra Leone more curative than preventive.3 According to UNICEF, the prevalence of underweight and stunting among children has not improved and the exceptionally high maternal mortality rate of 1,800 per 100,000 live births remains an acute problem.4
Some 40 percent of all children below five are chronically undernourished, which puts them at high risk to never develop their full physical and mental potential. Acute child malnutrition is at 10 percent, alarmingly high,5 partly influenced by the persistingly low rate of exclusive breastfeeding. 6 Harmful traditional practices and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are not explicitly prohibited by law.
Despite increased enrolment and completion rates in primary schools, enrolment remains low, in particular for girls, and the number of teachers, in view of the large class sizes, is too small. 7 The Education and Youth Development Programme seeks to contribute to an increase in primary school enrolment and reducing the gender gap, even though more efforts are still needed in this regard.8 The rehabilitation of schools is also a key priority. About 50 percent of the primary schools are now functioning, although often in very inadequate conditions.9 Even though the schools are free of charge, there is still a practice of public schools to charge additional fees, thus limiting poorer children´s chance for education. There are also reports of sexual abuse of children, mostly girls, by teachers, as well as continued practice of corporal punishment in schools.10
On June 4, the Special Court unsealed its March 2003 indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor, who stands accused as one of those "bearing the greatest responsibility" for war crimes in Sierra Leone(murder, taking hostages); crimes against humanity (extermination, rape, murder, sexual slavery); and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (use of child soldiers). 11There is only one juvenile court in the country and children suspected of crimes are either incarcerated with adult offenders in deplorable conditions or sent to overcrowded facilities in Freetown.12
Many children work as hawkers and domestic servants, and in mining areas across the country. Legally there is no limit on working hours for children and while school attendance is required through the age of 12, the Government does not enforce this. At the same time there are reports of growing numbers of internally displaced children (IDP) being trafficked regionally and internationally, and that police and army officials at international borders are not effectively monitoring, reporting or investigating such unlawful practices. The common practice of giving children away as wards makes it difficult to uphold laws against the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which nevertheless remain prevalent in the country.13