Scraps gnaw at the future of Sierra Leonean children

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Most Sierra Leonians in Freetown rambling ghettos visit the city’s main rubbish dump to dig through the mounds of garbage in search of scrap metal.

Each day, dozens of families troop out to the dumpsite, armed with pick-axes, hoes and shovels. Youngsters aged between 13 and 30 are in the majority. The country has a youth unemployment record of more than 70 percent according to officials of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. On a good day, the scrap diggers make about $10 a day which is barely enough for food and their shack rent.

The huge dumpsite would remind you of one of the overcrowded diamond mining sites in the east and south of the country; but in Freetown it is not precious stones that are being sought after, but scrap metals which have become a thriving trade in the West African country.

Ballah Kamara, the chairman of the scrap metal dealers association at Bomeh, has said that sometimes he is forced to turn away kids who are as young as 10. ‘They all come here to dig for scraps, some with their parents. Many kids have stopped going to school because of the petty cash they make here.’

Jenneh Kandeh, the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare and Children’s Affairs, when confronted with the issue of child labour at Bomeh, assured that her government is concerned about the development. ‘We now have in place a child rights act which seeks to protect children and so using them as labour force is a crime punishable by law. We are trying to discourage parents from taking or sending kids to the mining fields, whether at Bomeh or the traditional sites, in the provinces. A sensitisation campaign will soon be launched by her ministry to convince parents to stop the practice.

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