During the country’s 10-year civil war, thousands of children were used as combatants. In 2014, the Ebola epidemic brought even more hardships to one of Africa’s poorest countries. Against this background, SOS Children’s Villages has played a vital role in helping the country’s most vulnerable segments of population: children and young adults.
The psychological effects on children that were exposed to the atrocities that occurred during the country’s civil war go deep. According to estimates, 310,000 children in Sierra Leone grow up without their parents, many of them as a result of the war. 18,000 of them have been orphaned due to AIDS. The Ebola epidemic, which started in 2014, left many more children without parental care.
Orphaned children often face the challenge of being the breadwinner for an entire family at a very early age. Thousands of Sierra Leonean children work in the country’s mines in order to make a living. They have to carry out physically challenging tasks like digging in soil and gravel or shifting heavy masses of mud.
At 119 per 1,000 live births, Sierra Leone also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Access to food remains a challenge for the majority of Sierra Leonean families. One in four children is either moderately or severely underweight.
A shortage of schools and teachers heavily affects the education of Sierra Leonean children. During the war, thousands of schools were partially or completely destroyed. In spite of recent efforts to make education more accessible, more than half of the school-aged population don’t go to school. The country continues to have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world: only 42 per cent of Sierra Leoneans aged 15 and over know how to read and write. In mid- 2014 the situation worsened, as schools were shut in order to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.
Child-trafficking has become just another growing problem in Sierra Leone. Poor families, predominantly coming from rural areas, are often lured to give away their children under promises that later turn out to be false. In some cases, these children end up as domestic slaves or they are forced into prostitution by their “benefactors”.
Nearly half the population is severely undernourished as regular access to food and drinking water remains scarce. HIV/AIDS remains a persisting public health issue in Sierra Leone, a country that is home to 49,000 people who suffer from the disease. Although noticeable progress has been made over recent years, HIV continues to be a significant problem in rural areas which are generally more affected than urban centres.