(an excerpt from Labour Market Profile Sierra Leone – 2020, Danish Trade Union Development Agency
In 2018, Sierra Leone made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. The President and Vice President donated together with officials from ministries, departments and agencies three months of their salaries to eliminate school fees for more than two million students in primary and secondary education. However, the country has not implemented its national action plan on child labour. This plan includes strategies to address human trafficking through prevention efforts, victim identification, protection and referral of victims to services, training of personnel, and government coordination and monitoring.
According to ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), child labour can be defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity that is harmful to physical and mental development. If a child engages in doing domestic work – especially girls helping their parents at home, it is regarded as light work. Nevertheless, if such work deprives them of education, it could be regarded as child labour, though not the worst form of child labour. Any hazardous work is categorised as being part of the worst forms of child labour.
It is believed that if children are given full access to education, there may be little or no room to resort to doing hazardous work (see Education section). When communities are aware of the social stigma associated with child labour, it creates room for eliminating it.
In 2017, more than half of all children in Sierra Leone (897,142) were involved in child labour, which is almost double the sub-Saharan Africa average. In 2010, more than half a million children were out of school working in the mines. Some numbers state that child labour affects up to 72% of children in Sierra Leone.
Child labour was more common among the poorest quintile of households (57%) compared to the richest (34%); just as more common in rural areas (53%) than urban (42%). Many children ages 7 to 14 were combining work and school, estimated at 43%.
Child labour is most prevalent in the age group of 5-11 years (63%). It is primarily due to the measurement, as more than one hour of economic work a week for 5-11-year olds is considered child labour, while the age group 12-14 has to do more than 14 hours of economic work for it to be considered a child labourer. Lower child labour numbers for the age group 12-14 does therefore not necessarily reflect economic inactivity.
In the agricultural sector, child labour activities include the production of cassava, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, peanuts and rice, fishing, including deep-sea fishing, mending nets, and working on boats in the open sea. Within the industry sector, some children are mining, quarrying, constructing and manufacturing. Finally, in the service sector, child labour occurs within dumpsite scavenging, domestic work, street work, portering, auto-repair and vehicles.
Within the worst forms of child labour, activities include forced work within begging, domestic work, stealing, and forced work in commercial sexual exploitation at times a result of human trafficking. Of child labour in the mines, it is mostly boys (5-17 years) who are forced to long hours in hazardous conditions, sometimes without pay.
Sierra Leone has ratified the ILO core Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Convention on Minimum Age. The government has several policies, programs and actions that cover child labour issues.
The Child Rights Act 2007 sets the minimum age for light work at the age of 13. However, it is not specific enough to prevent children from involvement in child labour because it does not limit the number of hours per week for light work, determine the activities in which light work may be permitted, or specify the conditions in which light work may be undertaken. The act identifies areas of hazardous work prohibited for children such as porterage of heavy loads, going to sea, work in places in which machines are used. Types of hazardous work identified are not included, such as street work as there is evidence that street work is conducted in unhealthy environments that may expose children to hazardous substances, agents, or processes, to temperatures, and to the noise of vibrations damaging their health.
The act requires the establishment of a Child Welfare Committee in each village, chiefdom and district. However, due to a constraint budget, committees have only been established in a few parts of the country.
Criminal law enforcement in Sierra Leone is challenged by a lack of coordination, limited funding, lack of personnel training. The government is withholding the number of violations found, prosecutions initiated and convictions.
The government has a complaint line for issues related to child protection. However, it is uncertain whether it was operational in 2018. The Ministry of Mines and Mineral resources can conduct inspections of mines and fine those who are found using child labour, but these laws have not been adequately enforced due to a limited number of labour inspectors and a lack of funding (revisit Working Conditions section).
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security have employed 20 labour inspectors to address child labour. Nevertheless, the government does not effectively enforce child labour-related laws. This is related to a lack of funding and untrained inspectors in areas where child labour is prevalent.