Child Labor: A Menace on Sierra Leonean Children

Child Labor in Sierra Leone

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) website, definitions of Child labour slated for abolition falls into the following three categories:

(1)  Labour that is performed by a child who is under the minimum age specified for that kind of work (as defined by national legislation, in accordance with accepted international standards), and that is thus likely to impede the child’s education and full development.

(2)  Labour that jeopardizes the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, known as hazardous work.

(3)  The unconditional worst forms of child labour, which are internationally defined as slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, and illicit activities.

Children in Sierra Leone are engaged in the worst forms of child labor, particularly dangerous activities in the agriculture and in the mining sectors (U.S. Embassy, 2012). Reports indicate that child labor in agriculture is pervasive in rural areas, including the production of coffee, cocoa and palm oil, with children as young as age 5 working in the fields. (US Embassy, 2010; US Department of State, 2011; Macro International Inc., 2008; & Dunstan, S. Farmer Perceptions, 2009). Children in Sierra Leone are engaged in dangerous activities in agriculture. Children working in agriculture may use dangerous tools, carry heavy loads, and apply harmful pesticides. (International Labour Organization, 2011)

Thousands of children in Sierra Leone, primarily boys ages 10 and 17 years, work in alluvial diamond mines (International Human Rights Clinic, 2009). Alluvial diamond mining relies on labor-intensive methods to locate diamonds, such as digging and sifting through mud and sand.( U.S. Geological Survey, 2011) The mining is usually performed by informal and small-scale mining operations that operate outside the regulatory framework (Bea M, A Hatloy, 2008).

Children engaged in alluvial diamond mining undertake hazardous activities, such as repeatedly shoveling and transporting gravel, and are exposed to infectious and mosquito-borne diseases that thrive in alluvial mining areas. (Bea M, A Hatloy, 2008). The children suffer back and chest pain and fatigue as a result of the activities they perform. Children also risk injury and death from mine pits collapsing (International Human Rights Clinic, 2009). One study found that nearly half of all child miners in the Kono District, the hub of Sierra Leonean diamond mining, work 8 to 10 hours per day, while more than half work at least 6 days a week (International Human Rights Clinic, 2009). Although mine owners and operators typically do not employ girls or children under age 10 in direct mining activities, the mining sector utilizes these two groups in support roles. Young boys in this group generally provide food and water and take responsibility for less strenuous mining activities, while girls in support roles often work as vendors, hawking items such as drinks and cigarettes. (Bea M, A Hatloy, 2008).

See video for child mining

Moreover, children in Sierra Leone are also engaged in stone crushing in granite quarries in unsafe and unhealthy labor conditions, including carrying heavy loads and working long hours. (Macro International, 2008). Children break granite rocks into gravel and sell it for use in cement. Children sustain injuries including broken bones from falls, leg and toe injuries from using mallets and hammers, and cuts and eye injuries from gravel shards. (Campbell, G., 2013).

See video for child rock harvesting

In large dump sites in Freetown, children as young as age 10 are engaged in digging and gathering metal scraps and recyclable material, among other items(U.S. Embassy, 2012; & 2013). Reports indicate that children frequent dump sites, in which they are exposed to unhealthy and dangerous labor conditions, including chemicals, and risk injury (Fofana, L., 2012)

Photo of children in dump sites

In addition, children are also engaged in the fishing industry notwithstanding the importance of this activity.( U.S Embassy, 2012 & Macro International, 2008; ). Regardless of the limited evidence that exists, Macro International, (2008) suggests that the worst forms of child labor are used in the production of particular types of fish, including snapper, mackerel, and herring. In addition to performing tasks, such as mending nets, the report also notes that children engage in the fishing industry also works on boats to fish in the open sea for several days in a row. (FAO-ILO, 2011 & Macro International, 2008). Fishing exposes children to risks, including the risk of drowning and working in cramped and unsanitary shipping vessels. (U.S. Department of State, 2009).

Regardless of the above labour issues undermining the wellbeing of children, the U.S Embassy, (2012) report indicate that Sierra Leonean children are engaged in domestic labor that commonly involves exposure to physical and sexual exploitation by their employers. Furthermore, Sierra Leone is classified as a source, transit, and destination country for children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. (U.S. Department of State, 2009). U.S. Embassy (2011 & 2012) reports states that majority of children are trafficked from rural provinces or refugee communities to urban and mining areas and that children from Nigeria, The Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Guinea may be trafficked to Sierra Leone for forced begging, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation. (U.S. Department of State 2012). Sierra Leone has a large number of street children as a result of the 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. (IRIN, 2011,; & ILO 2012) There are reports of children working on the streets, but specific information on hazards is unknown but it is believed that some of these children may be exploited into commercial sex work. (U.S. Department of State, 2011 #246; U.S. Embassy- Freetown, 2013, #173).

Causes and effects of Child Labour

Child labour in Sierra Lone is mostly due to cultural and tradition practices, the effects of the 10 years of civil war and entrenched poverty. The Minister of Employment ascertains this, Labour and Social Security, Hon. Minkailu Mansaray who said in an interview “poverty has been identified as one of the root causes of child labour”.  He also stated that some traditional concepts have also been identified as a problem leading to child labour. He further stated that “child labour has a very negative impact on the economic, social and political development of Sierra Leone because it allows children to suffer under worst conditions, prostitution, gang robbery and other crimes in society,”

Legal framework on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

In response to the awful situation above, the Government of Sierra Leone have several legislations in place to combat child labour. The Child Rights Act, 2007, which sets the minimum, age for employment at 15 years. The Act also states that children must either be age 15 or have completed basic education before entering into an apprenticeship in either the formal or informal sector. Children are also prohibited from performing night work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. (The Child Right Act, 2007). The law allows children ages 13 and older to engage in light work and prohibits children under age 18 from being employed in hazardous work, defined as work that is dangerous to a child’s health, safety, or morals. The law identifies the following activities as hazardous: seafaring; mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; and working in bars, in places in which machines are used, and in environments in which chemicals are produced or used. (Child Right Act, 2007). The penalty for employing children in hazardous work or violating the age restrictions under the Child Rights Act is a fine or a prison sentence of up to 2 years( U.S. Embassy Freetown, 2013; Child Right Act, 2007).  The Child Rights Act stipulates that the Government will intervene to protect children who are forced to beg or are exposed to moral or physical danger.

Also, the Constitution of Sierra Leone prohibits forced and compulsory labor (Government of Sierra Leone , 1991). The Anti-Human Trafficking Act, (2005) criminalizes all forms of human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including profiting from child pornography and prostitution. Regardless of the robust legislations, children continue to carry the burden to hard and hazardous labour in the country.

Social Programs Interventions to prevent and or eliminate Worst Forms of Child Labor

The Sierra Leone government with support from UNICEF and USAID, has prioritized and implementing several programs to curb child labour. Such programs include: improving access and to education, which has narrowed the gender enrollment gap at the primary school (IMF, 2011). The Government of Sierra Leone increased the number of teachers and awarded grants to girls and the disabled attending secondary school and university; it also investigated and prosecuted Ministry of Education personnel engaged in corrupt practices. (Human Right Watch 2011). The government with WFP, implements a school-feeding program that targets 300,000 children (IMF, 2008). Also, the MSWGCA partners with World Hope International to combat child trafficking and forced child labor in Sierra Leone in addition to raising public awareness on child trafficking. The government also supports shelters that house child victims of forced labor and trafficking. However, these shelters do not provide victims with long-term support, and child victims may live with social workers. (UN Committee on the Right of the Child, 2011). The Government supports centers for street children to receive psychological support, medical care, vocational training, and help in locating their families.

In addition, the government supports the UNDP-funded Youth Employment and Empowerment Program to strengthen national policy, strategy, and coordination for youth employment. The Youth Employment Network, which includes a partnership between the UN, ILO and the World Bank, manages the Youth to Youth Fund for youth-led organizations to pilot innovative, small-scale youth entrepreneurship projects (ILO, 2010). The youth employment, education, and agriculture programs are intended to reduce the prevalence of child labor; however, no assessments of the impact of these programs on child labor have been identified (U.S Embassy Freetown, 2012). Despite these programs, the government’s investment in social programs continues to be insufficient to address the scope of child labor in Sierra Leone, particularly among children working in dangerous activities in agriculture, mining, fishing and domestic labor.

This is a glimpse into the reality of children in Sierra Leone; “Help!; Join the Campaign to Save the lives of Sierra Leonean Children”


Boa˚s, M, A Hatloy (2008). Child Labour in West Africa: Different work – different vulnerabilities.” International               Migration, 46(3):1-24

Dunstan, S. Farmer Perceptions, (2009). Child Labour, and economics of tree crops production andmarketing:       

            Kailahun, Kenema and Kono Districts of Sierra Leone.

FAO-ILO (2011). Good Practice Guide for Addressing Child Labor in Fisheries and Aquaculture: Policy and practice

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Fofana, L. (2008). Sierra Leone living off scraps: Intern press service. Retrieved from:  


 International Labour Office (2011). Children in hazardous work: what we know, what we need to do. Geneva,

International Labour Organization. Retrieved from:—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_155428.pdf

Macro International Inc. (2008. In-country Rresearch on child labor/forced labor in the production of goods: Sierra Leone Fairfax

The International Human Rights Clinic(2009). Digging in the Dirt: Child Miners in Sierra Leone’s Diamond Industry. Harvard Law School, Cambridge Retrieved from:

U.S. Department of State (2012), Sierra Leone in country reports on human rights practices: Washington, DC. Retrieved from:

U.S. Embassy- Freetown,(2010; 2011; 2012; & 2013) reports







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