Ebola ‘leaves 12,000 orphans in Sierra Leone’

06.03.2015 16:29

The devastating impact of the Ebola crisis
was laid bare this week with a report
showing more than 12,000 children have
been orphaned by the disease in Sierra
They have been identified in the first
national survey of orphans, which was
conducted by the British charity Street
Child. It says the future for these children
is dire. Many are living in fear without the
support and security of parents, but the
charity says there is light at the end of the
tunnel “if the international aid community
works together”.
The charity found that some children,
rejected by their friends because of the
stigma of Ebola, have tried to take their
own lives, while girls are being forced into
commercial sex work to earn money for
food their parents would have previously
Its case studies expose the vulnerability of
those left behind without an adult for
One 17-year-old girl from Kailahun lost
both parents and her 14-year-old brother,
leaving her in charge of her twin brother
and 11-year-old sister. During the 21-day
quarantine period, one of the soldiers
guarding the quarantined zone broke into
her home and attempted to rape her.
“It is very striking that such a vulnerable
child-headed family, living not in a rural
location, but in the second town of Sierra
Leone, have received no external
assistance – it shows the limit of the Ebola
response to date,” said Street Child, which
recently came to her aid.
Another girl, identified as Mariatu, lost
her father to Ebola. She now joins her
mother and eight younger siblings working
in a quarry to feed themselves. She is also
pregnant, and the father of her child is no
longer around.
The charity also came across the case of 28
children from the three wives of a
pharmacist in Makeni who contracted
Ebola and died. He was the sole
breadwinner, and on further investigation
was found to be supporting 52 people in
his community.
The agency also found grandmothers
suddenly left with children to support
after their own children died.
The average age of orphans was nine, with
17% looked after by a caregiver who is
supporting five or more orphans.
Alhaji Moijueh KaiKai, Sierra Leone’s
minister for welfare, gender and children’s
affairs, said: “It is clear that none have
suffered more than those who lost parents
and vital caregivers, those they really
relied on, to this virus.”
Tom Dannatt, Street Child’s chief
executive, said the scale of the disaster was
unprecedented since the civil war. He said
it was understandable that the
international focus was on beating the
disease, but now that an end was in sight,
“Ebola orphans should be amongst the first
in line for help”.
The charity sent hundreds of social
workers across the country to urban and
rural communities to establish the true
extent of the orphan problem.
Dannatt said that in September 2014 Street
Child set a target of helping 1,000 orphans,
but says it is now providing humanitarian
and psychosocial support to almost 11,000.
Apart from day-to-day survival, one of the
biggest challenges ahead for orphans is
education. Schools are scheduled to reopen
on 30 March and although many are
desperate to get an education, some will be
unable to afford to do so in their new roles
as heads of their households.
Port Loko, a rural district just north of
Freetown, has been identified as the
epicentre of the orphan crisis. With almost
3,500 orphans registered, it has almost as
many cases as the three next largest
districts combined.