Ebola orphans taking desperate measures to survive
12:19, 6 April 2015
YEREVAN, APRIL 6, ARMENPRESS: Aid workers have warned that Ebola has created a generation of orphans forced into desperate measures to fend for themselves after the disease claimed their parents, Armenpress reports, citing the Telegraph.
A British-run charity says many of the thousands of children stricken by the virus have turned to crime and prostitution simply to care for their siblings.
A report by the Street Child charity has for the first documented the shocking extent of the Ebola orphan crisis. It’s researchers, who surveyed every district in Sierra Leone, found:
* More than 12,023 children have been left orphans by Ebola
* An estimated 25,000 have been orphaned across West Africa as a whole
* Around 17 per cent of them live in a household with five or more other orphans
* The orphans have an average age of eight
* Nearly 60 per cent live in isolated rural settings, making it hard for aid workers to reach them.
Street Child, which has managed to provide some counseling, education and employment support for around 11, 000 children, found that many of the orphans have not only experience immediate problems such as hunger, but have also been stigmatized by their wider community.
Such is the fear of infection in Sierra Leone’s small towns and villages that neighbours are shunning the children of the dead, ignoring the long established African tradition of taking orphans into your home.
The charity found the orphans are also at increased risk of physical and sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies.
Street Child’s founder and chief executive Tom Dannatt, the son of the former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt, said that although the spread of the disease appears to now be under control – having killed more than 3,500 in Sierra Leone – it has left thousands of child victims in its wake.
He said the report revealed the “scale and nature of the crisis”, with thousands of children losing a caregiver on whom they depended, and now “faced with extremely challenging and perilous circumstances”.
Speaking from Sierra Leone Mr Dannatt, who founded Street Child in 2008 and has since visited the region more than 30 times, added: “It now appears possible to believe that an end to Ebola is near, and that the time for rebuilding, and in particular helping those who have lost the most, has come. It is Street Child’s fervent belief that Ebola’s orphans should be amongst the first in line for help.”
The situation for girls is particularly desperate, warms the charity.
It found cases of Ebola orphans raped, becoming pregnant or turning to prostitution. Others are agreeing to marry while still very young simply so they can to find an alternative family.
The report cites a number of the distressing cases, including that of Mariatu, 16, who, following the loss of her father, became pregnant when she sold herself for sex to a neighbor, in exchange for food to feed her family.
The teenager, from Bo, now works in a quarry mining stones alongside her mother and eight younger brothers and sisters, although they hope to set up a family business with the help of Street Child.
Another case is that of 17-year-old girl, Martha Sesay, who after losing both parents to Ebola, suffered an attempted rape by one of the soldiers guarding her quarantined home.
John Pryor, Street Child research team leader, said: “The situation for these young female orphans is dire; without the guidance, support and security of their caregiver they are extremely vulnerable. I will never forget the stories of abuse and rape I heard from young girls who have been through so much and are understandably traumatized by their experiences.”
He added: “The vast numbers of orphans I surveyed spoke of trauma, abuse, sexual exploitation and living in constant fear for their future.”
The charity has called on the international community to step up its response to the crisis, which has killed more than 10,000 across the region, and increase the amounts of help it supplies, particularly for children.
Mr Pryor said: “If he international aid community works together there is light at the end of the tunnel for these intensely vulnerable children.”
Street Child is currently one of the leading organization working with Ebola orphans, providing humanitarian aid and counseling and helping children find homes, continue with their education or seek employment.
Mr Dannatt, who ran a London-based recruitment firm before setting up the charity after witnessing the plight of street children in Sierra Leone, praised the work of the British Army in helping the West African country cope with Ebola, describing it as “the catalyst towards creating a turning point in the crisis”.
Around 800 British soldiers, sailors and airmen were sent to Sierra Leone in October in what was the UK’s biggest military deployment at the time.
The troops were sent to build six treatment clinics, provide helicopters and ferry supplies to back up civilian aid workers, as the Sierra Leonean authorities were pushed to the brink of collapse by the outbreak.
Mr Dannatt, whose father is patron of the charity, said British troops had made a significant difference by bringing “structure, control, a greater degree of professionalism and some real assets in terms of mobility, especially addressing cases in the hardest to reach parts of the country”.
But he said more still needed to be done to help the children whose lives have been ravaged by the disease.
“These vulnerable orphans need our support urgently; young girls risk teenage pregnancy, abuse and exposure to commercial sex work,” said Mr Dannatt. “The best support we can offer them now is to empower them to support themselves and enable them to return to school, alongside providing guidance and psychosocial counseling.
“But there are limitations to what Street Child can do – we need help to save the thousands of orphans at risk of missing out on a future.”
Martha Sesay lost her mother and father to Ebola and was left to care for her younger sister Saidu, 11, alongside her twin brother George.
Their brother Foday, 14, who had initially survived the outbreak, also died of the disease.
Her trauma continued when one of the soldiers guarding their quarantined house, in the village of Kenema, tried to rape her.
Street Child says her story illustrates the risk of abuse that orphans, particularly girls, face with nobody to protect them.
Martha, 17, said: “When my father passed away they didn’t collect his body for two days and night – we were terrified, all the doors in our house were locked and we were quarantined in the kitchen.
“We stayed in that kitchen, alone, for 21 days, terrified that our father’s ghost was haunting the house or that somebody would break in and attack us.”
Workers from Street Child provided Martha and her family with food aid, along with psychological support. Her uncle plans to start a business with the help of the charity to support the children.
Martha said: “I’m not as afraid anymore, Street Child and my local community are here to encourage me. My uncle is now helping to s support us, but we still do not have enough food – unless we can find a way of making more money I will not be able to return to school with my siblings, instead I will be left at home providing for them.”
Photo by AP