In Sierra Leone foster children ’mehn pikin’ most at risk for sexual abuse
When parents in rural Sierra Leone send their children to the city to live with relatives they do so because they want a better life for them. What they don't know is that their daughters might become victims of sexual abuse. Jeneba was taken from Bo, Southern Sierra Leone and brought to Freetown as a girl. She lived with her foster mom and her family. At the age of 22 her adopted mom’s ex-boyfriend who had promised to pay her college fees tried to rape her.
In this conversation, Jeneba says that her foster mother had once told her that the ex-boyfriend ”would spare” no one when it came to sex.
”He can sleep with his own sister, ” is what Jeneba’s adopted mom told her of her ex-boyfriend, a man Jeneba saw as a father figure. Even though this man was not safe, Jeneba was repeatedly sent to him on errands, further building a relationship of trust between Jeneba and the man. So much so that when he calls her to say come after work to collect money for school fees she goes.
Research has shown that girls who grow up in foster care are at a higher risk for sexual abuse. Adopted or fostered girls are 10x more likely to be abused than those who grow up with either or both parents. Family structures are crucial to protecting children. In Sierra Leone for example when we take in ‘mehn pikin’, foster children rarely are they accorded the same protection and care as biological children. The times in which they are is where the family doesn’t already have a child(ren) of their own. The worst of it yes is sexual abuse but many also use their wards as indentured servants. The state of fostered and adopted Sierra Leone is so bad and so widely known that the way we express maltreatment is to say “don’t treat me like an adopted child”.
“Noh can trit me lek mehn pikin”
People who take in other people’s children have the same responsibilities to protect them from harm as they do towards their own children. Noh sen pipul pikin go oosai yu noh go sen yu own pikin. The only way we are going to protect girls from sexual abuse in Sierra Leone is if we are intentional about protecting them. Do not expose girls and young women to men who you know will “spare no one”.
Listen in. This is Jeneba’s story. #speaktheunspeakable
This is a conversation with a young Sierra Leonean woman who fought off her attacker. Promising to pay her school fees, a family friend lured Jeneba to his house. Upon arrival, he asked that in exchange for her fees, Jeneba should become his girlfriend. When she refused his advances he tried to rape her. Jeneba is one of the lucky ones. She fought back and got away, but the encounter still left her wishing for death. Without money to pay her fees, Jeneba followed her passion for crafts and started a jewelry business with just $1.10 (10,000SLL). Today that business has grown and she earns $177 (1,600,000SLL)a month, enough to pay her college fees. Jeneba is a GoWoman.