Ebola Affected Children

The effect of the Ebola outbreak on children in Sierra Leone has been devastating. As of 21stJanuary 2015, UNICEF’s Family Tracing and Reunification Network in Sierra Leone estimated that 15,623 children have been directly affected by Ebola. Over 8,019 were noted to have lost one or both parents to the disease and 565 being unaccompanied or separated from their caregiver.[1] Even though the last few weeks have seen a decrease in case numbers in Sierra Leone, the death toll continues to rise. It is likely that the number of children displaced by Ebola will increase exponentially before the end of the epidemic.

The Ebola virus has weakened extended family networks and in some cases, wiped out entire families. In addition, due to heightened fears of infection, children are being abandoned or rejected by their communities – left alone to fend for themselves. This situation presents an increased vulnerability of neglect, abuse or exploitation of these children. Furthermore, children orphaned by Ebola are suffering from extreme grief and stigmatization and at a time when these children require the most comfort and support they are being ostracized from their communities.

Whilst there have been some positive signs that the Ebola epidemic is slowing down in Sierra Leone since the beginning of 2015, the country’s economy has suffered greatly because of this crisis. The disease has slowed down economic growth; closed businesses and disrupted the livelihood of millions of Sierra Leoneans, especially the most poor and vulnerable. This environment has created increased vulnerabilities for children – especially those who have lost one or both primary caregivers. With Sierra Leone’s existing street child problem, Ebola affected children face a very uncertain and dire future. We cannot allow this situation to continue.

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[1] UNMEER External Report, 8th Jan 2015

on February 1 • by

  • This is an extremely important area but it’s also a minefield and mammoth task. The extent of need may be so great it will be hard to make a dent, whatever proposals are suggested whether they are carried out by individual organisations, Diaspora or in partnership with large NGO’s should not be tokenistic and should inspire mainstream care and compassion BY communities. The non-viability of sustainability without community input is a concern. Another concern I have is the need to be careful not
    to disrupt existing family and community support structures that may already be
    providing for children, for a resilient society we should be in the business of
    complementing not replacing.

    Facilitating reunification with estranged or lost families supports, rather than undermines, family and social structures. However I anticipate there will be a need to distinguish between genuine orphans with no family or who have been genuinely rejected, and those who see an opportunity for free child support. I would go further and suggest that if word got out that any initiative was aimed at rejected orphans, the number of sudden ‘rejections’ might rise exponentially.

    Child and youth neglect – by parents, extended families and unrelated communities – unfortunately existed in Sierra Leone before ebola, although the converse is also true and there are many many heart-warming stories of unrelated people supporting and adopting. This has been a tale of great tragedy, but also of great hope that there is much compassion in Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, sensitisation of communities, encouragement of compassion and challenging of extended family rejection are issues that need to be considered within the context of neglect that affects many more children and youths today than those directly affected by ebola. I for one would be interested in learning about effective arguments that can be made to families and unrelated communities to inspire them to want to take care of neglected and excluded young, i.e. the ‘how’ of introducing a true spirit of ‘Our Village Our Children’ into every neighbourhood.