S Leone: Child trafficking case

2009-12-30 09:28

Freetown - Police in Sierra Leone on Tuesday said they had released on bail four members of a US-based non governmental organisation after questioning them in connection with a child trafficking scandal.

Backed by Interpol, Sierra Leone police are investigating claims by 40 parents in the west African state that their children were trafficked to the United States 13 years ago from the northern city of Makeni.

Assistant Inspector-general of Police Francis Munu, who is heading the probe in conjunction with officials of Interpol, told journalists on Tuesday; "We have questioned, and detained for a number of hours but later released on bail four senior workers of the organisation Help a Needy Child International (Hanci)".

He did not identify the officials.

"We are treating the investigation at an extremely high level," Munu said. "We have obtained statements from most of the affected parents and are making contacts with the necessary government agencies that were reported to have carried out adoption processes."

A parent of one of the adopted children who asked not to be identified said, "I handed my daughter, who was then 10 years old, to the organisation for care purposes, but have not been told the fate of her since then."

"The organisation promised to educate her up to university level in Sierra Leone as she had become disadvantaged as a result of the rebel war in the country," he said.

With consent

Hanci denied that the children were trafficked. A senior executive of the organisation, Dr Roland Kargbo, said, "The children were flown to the US with the consent of their parents."

But the parents refuted this statement.

"One of the objectives of the investigations is to see how we can establish communication with any of the adoptive parents or the adopted children and this is why we have the collaborative help from Interpol," police official Munu said.

"Although it is a bit critical, as some of the people who are alleged to have played vital functions are difficult to trace as well as some important documents, we should be able to end our probe in four weeks time and send the file to the Law Officers Department for legal advice," he added.

Sierra Leone's Social Welfare and Children's Affairs Minister Soccoh Kabia said, "we are fully supporting the police investigations".

Kabia disclosed that he has "ordered the immediate suspension of all activities regarding adoption" and will "propose amendments to the country's adoption laws which will make it mandatory for people wanting to adopt a Sierra Leonean child to be resident in the country for six months before the request is considered."