The Struggle of Sierra Leonean ‘Street Boys’ and their Opinion on Street Girls

A workshop was held with 30 young 10-17 year old men suriving on the streets of Kono, Sierra Leone where their struggle, patriarchy, their attitudes towards female youth struggling involved in sex work, the war, their opinion on the South African diamond mining company Koidu Holdings, capitalism, colonialism and the 2012 elections was discussed. A handful of the young men were former combatant child soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone which encourages some family members to marginalise them by refusing to have them in the house for being ‘rebel pickin’ and many had lost parents at the hands of rebel soldiers, which resulted in their lifestyle having to fend for themselves with no other responsible adult able  to accomodate their basic needs.

Admirably, the young boys had very refreshing things to say in regards to their concern over the street girls involved in sex work were they weren’t happy with the way the women were treated and felt the female youth living in poverty were suffering more than the young men. They described the women were going to big dangerous men unaware of whether the man had diseases and the money they received wouldn’t protect them from HIV or AIDS. The boys explained the disadvantages the girls faced  as gang targets resulting in attacks and having their money stolen from them and the women being taken advantage of and violently raped, beaten and girls as young as eleven being stabbed if they requested for money but having nobody to defend them, arrest or talk to the men. One of the boys who washes dishes for market women refuses to take money from the girls he knows has to prostitute themselves. The young ‘streets boys’ are friends with the ‘street girls’ where they hold the money for the girls for safety to ensure the women are less vulnerable than themselves. One of the concerned boys with younger sisters makes sure he visits his grandmother’s home to share some of his money with his younger sister so she doesn’t have to prostitute to feed herself.

The young men said they respect the women and understand the women are not involved in sex work off their own accord but for the same poverty the men are living through and having lost parents too during the war. The men explained if the women they knew had the right support, the women would be the next President or First Lady and they share their money with the young women out of the love and respect for them. The young men work unanimously with the young women by accompanying them when they go out at night to ensure their safety from men over 20, the girls half the money they make with the boys.

The boys are unhappy with their own struggle and having to hustle on the streets of Kono day and night for not having sufficient support, sweeping the market, doing laundry, ironing, transporting fish, cleaning toilets, looking for scraps of metal and overall involved in child labour, breaking stones and working near the mines. The boys said they are taken advantage of where the older men would take their money when they lay to rest. The young men who are raped or sexually abused by older men don’t report or inform anyone, afraid of the dangerous beating after if the men aren’t sent to prison. The boys feel their fathers have too many wives which has resulted in some of the children being marginalised, not looked after properly and ending up on the streets. The boys are grateful for the money the young female street girls give to them when they know the boys haven’t eaten.

The boys feel marginalised by the community and not given chances but constantly treated as nuisances and taken advantage of by market traders who refuse to pay them after the work they have done for them “you’re just a street child and all thieves- kuleeloo.” The struggle of Black youth in England was explained to the young men, stop and search and various other methods of marginalising Black youth, the boys were disheartened that they treated European NGO workers in Sierra Leone well and can’t comprehend the institutionalised racism in Britain. The young men spoke of getting into trouble with the police where they call their grandmother or the social workers from the Street Child project to come and collect them from the police station.

The young men feel nothing is going to change in Kono after the 2012 elections “all the politicians are the same” and are fearful for the safety of their lives for the kidnapping and sacrifices that are made prior elections with vulnerable street children being targetted. The boys are frustrated with the Koidu Holdings diamond mining company; their comments have been collected in video footage. Stories of how the boys had lost their parents during the war at the hands of the rebels where shared where one of the boy’s father was commanded to dig his own grave, lie down and was shot where they then buried him. Another boy’s mother had told the rebel she had no money for them where they raped and killed her by the side of the river. The boy sees the former rebel he’d witnessed rape and murder his mother every day, working for the exploitative Koidu Holdings.  Another boy was grateful his mother had decided to keep him and not leave him by the river after the rebels had killed his father and she had lost all hope and still struggles till this day.

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