Sierra Leone Aid Workers Accused of Child Smuggling

Date: 
2004-08-27

Police in Sierra Leone have arrested the head of a local aid agency suspected of helping smuggle 29 children out of the country for adoption in the United States, a senior police official said Reuters.

Roland Kargbo, director of Help a Needy Child International (HANCI), was arrested with three co-workers following a report by Interpol into child trafficking to Western Europe and the United States, Inspector General Acha Kamara told reporters.

"They had a so-called orphanage in the north of the country where they take children of destitute parents," Kamara said.

HANCI is one of a number of aid agencies working in Sierra Leone and around West Africa to find homes for children orphaned or abandoned through conflict.
No HANCI officials in Freetown were available to comment and Interpol said it could not comment on operational matters.

Kamara said some of the children were taken in groups to neighboring countries, where they were handed to a US-based adoption agency that planned to fly them to the United States--without necessary permission from Sierra Leone.

Some 50 other children from the care home had been placed with social services following the arrests, the police said.

The United Nations ranked Sierra Leone at the bottom in its 2004 Human Development Index. The country is recovering from a 10-year civil war that became infamous for its images of drugged young gunmen and their mutilated victims.

The conflict was declared over in 2002 after some 50,000 people had been killed and a UN peacekeeping force numbering 17,500 people had disarmed 47,000 fighters.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that about 200,000 West African children are trafficked each year, mostly taken to Europe or sold into slavery as domestic workers.

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