Saturday, January 28

Parents in grip of anxiety as disappearance of children continues

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Recently, every one or two months, a missing child below the age of 18 would be announced and this has caused fear and sprinkled hope for many parents on how the current government is concerned about the country’s internal security.

Since its inception in December 2017, Barrow’s government and concerned rights groups promised to safeguard the rights of women and children in order to promote equity and access to equal opportunity as men. This resulted in the creation of the Women and Children’s Ministry. However, the minister responsible has so far not released any statement in solidarity with those whose children are missing. Some children ended up being seen while others still disappeared.

Data on missing children

Data obtained from the Gender and Child Protection Unit of The Gambia Police Force (GPF), revealed that since 2017 to date, 355 children have been reported missing while 305 were seen and handed over to families, 41 to social welfare and nine handed to shelter. Comparing the number of missing children in 2021 to 2022, the data revealed that only 43 children were reported missing in 2021 and 67 in 2022.

Testimonies

An anonymous source whose sister, under 15, was among the children who were announced missing recently in the Upper River Region (URR) said that the girl was on her way to Mali on the perilous journey to Europe. He added that they later realised that she was connected with somebody who was sponsoring her. The girl was later traced around the Sami Border in the Upper River Region URR.

The girl was intercepted by the police and after interrogation, revealed that she was leaving the country without the consent of her parents.

“The parents were worried and were searching for her for three days. The family had agreed to solve the matter amicably as parents did not want to attract public attention over the matter.”

Isatou Darboe, a resident of Sinchu whose 2-year-old child got missing explained how worried she was, taking into account that her child could neither walk a long distance nor speak well.

“The country’s security should be questioned,” she said, while admitting her own failure to protect her child.

In August 2018, a 3-year-old boy was reported missing for three days around Fajikunda before he was later found dead in a soak-away pipe. The scene created so many opinions suggesting that he was killed by ritualists.

The Gambia government, however, did not release any statement on the matter despite several public opinions and debates.

Similar incident happened in Tanji in November 2021 when Sarjo Sowe revealed that her niece – a five-year-old child was allegedly murdered after being missing for days.

Child Protection’s view

Lamin Fatty, is the national coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA) – an institution established in 2001.

“I have seen pictorial evidence since it happened. The rituals happen inside the country and we have seen the site where it happened.”

The child rights activist said such things happen when the presidential election is approaching. At some point, he said, he used to ask himself if the ritualists are Gambians or non-Gambians as such things are not heard of after elections.

Mr. Fatty further reiterated that both parents and government should play their part in protecting children. He added that the national security of this country is being “compromised.”

Security expert view

Security expert Sheriff M.L. Gomez, stated in an interview with The Point that the continuous missing of children is a lapse from the national security standpoint.

Mr. Gomez, a one-time minister of Interior and a Pakistan Military Academy scholar said: “This is a grave security failure.” As citizens, it is their right, including their families to be guaranteed security, safety and protection by the state as one of its cardinal responsibilities to its people.”

“No person wish to be in a situation where they cannot have their kids going out for fear of going missing,” Mr. Gomez, also a U.S. Fort Benning and Fort Knox trainee.

The security expert also suggested that “it could also be a pointer to the desperate socio-economic challenges we are going through as a country – emerging from a traumatic past/experience.”

Children Ministry’s responsibility

Bintou H.K. Fatty, the director of Children Affairs under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, told The Point in an interview that it is the ministry’s responsibility to protect and save children in the country.

Speaking on the scope of child protection in the country, she explained that what is more important is the execution of the fundamental laws of the nation that stipulate issues on children’s rights.

“There are set ups, structures established by the government, and referral pathways just to make sure children are safe in the country,” she said. “We have the National Child Protection Committee which consists of various stakeholders to ensure that we consolidate our work to cater for the needs and rights of children.”

The Children Ministry’s director of Children Affairs challenged parents to also take up their responsibilities. “Parents need to take their responsibilities at home,” she said, adding that stories about missing children are becoming common.

She outlined measures her ministry is putting in place to protect children, saying they have the National Child Protection Committee, WhatsApp groups and community child protection structures to work with the communities on issues of child protection.

Tracing children from Senegal

The scenario of tracing some of these children from Senegal is evidenced by the revelation of the Children’s Ministry. “During the inception of the covid-19 in this country, we unified about 256 children from Senegal with their families,” she said. “We have come across the story of a girl child being arranged to meet with her boyfriend. Whenever those things happen, we report the case to the police so that legal means are taken against those men.

Ritual confirmation

In The Gambia nowadays, many children are believed to have been killed for ritual purposes. The Children Ministry could not ascertain all these based on lack of sufficient evidence. However, the ministry has recorded one confirmed to be based on ritual purpose. “There is only one ritual case that was reported to this office and it had happened at Tanji which was under police investigations.”

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