Children orphaned because of Ebola are at risk for human trafficking, so The United Methodist Church has announced a campaign to track these orphans.
The campaign is a response to the growing risk of child trafficking in Liberia, said Jefferson Knight, director of The United Methodist Church Human Rights Monitor, a department of the conference in Liberia. Knight said the orphans are at risk because some of them are with other relatives who cannot afford to take care of them and those relatives may see their only option as giving the children to other people under the pretense of adoption.
“Our concerns for the children have increased since the government of Liberia does not have in place any mechanism to take care of them,” Knight said.
Knight said more than 65 Ebola orphans are living at the church’s Liberia Gorlu Care Center in Lofa County in northern Liberia. He also said more than 150 children living with relatives are being tracked already.
“The Gorlu Care Center is solely geared towards meeting the sheltering, food and comfort needs including education and health of these Ebola-affected kids since its establishment in 2014,” Knight added.
Recent news stories in secular newspapers indicated that more than 70,000 Liberian children - including Ebola orphans - are at risk for trafficking because the government does not have the capacity to protect them. The United Nations Children Fund has said that thousands of Liberian children born during the Ebola crisis could be exploited because of the lack of proper birth registration records.
In a July 31 news release, UNICEF Liberia said children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist and are without citizenship. Children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services or obtain identity documents, all factors that put them in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted, UNICEF said.
Concern for Ebola survivors declines
The leaders of the Ebola Survival Association of Liberia expressed similar fears for Ebola orphans.
“The children are not properly cared for or monitored to avoid such things as trafficking,” said Jerald Dennis, spokesperson for the association. He added that the welfare of Ebola survivors is becoming less important to the Liberian government.
“Though we were given some food rations by some local nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations World Food Programme, that assistance ceased long time ago,” Dennis said, adding that the orphans who are living with relatives are especially at risk for hunger.
Knight called on church leadership in Liberia and around the world to join in efforts to make sure these vulnerable orphans get the help they need.
“The task is enormous, but we need to do our best in helping the children out of this risky situation, Knight said.
Already some churches are partnering with Liberian United Methodists. The St. John United Methodist Church in Spring Field, Virginia, is working with Liberia Lofa River District to care for more than 65 Ebola orphans living at the Gorlu Care Center.
The Human Rights Monitor is also working in the Kakata-Farmington River District in Margibi County and the Taylorta Community in Bong County.
“All that we have done in these communities is to provide protection and health monitoring for the Ebola orphans,” Knight said.