There are two types of girls in Sierra Leone; those who use a kata for head carrying work and those who don’t work. Half of all girls in Sierra Leone are employed or engaged in child labor, and they are the ones who use a kata-a piece of cloth shaped in a ring or ball to support head carrying.
This year the theme for Day of the Girl is” GirlForce: Unscripted and unstoppable,” and it focuses on girls breaking boundaries and barriers.
The Sierra Leonean girl who breaks boundaries and barriers is the exception. That girl comes from a middle-class family, that girl lives in a city, and that girl is protected from harm. That girl who is unscripted and unstoppable in Sierra Leone is the exception, not the rule.
I know that girl because I used to be her.
When I was a girl, I didn’t need to work to help support my family. I never once carried a ‘kata’ on my head. I had ample time to play, time to be unscripted. That is not the reality for the average Sierra Leonean girl.
At work, I asked my team to search for girls with exceptional skills that we could spotlight, but the list wasn’t very long. What did keep coming back to me was girls working. When I close my eyes and try to imagine a girl from home, what I see is a girl carrying a younger child, a girl that is doing chores, or a girl is head carrying a tray with a kata on her head.
The average girl in Sierra Leone is not breaking barriers, but she does do back-breaking work at home and in her community. She is unskilled, but every day she is on the streets selling to make ends meet. In 2011, 55% of 1,071,023 of all children aged 5-17 were working (Report: National Child Labor in Sierra Leone 2011). Sierra Leone’s 2007 Child Rights Act, which localizes that Convention of the Rights of Children, is supposed to protect children’s rights, but when it comes to labor and employment, the law is far from reality. Boys and girls work when they should not be working by law. It is at the age of 15 that the law says a child can work, but in Sierra Leone, 48% of girls, and 53% of boys between the age of 13 and 14 are engaged in child labor.
While childhood unscripted is still a dream for most of Sierra Leone’s children on this international day of the girl, I would like to shine a spotlight on the girls who work.
Below is a daybook photography assignment completed by my team in Freetown. Photographers are Jane, Amriena, and Sylvester. See the Day of the Girl Photo Gallery Here
Girl with the kata on her head
— A Daybook by VRC Marketing – Day of the Girl 2019