By Esther Wright
A new anti-trafficking think tank based in Sierra Leone will advise and assist on current efforts to reduce child trafficking in the country and help create a sustainable national plan to combat human trafficking long term.
The think tank is founded by the African Programming & Research Initiative to End Slavery (APRIES) at the University of Georgia’s Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach (CenHTRO), which conducts projects to estimate and reduce the prevalence of child trafficking in Sierra Leone.
The APRIES think tank consultants are Sia Lajaku-Williams, Reuben Lewis, and Haja Wurie, who hold expertise in the areas of programming, policy analysis, and research, respectively. They will boost the profile of APRIES’ anti-trafficking research and programs, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The consultants will also help develop and strengthen plans for Sierra Leone to sustainably combat human trafficking after the APRIES grant ends.
“For international research and programming collaborations to be successful and sustainable, local ownership, participation, and contributions are critical,” said CenHTRO Director Dr. David Okech. “Honoring local tacit knowledge and expertise is a win-win for CenHTRO and the countries we work in. We are looking forward to working with Dr. Wurie, Dr. Lewis, and Mrs. Lajaku-Williams in entrenching and sustaining our initiatives in the country.”
APRIES research found that a high number of children in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province will experience child trafficking before turning 18. This research informs projects designed by APRIES that aim to reduce child trafficking by improving local, regional, and national response to the issue.
The think tank will help APRIES conduct its mission by writing for public and academic audiences, making media appearances on APRIES’ behalf, networking with anti-trafficking stakeholders, and other strategic activities that spread awareness about human trafficking in Sierra Leone.
Programs consultant Sia Lajaku-Williams has almost two decades of experience managing and overseeing the implementation of child protection, education, and child labor programs in and around Sierra Leone. She currently works as a child protection programming and safeguarding consultant, supporting the work of various local and international NGOs in Sierra Leone. Throughout her career, Lajaku-Williams has served groups of vulnerable children and young people within Sierra Leone, and understands the legislative framework and systems that support the effective implementation of programs around child labor, child trafficking, education, and community engagement.
“I’m very passionate about child protection issues and child trafficking is very prevalent,” Lajaku-Williams said. “Whatever way I can support to address this issue, I want to make sure that I do that.”
Policy consultant Reuben Lewis currently lectures at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. As a consultant, he has worked with national, regional, and international institutions on issues of migration and border management. Lewis helped draft Sierra Leone’s National Migration Policy and conducted research on human trafficking and irregular migration in West Africa. His previous posts include the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and the Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center in Japan.
“I’m excited to get involved in developing policies that will be responsive to countering human trafficking and especially child trafficking,” Lewis said.
Using a multidisciplinary approach, research consultant Haja Wurie delivers development-focused research for effective policymaking and practice. She has conducted research on many national issues in Sierra Leone, generating evidence that informed government policy and donor strategies for building resilient and responsive systems. She also provided technical assistance to the health systems strengthening process in Sierra Leone post Ebola, working with in-country and international teams on the development of the healthcare recovery plan.
“One of the things that stands out for me about the [APRIES] program is that it has brought in local consultants that can bring embedded insights,” Wurie said. “I think that goes a long way in supporting local ownership, local leadership, and sustainability.”