By Nangayi Guyson – Freetown – The government of Sierra Leone on Tuesday banned children under the age of 18 from taking part in this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca in a bid to combat child trafficking.
“We will no longer allow children to accompany adult pilgrims to Mecca as has happened in the past. As a responsible administration, we realise that children are vulnerable and could be easily trafficked so this is why the stringent action has been taken.”
Social Welfare Ministry Senior Permanent Secretary Brima Rogers told AFP that “there is now a moratorium on children leaving the country as we want to reduce the possibility of child trafficking”.
But Private Muslim organisations have criticised government interference in religious affairs with the Universal Muslim Brotherhood, an umbrella group saying it was a curb on “freedom of worship and right of association”.
The government is organising the pilgrimage this year allocating 500 places on a flight to Mecca on October 31 in a bid to avert fraud by private operators.”In the past, pilgrims going to the Hadj have been severely exploited by rogue agents charging high air fares,” said Rogers. The government-planned Haj trip costs $3 700 compared to $4 200 charged last year by private agents.