Child Protection Alliance, a civil society body responsible for the promotion and protection of children’s rights in the Gambia has called on the authorities in Banjul to immediately close the Imam Bilal Boarding school while the Banjul office of the UN agency for children says investigating the fire outbreak that killed five children on Sunday will ensure accountability.

In separate statements, both bodies expressed concern over the unfortnate incident.

“UNICEF is deeply saddened by the death of five children from the fire incident at the Bilal Boarding School in Yarambamba, West Coast Region, on October 17th, 2021.
The incident also left seven other children injured and hospitalized, some in critical condition. We send our deepest condolences to the families, friends and peers of all victims of the incident. Children who witnessed the incident may also be traumatized by what they saw and the loss of friends, and may need urgent psycho-social support as they recover from the shock. We urge national and local authorities to launch a thorough investigation into the incident to establish the exact cause of the fire and the circumstances around the incident.
This investigation will be important in ensuring accountability and the implementation of stronger mechanisms to safeguard the security and safety of children in schools, especially those in boarding schools,’ Unicef said in a statement issued today in Banjul.

The CPA also said: “ Three others remain in critical conditions at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital whilst two others are responding to treatment at Serekunda General Hospital. Details about the cause of the fire are still scanty. The head of the school is currently helping police with investigations. It must be noted that in February this year, CPA National Coordinator spearheaded an unannounced monitoring visit to boarding facilities, with the Directorate of Children Affairs as a result of reported cases of child abuse, through the application of severe forms of punishment and the poor accommodation and sanitary facilities.
After the visit, concrete recommendations were made to that effect, which were geared towards improving the accommodation, sanitary and electrical facilities to avoid such incidents as in this case. Therefore, we considered the incident as total negligence from the management of the boarding facility.”
To this end, CPA demands the immediate closure of the boarding facility, whilst thorough investigation into the matter continues.

“ The authorities are urged to take strict action to deter reoccurrences of such incidents. We equally demand that the Directorate of Children Affairs act in accordance with Section 199 of the Children’s Act which mandated the Directorate to inspect child care facilities at least every six months with the powers to suspend operations of such facilities were they fall short of meeting the minimum standards. This includes all Quranic memorization centers, orphanages and care homes across the country. Meanwhile, parents are urged to frequent such facilities to check the conditions of their children. They must not relent in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their children while pursuing any form of education. The Child Protection Alliance want to reiterate that it is the responsibility of every person to report any incident of child rights violations to the appropriate authorities. All cases of Child abuse or Gender Based Violence could be reported through the free toll numbers 199 or 1313,” the CPA statement added.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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