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.