in sierra leone, criminal responsibility begins at age ten (in contravention of the convention on the rights of the child), and children - many orphaned and homeless from a decade of civil war - often spend years in freetown’s pademba road prison awaiting trial for little more than misdemeanor offenses. unable to afford a lawyer, most eventually end up with harsh sentences.
photographer fernando moleres was awarded the 2012 tim hetherington grant, presented on behalf of world press photo and human rights watch, to help document their plight; this includes boys as young as 13, falsely charged with murder and, unable to defend themselves in court, given life sentences; other kids, unable to pay bribes, are sentenced to years for stealing food or smoking marijuana.
in a prison built for 220 but houses 1300, food and water are scarce, violence is a constant threat, and hygiene is non existent. one outdoor toilet (third photo) is shared by inmates who have to rely on the rain to wash (sixth photo). death from basic infection is not uncommon.
when released, most are left without anyone to take them in or skills with which to find work. so moleres, a former nurse, founded free minor africa, which provides the kids with bail and lawyers to help keep them out of prison, with medicine and teachers while in prison, and with education and training to help reintegrate them back into society once freed (last photo).
“i can’t just go in there, take these pictures…and leave them behind. i need to do something for them. …they are not a lost cause and a little bit of help can make a big difference,” he said. “if you give them an opportunity to work they will get ahead and establish themselves. they just want a normal existence; i want to demonstrate that and show, with my photography, how the boys can change.”