Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres has embarked on a singlehanded and single-minded mission to improve the lives of juvenile prisons in Sierra Leone. His interview Visa Pour l’Image: Fernando Moleres’ struggle to help juvenile prisoners in Sierra Leone at the British Journal of Photography is a must read.

Moleres speaks of the incredible difficulty to raise money for his work – not his photography work, but his work to connect these children with their families (many of whom are unaware their children are incarcearated) and also his work to provide bail so as to “prevent the children seeing the walls of a jail in the first place.”

Moleres is clearly disillusioned by the lack of forthcoming support from groups he’d expect to be solid allies. Here’s some choose quotes that are a challenge to politicians and NGOs alike (my bolding):

“[In African prisons] you have more chances of dying in these prisons than anywhere else – you can die of diseases, malnutrition. Also, injustice is more flagrant than anywhere else. There are barely any lawyers, some detainees have spent years in prison without even going in front of a court. There is a deep injustice – deeper than in any other country such as Russia, India, Israel or the United States.”

“People don’t realise the extent of the injustice present in these prisons. They are forgotten by everyone. When I was asking for help to NGOs – the Red Cross, Médecins du Monde, etc. – no one, absolutely no one wanted to help me. Of course, I was there on my own initiative; so I didn’t have a project they could study, send to Europe for the green light, which would then be rescinded… There’s so much bureaucracy that in these cases it would just not be possible.”

“I’m the only one paying for all of this. I’m spending my own money. This exhibition, which is travelling around Spain at the moment, has received an award from the NGO Medecins du Monde. During the award ceremony, I asked them if they could help me finance this project. Their answer was no.

“I think it would be easy for an organisation to force Sierra Leone to do something. The United Nations, for example, would be the perfect organisation to do so. Talking about the United Nations, when I was in Sierra Leone, a representative from the organisation came to the prison to visit the detainees. I went with him. He talked with a few dealers, the guards, etc. But when other detainees came to see him to denounce the injustice of the entire system, his answer was: “I’m not here to solve your personal problems.” This man, whose name is Antonio Maria Costa [his official title is Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Vienna], has access to the country’s vice president and home affairs minister. He could have done something about it, but he chose not to.

Depressing stuff.

For my more general thoughts on Moleres’ work from Sierra Leone and other photographers who’ve documented juvenile detention in Africa see Fernando Moleres: ‘Merciless Justice’ from January, 2011.

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