Njundu Drammeh

President Adama Barrow of the Gambia has come under fire for rewarding a Norwegian paedophile who was serving time for fiddling six Gambian children with an early release.

Svein Åge Sandåker was given a three-year jail term and ordered to pay a D600,000 fine in 2012 for abusing six children, the youngest victim was about three years at the time. His jail term was extended to another three-years following his inability to pay the court fine.

However, early this week, the president shocked the nation by given him an early release as part of events marking the Muslim feast of Eid ul- adha.

Reacting the news, Mr Drammeh, coordinator of the Gambia’s Child Protection Alliance and a regular social commentator on JollofNews, questioned why dishonorable man with disreputable character whose only deserved place is in the hottest places of hell was included among the list of people granted a presidential pardon.

In an open letter to the president titled The Gambia where flowers bleed blood, Mr Drammeh wrote: “From a Press Release dated 20th instant issued by the Ministry of Justice on prisoners who have enjoyed the prerogative of mercy, it is realised that one of them who is a Norwegian, Svein Åge Sandåker, is a convicted paedophile. He was found guilty of abusing about 6 children, the youngest victim was about 3 years at the time. Reports have it that Sandaker was previously convicted in Norway twice for sexually abusing minors and also had an incestuous relationship with his own son for which he was convicted in 2006.

In 2012, Sandaker was convicted to 3 years imprisonment and fined D600,000 in default to serve another 3 years. He was supposed to have completed his term in 2015, if he had paid the fine as well. I guess he wasn’t released upon the completion of his 3 year jail term because he could not pay the fine. If that is the case, then Sandaker is due for release this year, in 2018. The granting of presidential pardon to a man whose sentence is or about to be finished beats all logic, all common sense. Without questioning the wisdom of a presidential “largess” like the prerogative of mercy, and some convicts will deserve it nonetheless, Mr. Sandaker is undeserving of any mercy, from man or God.

Why and how Mr. Sandaker’s name made it into the list of those blessed with your mercy, such a dishonorable man wirh disreputable character whose only deserved place is in the hottest places of hell is indeed mind boggling? Is he “forgiven” through the prerogative of mercy or is going to be “handed over” to Norwegian authorities to answer to other alleged crimes committed against children in Norway, as seems to be the new story from the Ministry of Justice? If the latter reason is actually Sandaker’s true state of affairs, then why did his name find itself on the list of those who have the mercy of the President?

Have the Norwegian authorities been notified of Sandaker’s release from prison? Are they informed that our Government intends to “hand over” Sandaker to them, to face any possible charge that may be hanging over his head? Has Norway made any formal request to The Gambia regarding Sandaker’s alleged offences against children in Norway? Is there any extradition treaty between The Gambia and Norway, especially with regards to crimes of sexual nature against children? Norway does have extraterritorial jurisdiction over such crimes but that would have come in handy if Sandaker had eluded arrest and fled to Norway?

President Adama Barrow

Sexual abuse and exploitation have debilitating, long term effects on their victims. The road to recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration can be long, arduous and expensive. Knowing our child protection services and their difficulties, I doubt if these victims or survivors received the adequate psychosocial support necessary to aid their recovery. I doubt too if they receive any compensation from the perpetrator or the State. If Sandaker’s fine was supposed to contribute towards the compensation, that hope was squashed in 2015 when it was apparent Sandaker won’t be able to pay the fine. The onus is now on the State to ensure the victims are adequately supported for their recovery. It cannot betray this obligation.

This particular case of Sandaker, and few others I learned about, showed monumental gaps in our child protection system, especially our law enforcement and cooperation with Interpol and law enforcement agencies of other countries. How did a convicted paedophile from Norway enter the Gambia? Was information shared about him from Interpol or the Norwegian authorities to our? If yes, why was he allowed to enter the Gambia? If no, we need to up our games.

I learned though that it was the Norwegian authorities who tipped ours about Sandaker’s lascivious ways with minors. The poor communication, coordination and information sharing tell me that many other convicted paedophiles have made their way into the Gambia. Some of them, like Sandaker, moved into communities, bought property, made themselves philanthropists and disappeared in the crowd. Through their sophisticated grooming processes and glib personalities, they buy everyone’s silence. The trusting, gullible Gambian is the easy target.

Child Sex Tourism is a reality in The Gambia. While tourism is not solely responsible, sex tourists use tourism facilities, from home country to destination, to abuse children. We have done research in 2003 and 2013 which prove the existence and have been working with the Gambia Tourism Board to fight the menace. Anecdotal evidence show that child sex tourists avoid the hotels and move into our communities now which give them easy access to children.

The Government needs to come out and categorically denounce child sex tourism in The Gambia. It is promoting Destination Gambia but sidestepping the issue of Child Sex Tourism. Admitting its existence is half the solution. If we do not, it will come to destroy our name and reputation as a tourism destinatiom. Good tourists, who form the majority, will turn their back on us and we may never be able to regain our good name. A stitch in time saves nine.

While paedophiles should be shut off our country, the other bigger threat to our children are Gambians and others living in The Gambi who use their positions, power, authority, trust to sexually abuse and exploit. They often get shielded by those who are supposed to act on behalf of the victims. Even when they get arrested, they walk free the next day. If they make it to court, the cases are often thrown out or they get away with lighter sentence for lack of foolproof evidence. The poor victim is left unattended, uncared for, unsupported, without the necessary psychosocial care. She or he becomes a mere cog.

Mark Twain has advised us to look towards the future because that is where we are going to live our lives in. Unfortunately, the future is not what it is supposed to be. Lurked in the present are child sexual molesters and paedophiles who are bent on making that future terrible and horrific for our children, our future. They live in every society and country and groom families, children and even authorities to carry out their nefarious acts with children.

We can do more for our children; we have no excuse not to protect them from abuse and exploitation. The victim demands our support and understanding and justice. The perpetrator deserves our collective condemnation and damnation in hell.”