By Alhaji Haruna Sani
After fully endorsing the Child Rights Bill, gazetted in November 2022, Child Rights Coalition – Sierra Leone (CRC – SL), has urges Members of Parliament to pass it into an Act before the dissolution of the Fifth Parliament on the 25th of this month.
The Coalition made the solemn call during a press conference they held on April 5 in the conference hall of Plan International Sierra Leone.
Giving an overview of the Child Rights Coalition Sierra Leone, Bobson Turay of Street Child Sierra Leone, said CRC-SL was formed in 2007 in preparation for the submission of the alternative report to the state report on the UNCRC, adding that the structure of the CRC SL constitutes a General Assembly and an Executive Committee (NEC).
He said CRC is a network of child protection organizations including care and human right ones that work for the good of all children in Sierra Leone, maintaining that the coalition works with child led organizations and child rights agencies in advancing the rights of children at community and national level.
Reading from a press release issued to newsmen during the conference, Boi-Jenneh Jalloh said the bill is an outcome of the review process of the Child Rights Act (CRA) 2007, which was initiated after the Child Rights Coalition, released the Report on the Assessment of the implementation of the CRA in 2019.
She went on to state that the Coalition recommended a review of the CRA based on the major gaps revealed in the content and implementation of the CRA. The Coalition participated in all the processes leading to the development of the Bill.
“We commend the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs for presenting the Bill to Parliament on 24th February 2023. The Coalition has worked closely with the National Commission for Children (NCC) and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone to engage the Legislative Committee and the Parliamentary Committee on Gender and Children’s Affairs,” she said.
The CRC Chairperson said key gaps were highlighted in the current provisions during parliamentary engagements and the ongoing Legislative Scrutiny of the Bill.
“We are pleased to see the Committees accept crucial recommendations that include Diversion to provide alternative measures for young offenders that promote reform. Such will help to address the issue of juvenile justice in the country,” she maintained.
She informed the meeting that 2017, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported that juvenile crime is a growing concern in the country, noting that in 2015, over 3,500 children (between the ages of 15 and 17) were in conflict with the law.
Madam Jalloh said the report also highlights the challenges in the juvenile justice system, including the lack of adequate facilities and resources.
Explaining further, she said the Committees accept expanding the scope of the NCC to cover the establishment of a child-friendly complaints mechanism, and assigning responsibilities to a child based on their age and ability.
“With 39% of girls in Sierra Leone married before the age of 18, and 13% married before the age of 15, we are particularly pleased that the Committees have committed to expanding the Section in the Bill on Child Marriage into a Chapter that extensively provides for the Prohibition of Child Marriage,” she stated.
Key contributions regarding the importance of passing the bill into an Act were made Manaff Kemokai, who speaks on the treatment of young offenders, Victoria Squire speaks on the prohibition of child marriage and Mamoud Barrie, President of the Children Forum Network speaks on the responsibility of both parents and children.