By Alhaji Haruna Sani
Children from across Sierra Leone have asked government to give them every opportunity to reach their full potentials in life, which according to them, is only possible when they are given the prospect to learn, be protected and are able to participate in society.
Teenagers made the request during the official closing of ‘My Body. My Decision. My Rights’ project (implemented in Kailahun and Western Area Rural) which was held at the Freetown International Conference Center (Bintumani Hotel) in Freetown.
The closure of the project which was implemented by Save the Children with support from Global Affairs Canada was followed by a summit that was organised on Tuesday from which a communique was drafted by adolescent from across the country.
While reading from the communique developed by adolescent, Zainab S Kanu, a teenager beneficiary from Waterloo said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aims at a fairer world by 2030. She said the goals are a call for urgent action for development by all countries.
“To ensure that we become the future leaders that will contribute to developing this nation, we are asking government to empower communities and farmers through agricultural education and strengthen agricultural systems to increase food on the market; improve access to health care especially sexual reproductive health and mental health for adolescents among other things,” she demanded.
She said they also want government to put policies in place to ensure access to clean water and good sanitation for all and finally, promote justice that is free, fair, and accessible to all for a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development.
“As adolescents, we believe that Sierra Leone can be a prosperous nation when we address five of the 17 SDGs for children; namely, Zero Hunger (SDG2); Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG3); Quality Education (SDG5); Gender Equality (SDG6); Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG16); and Peace, Justice and Strong Institution SDG16),” she read.
Speaking on the issues that affect them, Kanu said they are currently facing many challenges which include hunger, because of poverty, reduced farming and an increase in the prices of commodities, increased risk of sicknesses and diseases because of poor environmental sanitation, poor quality education and the risk of girls drooping out of school because of the level of bribery and corruption in the education system as well as sexual harassment girls face in school daily.
She said children are also affected by gender discrimination where girls have limited access to employment when they enter the job market.
“Furthermore, we do not have access to clean pipe borne water or good sanitation facilities at home and or in communities and there is no justice for the most vulnerable children (girls) who are often left to suffer in silence from rape or other serious violations,” she said.
Child marriage is a serious violation of human rights and a form of gender-based violence that affects about 12 million girls around the world. In response, Save the Children implemented a three-year project “My body. My Decision. My Rights: Reducing Children Early Forced Marriage in two districts with historically high rates of child marriage; Western Area Rural and Kailahun District.
In her remark earlier on, Modupe Taiwo, Project Manager said the project which funded by Global Affairs Canada, aims to reduce child marriage and empower adolescents girls.
She went on to state that with a gender-transformative and girls’ empowerment approach, the project was able to engage other stakeholders (parents, male partners, government officials) who have control or influence over girls’ ability to their own informed decisions about marriage and pregnancy.
Charles Vandi, Deputy Chief Director, Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs emphasised on the importance of the project to the government of Sierra Leone.
He said during the project they conducted a survey and it was discovered that the project has significantly impacted the people of Kailahun both directly and indirectly, noting that there has been a sharp drop in gender-based violence, early child marriage and teenage pregnancy in the district.
Director Vandi promised that his ministry will canvass parliament to pass into law the Child Rights Act. He concluded by pleading for the continuity of the project.
Chairman, Kailahun District Council said Save the Children and it sponsors never made a mistake to implement the CEFM Project in Kailahun District. “Kailahun is strategic location for the implementation of such project because the district is an entry point to from both Guinea and Liberia,” he said.
He praised the distinct way in which Save the Children implemented the project. “Such a project should not be limited to Kailahun and the Western Area Rural districts alone; it should be cascaded to other districts,” he added.
From the Western Area Rural District, Chief Bethembeng said unlike Kailahun which is homogenious society, Western Area Rural is a heterogeneous society, therefore making it difficult to implement such project, he said but that notwithstanding, the project was successfully implemented , “a toll free line was established to report all matters against teenagers,” he said.
He furthered that teenage pregnancy has drastically reduced as compare to prior to the implementation of the project. “Maternal Mortality rate, gender-based violence, and early marriage have all significantly dropped and gender equality is awareness is high”.
Other key speakers included representatives from Burkina Faso where the same CEFM project is implemented, Patrick Analo of Save the Children Sierra Leone, Doris Mansaray of the District Advisory Committee Chair Person in Kailahun, Paramount Chief Taaka Baior of Pejeh Bongre Chiefdom in Kailahun emphasised on the relevance of the project and the need for its continuity and sustainability.