Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Gender and Children’s Affairs has assured the public that Parliament will on Thursday debate the reviewed Child Rights Bill and subsequently enact it into law so as to enhance the protection of the rights of children across the country.
The said bill was presented to Parliament in February 24,2023 and the Child Rights Coalition – Sierra Leone (CRC – SL),constituting various civil society organizations including Save the Children, Care Sierra Leone, among several others, had urged Members of Parliament to pass it into law before the dissolution of the Fifth Parliament on the 25th of April.
According to Hon.Katherine Z. Tarawally, chairperson of the committee in Parliament, the House places premium on the protection of the rights of children across the country and that come Thursday, April 13th, Parliament will conduct the third reading of the bill and thereafter passed it into law.
“We are very much particular about the rights of children and we take the reviewed child rights bill very seriously. We are going to do third reading of the bill on Thursday and pass it into law, God willing,” she assured.
Meanwhile, at a press conference held recently, the Child Rights Coalition commended the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs for presenting the Bill to Parliament on 24th February,2023.
They noted that 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.
In line with the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, Sierra Leone adopted and enacted the Child Rights Act in 2007, but the said Act, according to the Coalition, has some gaps that needed to be factored in the new bill.
If passed into law, the new bill will help strengthen the fight against child marriage as section 5 (1) provides that, ‘No person shall contract a marriage of whatever kind with a child or give consent to the marriage of a child.’
Section (5) further gives more powers to judiciary to prevent child marriage, providing that “Where a Judge is satisfied that a child marriage has been arranged or is about to be solemnized, the Judge shall issue an injunction against the adult contracting party, the parent, guardian or person having charge of the child and the person intending to officiate or conduct the child marriage.
Sexual relations with a child is prohibited under the Sexual Offences Act 2012 (as amended in 2019) and Sierra Leone has also pledged to End Child Marriage and had even drafted an Abolition of Early Marriage Bill, from which these provisions have been copied.
The new bill will expand the scope of the National Commission for Children (NCC) to cover the establishment of a child-friendly complaints mechanism, and assigning responsibilities to a child based on their age and ability.
In the area of protecting the rights of children who come in conflict with the law, the revised Child Rights Bill will help to improve the juvenile justice system in the country, as it makes provision for a diversion of certain cases to the juvenile court for the trail of child offenders.
Speaking recently at a press conference, National Coordinator of the Child Rights Coalition, Boi-Jenneh Jalloh said they pleased to see the Committee accept crucial recommendations that include diversion to provide alternative measures for young offenders that promote reform, adding that such will help to address the issue of juvenile justice in the country,” she maintained.
It is the view of many observers and rights activists that the bill, if passed into law, will enhance the rights of children across the country and enables them realise their potentials.