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Statement by Ambassador Peter Versteeg, Head of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Sierra Leone on the occasion of the  Celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child

Freetown, 12 October 2015

It is a great honour for the European Union to accompany the representatives of the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology and Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in collaboration with the Office of the Wife of the Vice President of Sierra Leone in this celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child. It is also very gratifying to share this platform with colleagues from UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, UNFPA and ActionAid, all of whom are partners that the EU collaborates with in implementing a variety of project activities focussed on gender, children, education, and health and community development.

The European Union reaffirms its commitment to promoting and supporting the realisation of children’s rights in all countries around the world, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its Optional Protocols as well as the realisation of women’s rights in line with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Within this context the EU has pledged to strive for the prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriage, which is recognized as both harmful and a denial of human rights. Young married girls are vulnerable to abuse and violation of their human rights. CEDAW and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Committee have stressed that the minimum age for marriage should be 18 years for both girls and boys. Althoughthe Sierra Leone Child Rights Act of 2007 prohibits marriages for children under the age of 18, a survey from 2010 shows that 51per cent of women in the country marry before they reach that age. Early pregnancies are one of the most dangerous consequences of child marriage, leading to an increased risk of obstetric complications. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 to 19 in many developing countries. Child marriage usually leads to girls dropping out of school without acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills, curtailing their opportunities for economic independence and empowerment.The effects of girls dropping out of school extend into future generations. Pregnant girls and young mothers should have access to continuing education.

The EU has been an important provider of support to the health sector in Sierra Leone with a focus on community health provision and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5 addressing maternal and child mortality via UNICEF. Similarly the EU has given support to a variety of initiatives focussing on preventing violence against children, strengthening rights of women and girls and protecting and promoting children’s rights implemented by civil society organisations that are well placed to work hand in hand with government. These themes will continue to be key objectives of future civil society calls for project proposals. It is also my pleasure to announce that a major programme in support of the education sector, which will also include activities to improve the access of girls to junior secondary education, is set to be presented for approval to the European Development Fund Committee in order to begin delivery in 2016 as a key component of the Agenda for Prosperity.

In conclusion, I thank all present for giving the EU the opportunity to be part of this initiative and wish the Advocacy project on Enhanced Completion of Schooling for all Vulnerable Girls every success.

Thank you.

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