On the occasion of the day of the African Child, Defence for Children International – Sierra Leone calls onto the government to accelerate efforts towards the full realisation of children’s rights in the country.
A CALL TO ACCELERATE EFFORTS TOWARDS THE PROTECTION AND EMPOWERMENT OF CHILDREN IN SIERRA LEONE
Freetown – 16 June 2017. As Africa celebrates today another Day of the African Child, Defence for Children International – Sierra Leone (DCI-SL) calls on the government of Sierra Leone to accelerate efforts towards the effective protection and empowerment of all children in Sierra Leone.
One of the key lessons learnt from the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals to ensure the rights and wellbeing of children is “that initial conditions influence the pace of progress a country can make on the global development agenda”.
Hence, without any solid foundation, any country will face serious challenges in achieving sustainable development. Children and youths constitute the most significant foundation of any nation. In this regard, DCI-SL wish to reiterate that the government of Sierra Leone needs to strengthen its efforts to fully address the conditions, root causes and vulnerabilities that make children prone to various forms of abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect, and must strive to create an enabling environment in which all children and youths are empowered and supported to reach their full potential.
By committing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the government of Sierra Leone sent a strong message that no one shall be left behind. Yet, DCI-SL remains concerned over the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals in Sierra Leone since many preconditions, including programmes and interventions by the government aiming to address underlying vulnerabilities and foster the empowerment of children, families and communities are still quite limited.
The continued presence of harmful gender norms, stereotypes and practices continue to fuel acts of gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and sexual violence in various settings, putting girls at risk of early pregnancy, physical and mental suffering, and potential social stigma. The perpetuation of all forms of discrimination and violence against children in all settings, and in particular those based on gender, will compromise the full and effective realization of SDG goal 4 on achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all and SDG goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
This is something that Sierra Leoneans do not wish to see happening.
Over the past six months, DCI-SL has provided social and legal support to over 300 child victims of violence, exploitation and neglect, and works with key stakeholders at community, district and national level to improve prevention and protection mechanisms for children.
A key lesson learnt from DCI-SL’s work with child victims is that children and youths, in particular girls and young women, need to be empowered through education and training, be supported to acquire the necessary skills to make informed decisions, and be able to live in an enabling and safe environment where they can take control over their own lives.
Now is the time to move from words to action and from rhetoric to reality.
DCI-SL is therefore calling on the government of Sierra Leone to give urgent consideration to the following:
- Finalize and adopt the National Child Welfare Policy and ensure that it is concertedly implemented by all ministries, departments and agencies concerned. Implementation of the Child Welfare Policy will streamline investment in families thereby reducing vulnerabilities of children and increasing their chances of survival and development.
- Remove all barriers that discriminate against certain categories of children from accessing education and other essential services; in particular implement the 2016 Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which urge the Sierra Leone government to ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are supported and assisted in continuing their education in mainstream schools.
- Harmonize national and customary law on child marriage to unconditionally prohibit marriage under 18 years of age, and make specific provisions for victims’ rehabilitation and reintegration. The human rights and best interests of girls’ victims or at risk of child, early and forced marriage, shall always be a primary consideration.
- Additionally, the government must consider increasing the age limit for compulsory education and take any other appropriate measures to discourage parents from removing their children from school for marriage or any other purposes.