In Gbonkonka, information key to halting child abuse
“Before, I knew nothing about U-Report. I did not even know what the platform was and how it prevents abuse and promotes children’s rights. But now I know that when it comes to preventing child abuse, information and mobile technology are key. Today, we share free information about us and raise awareness on certain issues, community-led development and information sharing as well as advocate at a community level through our phones and by SMS,” says30-year-old Abass*.
Abass speaks in a slow, whispery voice as he recounts his short life. Abass and his wife, Kallay*, are just one of the many food insecure families that struggled to feed their children. For Abass, cooking three meals a day for his family of two was a near-impossible task. The family depended entirely on the income of Abass, a primary school teacher, to cover daily expenses.
With all these responsibilities, Abass was frustrated about the ever-increasing rate of child abuse in his village and was determined to change this: “My personal story inspired me to protect and prevent abuse in my community,” he told DCI-Sierra Leone. “I didn’t want any of my relatives or any child in this village to go through what I did.”Like many other children, growing up as a child in his impoverished neighbourhood, Abass had a difficult upbringing. He was a victim of regular bullying, intimidation and social exclusion and he began to think that “the strong wins and the weak loses.”
For Abass, his friends and many other young people in the Gbonkonka community, this had change. A friend told him about the UNICEF supported project, implemented by DCI-Sierra Leone in his village. Thanks to this new initiative, Abass was given a chance to “serve humanity,” as he describes it. He then became a reporter on U-Report – a platform of young and dedicated youths, including girls and young women, using information to transform lives.
As a leader, Abass and other 49 U-reporters use mobile technology to identify and report cases of abuse, violence and exploitation against children in the village. Additionally, they play a critical role in educating one another and fostering safe environments for discussions on topics otherwise deemed as taboo, like teenage pregnancy, education, early marriage, child FGM and sexual violence in schools and community.
U-Report is an innovative UNICEF project designed to collect information directly from young people regarding their living conditions or the respect of their rights. The innovation lies in the unique opportunity the access to mobile technology provides to promote development. From their mobile devices, young people in Gbonkonka, lead their community’s development, address social issues and make a better life for everyone.
“Each child feels their problems differently and U-Report gives everyone of them the possibility to give the answer they think is the best one. The platform is a completely free SMS system that gives voice to young people on issues that concern them,” says Abass.
In the last 12 months ,Abass and his group has identified, reported and jointly managed several child rights issues, and raised public and community awareness on key community development issues including on the Free Health Care Scheme, National Vaccination Programme and the Free Education Initiative and several child protection issues, in the community.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. As a victims of bulling, growing up in his village, Abass feels hopeful that with increased community awareness, strong community mechanisms, continued capacity building, and strong community solidarity, the Gbonkonka community will become a safer place for children.
“We consider U-Report as a new space created for them and allowing them to share an embarrassing situation for free. With U-Report we hope that in the future, no one will dare to deprive a child of his rights or that the fear of being exposed prevents them from doing it,” says Abass filled with hope.