‘Let girls be girls, not wives or mothers’- Girl champion cries
SIERRA LEONE, Freetown: Adama (real name withheld), a Save the Children Girl Champion, has called for Sierra Leonean customs and traditions that push girls into early marriages to be changed to allow girls to be girls rather than wives or mothers.
The girl champion described her horrifying experiences as a child bride, saying she was married off at the age of 14 and by the age of 16 she had already given birth to two children, which had a significant impact on her physical condition.
She also had to deal with a lot of issues at home, such as child labour and abuse, because she was the third wife with two mates living together.
Adama stated that she was secluded and was not permitted to interact with her classmates, and that her husband would not even permit her to interact with her father because he had already paid her bride price.
She recounted how coming out of that toxic relationship, she was able to now become a girl champion, thanks to the support of Save the Children, because of her determination, she has returned to school, and she is now in senior secondary school, and her dream is to become a journalist, because she believes she has a lot of work to do fighting for the rights of girls who have gone through, or are going through, similar experiences as she did.
Ramatu Jalloh Advocacy and Communication Director with Save the Children, explained that there are several factors responsible for child marriage in Sierra Leone “usually the first thing that most people speak about when it comes to child marriage is poverty.”
“We know that poverty is a blanket for a lot of issues, and we know that yes, poverty is one contributor, but I would say that even the social norms in our communities and in our society are contributing to this harmful practice. For example in the districts in Pujehun, we know that if a girl child get to puberty, she is initiated and the automatic expectation is, once she’s initiated, she’s now a woman, and therefore ready for marriage, so she doesn’t have a choice, even if that girl child wants to continue her education that is no longer the case…”
She said some in communities, there’s the assumption that once the girl child reaches puberty, she knows about sex so “the fear is instead of bringing pregnancy into the home to smear or create shame for the family name let her get married, and that’s also one of the issues that our girls face.”
Ramatu said “for us, what we’re trying to do is really also engage the stakeholders and the communities to understand what the impacts are of child marriage on girls, but also engage the parents, hence we’re having engagements with the parents, we are also having inter-generational discussions between the parents, the children and the stakeholders, for them to speak and understand these issues.”
She also added that Save the Children have been engaging the Ministry of Gender, “we work very closely with the teenage pregnancy Secretariat and the harmonisation of the law has been one of the key things that we’ve been working on for a number of years now in terms of our recent engagements with the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, we understand that the Child Rights Act is under review.”
Ramatu said the review has taken place, and the next step now is really having this tabled in Parliament for it to become the law, or a bill. Adding that, the Minister of Gender is also pushing for the age of consent to marriage should be at least the age of 18. “The idea within the Child Rights Act is hopefully all of the issues around the customary law and the actual national law over the age of consenting, 18 should be harmonised and it will be the case that 18 is a blanket rule below the age of 18, it will be illegal.”
At the International Day of the Girl Child, 40 champions, boys and girls from communities in the western and rural areas had a zoom meeting with Save the Children executive officer currently based in Burkina Faso, to discuss child marriage, the negative impact of child marriage, particularly in the region, and also to hear their voices on what they’ve been doing with regards to child marriage, and what recommendations or suggestions they would have.
Save the children works in western area, urban and rural. Their main area of focus is child marriage, and sexual reproductive health rights. They have been able to establish girl champions in Pujehun and Kailahun, and have got champions with boys and girls in the western area. OG/13/10/2021
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