Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – Children from across Sierra Leone have united to demand a brighter and more just future for themselves and their nation. Speaking at the closing ceremony of the ‘My Body. My Decision. My Rights’ project, implemented in Kailahun and Western Area Rural with support from Global Affairs Canada, they made impassioned pleas for better opportunities, protection, and active participation in society.
The project, spearheaded by Save the Children, concluded with a summit at the Freetown International Conference Centre, Bintumani Hotel, where children from diverse backgrounds drafted a communique to convey their concerns and aspirations.
Zainab S. Kanu, one of the participants from Waterloo, voiced their collective message. She stressed the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in creating a fairer world by 2030, highlighting that these goals call for urgent development action from all nations. She requested the government’s support in several key areas.
The children urged the government to empower communities and farmers through agricultural education, strengthen agricultural systems to increase food availability, improve access to healthcare, especially sexual reproductive health and mental health for adolescents, and ensure access to clean water and proper sanitation for all. They also called for the promotion of justice that is free, fair, and accessible to all, fostering a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development.
The challenges facing Sierra Leonean children were laid bare by Kanu. These include hunger due to poverty, reduced farming, and rising commodity prices, increased health risks due to poor environmental sanitation, inadequate education quality, and the risk of girls dropping out of school due to bribery and corruption in the education system, as well as daily sexual harassment faced by girls.
Gender discrimination was also highlighted, with girls facing limited employment opportunities when they enter the job market. Furthermore, access to clean water and sanitation facilities remains limited, and vulnerable children, particularly girls, often suffer in silence from rape and other serious violations.
Child marriage, a severe violation of human rights and a form of gender-based violence affecting millions of girls worldwide, was a focal point of the project. Save the Children successfully implemented the aforesaid project, aimed at reducing child marriage and empowering adolescent girls.
Modupe Taiwo, Project Manager, emphasized the project’s transformative approach which is linked to the constant engagement with stakeholders including parents and government officials to empower girls to make informed decisions about marriage and pregnancy.
The Deputy Chief Director of the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Charles Vandi, highlighted the project’s significant impact on Kailahun, leading to a sharp drop in gender-based violence, early child marriage, and teenage pregnancy. Appealing for the project’s continuity, Vandi pledged to advocate for the passage of the Child Rights Act into law.
Representatives from Burkina Faso, where a similar project was implemented, and other key stakeholders echoed the importance of the project and the need for its continued success and sustainability.
These children have spoken out, demanding a brighter and more equitable future. It is up to the leaders and the international community to heed their call and work towards realizing their aspirations. PSN/3/10/2023