The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in their 8th regional summit on child protection now have a new focus on development and issues of topical concern on child trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the UNICEF representative Geert Cappelaere stated that in June when the first one was held, it was under the conditions of political and civil unrest in countries in the sub- region. The first four summits were on reviewing the progress of inter- agency co-ordination and collaboration for the protection of children affected by armed conflict.
The UNICEF representative further disclosed that while security and peace have become prominent, child protection still remain an area of concern adding that the change is they are no longer addressing emergency related issues which was emanating from armed conflict but rather the new focus will be within a development context.
The context Mr Cappelaere maintained is going to be child trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation and also child labour as they are the top most priority on the agenda.
All these problems he stressed are associated with the lack of limited health, education and protection services for children residing in border communities.
The hosting of this 8th sub-regional cross border summit the UNICEF representative said is important for Sierra Leone as a pointer that the country is doing fairly well
In launching the summit the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs Haja Musu Kandeh recalled the strides her ministry has made over the past year in tracing and unifying children with their parents.
She said that after the end of the war a total of 4,525 separated children were unified with their families but that 5,498 parents were put in tracing and reunification and before 2002 these children had been found and reunified with their parents. 4,640 children could not be traced and so they assumed that these children had died.
In 2007 the Child Protection Act was passed in parliament and this Act is in its implementation stage. “This is a sign of the government’s commitment to fulfilling these protection rights that are important.”
She added that government recognizes the importance of ensuring the right of children in post war countries especially within the context of international agreements reached with other nations of the world before the conflict.” Haja Musu Kandeh disclosed that since 2004, a lot of agencies that are concerned with child protection in the Mano River Union together with Ivory Coast have been developing a common vision which is to reinforce protection for children crossing the borders and so they have harmonised policies and procedures across key protection programme areas.
The minister stressed that peace has returned to the sub- region and there is every need to reassess the purpose of sub-regional initiative and to redefine roles and responsibilities in a sustainable way. Making a statement on behalf of Save the Children Sierra Leone country Director Dienebe Vandere Wijh said that the children in the country and the sub- region are very important and that since the agenda for the summit has changed the protection of a child is very crucial which all of them need to work on. She added that care, exploitation, abuse and trafficking are all the issues “when we talk about child protection.” Therefore he noted they should be interested in developing the policy level as this policy level sets the framework for child protection.”
The country director averred that building the community, NGO’s and government can always be used to set the framework although it is not an easy job.
She cited the high price of food now in the international market as a hindrance towards child protection. She called on all to reflect and push forward for the protection of children.