Sierra Leone joins other countries to launch AU campaign to end Child Marriage
Child Marriage is a longstanding issue in Sierra Leone and has been identified as one of the factors responsible for the under development of the country. But most of all it has coshed the lives of its victims, the girl children. Many families, especially the uneducated ones believe girls are only good to be sent into marriage, while allowing the boys to go to school. Shockingly this this belief seems to be an accepted standard as described by Mariatu Jalloh, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s affairs. “We are discussing a tradition that is embedded in the custom of our people”. Recent studies in Sierra Leone by UNICEF shows that over 10% of girls are married before age 15 and over 30% are married before age 18. The Ebola outbreak disrupted the interventions of Government to reduce child marriage and teenage pregnancy, though the outbreak has ended, teenage pregnancy and child marriage still remain a challenge in the country.
Child marriage has cost Sierra Leone and other African countries so much to the extent that we can no longer afford to continue with it. Thus it is about time to put a definite end to it. "The cost of Child marriage is high and we cannot afford it. Child marriage compromises a girl’s development, interrupts her schooling, limits her career, provides the opportunity for teenage pregnancy to occur, and exposes her to the risks of fistula, HIV/AIDS and STDs, domestic violence, emotional and psychological stress and trauma”, says the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, He Excellency, Madam Sia Nyama Koroma.
On Wednesday, 17 August, Sierra Leone joined 14 other African countries to launch the AU Campaign to ‘End Child Marriage’ in the country. The theme of the campaign was “End Child Marriage for Sustainable Development in Sierra Leone”. The Office of the First Lady in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Save the Children, UNICEF, Plan International and other partners with support from the African Union (AU) jointly organized the launching event. It was such a national coordinated effort that brought together all sectors of the society to achieve a common objective – end child marriage in Sierra Leone.
Leading up to the launch event, Save the Children and other International NGOs organized summit for children in all the four regions in Sierra Leone. The purpose of the summit was to create a platform for the children not only to add their voices but also to take a centre stage in the entire process. As such, children were able to bring out issues related to child marriage in their respective communities. The issues were translated in different modes of communication including speeches, poems, drawings, drama and songs. From the regional summit the children also developed their position paper titled: CHILDREN’S VOICES MATTER which was read by Kadijatu Jalloh from Kambia District.
A day before the launch event organizers also held a tea break meeting together with key stakeholders including Government Ministers, AU Team, Donor community, local authorities and the children from the four regions in Sierra Leone. In the meeting several stakeholders spoke positively and made commitments in ending child marriage in Sierra Leone. One key recommendation to help succeed in the campaign was the need for education for the girl child. It was another ideal meeting that actually helped built momentum to the campaign.
The AU Campaign to End Child Marriage was launched at the continental level in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 29 May, 2014, during the Conference of Ministers of Social Development. The Campaign is aimed at ending child marriage by means of supporting and advocating legal and policy actions in the protection and promotion of human rights; mobilizing continental awareness of the adverse socio-economic impact of child marriage; fostering social movement and social mobilization at the grassroots and national levels; and amplifying the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence based policy advocacy including the role of youth leadership through new media technology, monitoring and evaluation - amongst others. Save the Children in Sierra Leone is keen on working with the First Lady and her office to ensure how the End Child Marriage can be linked with our Every Last Child Campaign focus, ‘Child Mothers’ and achieve a better result since the two campaigns are interconnected.