Young champions hold consultative meeting on Gender and Power Anaylsis research on child marriage.

Thursday 9 March 2023

One of the female champions making a statement during the consultative meeting in Bo district. March 2023. Photo Credit, SCI

6 March, Bo District

13 young champions from Community Action Groups (CAG) in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, have called on government and district stakeholders to act against child marriage and teenage pregnancy. The champions, who are part of a program run by Save the Children, held a consultative meeting to present findings from a Gender and Power Analysis research report.

The report highlights unequal power relations and systems that perpetuate gender inequality and social injustices, including laws, policies, and social norms.

Sierra Leone ranks 18th in the world for child marriage prevalence, with over 50% of girls aged 15 to 19 in Kailahun District having been pregnant or given birth in 2016. The champions urged stakeholders to commit to actions that will address social norms contributing to teenage pregnancy and child marriage in their communities.

The report also provides recommendations for the development of a Gender Strategy for addressing child marriage in Sierra Leone. One key recommendation is for a distinct budget line for ECM (Ending Child Marriage), with sufficient funding for the creation, dissemination, and enforcement of community regulations to prevent child marriage at the local level. The report also calls on the Kailahun District Council to guarantee sufficient budget lines for Child Welfare.

The report highlights the complex and conflicting nature of the Sierra Leone legislature with regard to child marriage. While the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act (2009) sets the age for marriage at 18, it also allows for the marriage of 16-year-old girls and boys with parental consent. The report also notes that the National Secretariat for The Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy and The National Commission for Children have no presence in Kailahun.

The report reveals that some cultural norms and practices in Kailahun consider a child fit for marriage once they start menstruation or have undergone some traditional initiation. Informal cultural procedures often pressure girls to marry perpetrators to avoid shame. The report also highlights the gender gap in education, with boys four times more likely to complete secondary school than girls.

 With 30% of Sierra Leonean women marrying before the age of 18 and 9% before 15, urgent action is needed to end child marriage in the country. The young champions from the CAG program are leading the way in advocating for change and are calling on stakeholders to commit to concrete actions to end child marriage and protect the rights of children in Sierra Leone.