Ministers of Government
Honourable Members of Parliament
African Union Delegates
United Nations Agencies
Our Development and Child Protection Partners
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, I feel honoured to be with you today in joining the entire African Continent to Launch “The Campaign to end Child Marriage” in Sierra Leone. Our girls have always been a priority to us and child marriage is a harmful practice that severely affects the right of a child and further deprives the child from attaining other aspirations like education.
Let me commence my address by extending my sincere gratitude to the African Union for the launching of this campaign in Sierra Leone and thus reminding us of our firm commitment in ensuring the protection of girls and to put an end to the practice of child marriage in this country. My profound thanks also go to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Child Protection Partners for effectively coordinating the launching of this event.
In November, 2015, the African Union had the privilege to host the first African Girls Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa, in Lusaka, Zambia. Governments of different countries identified ongoing challenges, shared evidences and best practices, and renewed their commitment to end child marriage and other harmful practices in Africa in furtherance of the Africa Common Position on Ending Child Marriage in Africa.
In light of this, political leaders, civil society and the donor community have increasingly acknowledged the need to tackle child marriage in Africa and a number of African governments are now developing national strategies to put an end to the practice. Civil society organisations as well as hundreds of African grassroots organisations are mobilising, sharing knowledge and best practice and working together on joint programmes and advocacy initiatives to address the practice. Child marriage has finally been recognised by the African Union and many African governments. In addition to some regional campaigns to put an end to child marriage and the increasing number of national initiatives, more African leaders are now committing themselves to end the practice. It is now time for us to walk the talk and translate these declarations into actions.
Therefore, the launching of the event in Sierra Leone is very important and timely owing to the fact this practice is still happening in our country and to show case, as a country, our unique commitment and the efforts we have made so far to end the practice. I am particularly glad that we have here present several stakeholders from both central and local government, development partners including child protection non-governmental organisations. More importantly, the children themselves are here with us.
Like other campaigns, this launching has been designed to ensure that we address the issues that have led to this harmful practice and inspire confidence in the parents and children of Government’s commitment and support in making sure that children grow to attain their fullest potentials.
Child Marriage is a human right violation which impedes the development of girls everywhere. It places children at risk of multiple deprivations and it constitutes an obstacle to the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals.
The national theme of the 2015 “Day of the African Child” commemoration was “End Child Marriage in Sierra Leone”. At that ceremony, Government made a firm commitment to put an end to the practice of Child Marriage in the country. We renew this commitment again today and we shall consolidate our fight to ensure children of this country grow to attain their fullest potentials. Government will encourage everyone especially girls, parents, families, traditional and religious leaders and stakeholders in Sierra Leone put an end to this practice.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, President Ernest Bai Koroma has made commitment to address of these social vices in this country. The establishment of the Teenage Pregnancy Secretariat and reviewing of the National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy are some of the steps in this direction. The increased incidence of teenage pregnancy and child marriage are a concern to government. We appeal everyone to work together to protect the children of this country. Available statistics indicate that 16% of Sierra Leonean children get married before the age of 15 years and 58% get married before the age of 18 years. This scenario must end.
His Excellency President Koroma’s government has prioritized issues of women and children. The Agenda for Prosperity has a pillar on social protection through which child protection issues and concerns are appropriately addressed. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, Sierra Leone is making progress in ensuring the protection and dignity of the girl child. Through the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Government has adopted a robust Child Welfare Policy that will help strengthen the child protection system.
With the introduction and enforcement of free and compulsory primary and basic education, government expects Sierra Leone to achieve Universal Education which is an important milestone in our social and economic development efforts.
As a testament of President Koroma’s government commitment and concern for upholding the fundamental rights of the child, government passed into law the Child Rights Act 2007 which seeks to preserve the self-esteem, dignity and respect of all children. The Registration of customary Marriage and Divorce Act also criminalized child marriage in the country.
The efforts of the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs alone will not address all child related issues. With this consideration, Government has established the National Commission for Children to complement the efforts of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Children’s Affairs. With these efforts, the children of this country will enjoy a brighter future and contribute meaningfully to the social and economic development of Sierra Leone.
Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, for and on behalf of His Excellency the President, I hereby officially launch the campaign to end Child Marriage in Sierra Leone