She informed her audience that the problem of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy are rooted in gender inequality, poverty, reproductive health education and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents.
The Social Welfare Minister reminded all that child marriage and teenage pregnancy are two sides of the same coin recognized as a social problem in Sierra Leone as they both involve girls having sex before the age of 18, noting that marriage should be between man and woman and not boys and girls or man and girls.
She told the gathering that the Child Rights Act of 2007 and the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 makes it an offence to have sex with a girl below age 18, adding that there are clear health risks in early marriage and teenage pregnancy as the body is too young and not ready.
Madam Dassama reiterated that to address the problem, the Law Reforms Commission has drafted the Abolition of Child Marriage Bill 2018 to harmonize the age of marriage for all types of marriage in Sierra Leone and reminded all that the best institution for children is the school and not marriage. She called on traditional and religious leaders to serve as moral guarantors for the protection of women and girls in their Communities and the country as a whole.
Programme Specialist, UN Women, Baindu Massaquoi said as a UN Agency they believed that the strategy can make a difference to the lives of girls and women, as well as men and boys in Sierra Leone.
She disclosed that one of the Sustainable Development Goals priority is to bring an end to gender inequality worldwide. This, she said can be done in a number of ways including assisting with policy discussions and implementation at government level, enhancing public awareness on gender inequalities, and by providing funding to projects they believed.
Madam Massaquoi noted that girls at a tender age are often forced to shoulder household and economic responsibilities and take on roles as wives and mothers and are denied their rights to education and health services.
She reiterated that the recently launched National Development Plan 2019 -2023 places the girl child and adolescents high and is committed to the survival, protection and development of women and girls, and states that child marriage and teenage pregnancy are some of the most pressing issues facing girls in Sierra Leone.
The UN Women Programme Specialist furthered that the development of an adolescent pregnancy and ending child marriage strategy that recognizes these issues are inextricably linked, and therefore addresses the two issues jointly as a major achievement for Sierra Leone.
The Director of Reproductive and Child Health, Dr. Sartie Kenneh speaking on behalf of the Health Minister said the effect of teenage pregnancy and adolescent marriage is as a result of societal problems.
He told the gathering that as they may be aware the population of Sierra Leone is growing and because of that the dependency on the few elderly is so much to an extent that they entrench poverty.
Dr. Kenneh stated that the society trend leads to teenage and adolescent girls having a lot of unwanted pregnancies and having unwanted children, adding that in the future they will be producing lot of street boys and girls and poverty will be entrenched in their communities. He added that there is need to change that dynamics and one of the key factors is the adolescent pregnancies in which children that should not get pregnant are getting pregnant.
The Chairman Council of Paramount Chiefs, Hon. P.C Sheku Amadu Tejan Fasuluku-Sonsiama lll noted that the issue of teenage pregnancy and adolescent marriage has become a global issue.
He informed all that he recently attended the last African meeting in Addis Ababa where an organization was formed called the Council of Traditional Authority in Africa, pointing out that one of their main functions is to make sure early marriage and teenage pregnancy came to an end by 2023.
The Chairman Council of Paramount Chiefs maintained that as Paramount Chiefs, one of their responsibilities is to ensure law and order in their various chiefdoms, adding that there is no excuse if any Paramount Chief violates the Sexual Offences Act as nobody is above the law.
Giving a presentation of the Strategy, the National Coordinator, National Secretariat for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage, Mrs. Patricia Bah said the National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage 2018-2022 was developed to guide the prioritization of all evidence-based adolescent pregnancy and child marriage reduction interventions in the country during the period under review.
She said the overall goal of the strategy is to reduce the adolescent fertility rate to 74 per 1, 000, and the percentage of women aged 20-24 years who were first married or in union before the age of 18-25 percent by 2022.
Mrs. Patricia Bah informed her audience that maternal death is the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19, adding that teenage pregnancy contributes to the increased Fistula cases among the women, and also contribute to the high incidence of neonatal and infant mortality.
She reiterated that early pregnancy and child marriage are among the highest causes of adolescent girls dropping out of school, stating that married adolescent are at risk of early pregnancy, domestic violence, sexually transmitted infections, depression among others.
The Chief Education Officer, Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr. Alhaji Mohamed Kamara disclosed that nearly 46 percent of deaths among adolescent girls are due to maternal causes and 15 percent of the girls are sexually active by age 15 years.
He explained that statistics has shown that only six in every ten-58.3 percent of the girls make the transition from Primary to Junior Secondary School for reasons of pregnancy.
Highlights of the events include statement by the Resident Minister, East, Andrew Fatorma, His Worship the Mayor of Kenema, Mr. Thomas Baio, and Fatmata Jakka Jalloh from Children Forum Network (CFN).