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Sierra Leone News: “Hands off our girls” campaign kicks off

At the launch of “Hands off our girls” at the campaign at the Bintumani Conference Centre on Friday 14 December 2018, President Bio asked the question, “What kind of man would rape a five-year old child? He challenged the men in the audience… “Every man should stand up to help a woman and make them strong. Teenage pregnancy reduces a girl’s chances in life, often interfering with schooling, limiting opportunities, and placing girls at increased risk of child marriage, HIV infections and domestic violence. Adolescent girls should be in school working towards their dreams for the future, not married and raising families.” Sierra Leone has the 19th highest child marriage prevalence with 12.5% of women between 20-24 marrying before the age of 15 years. A shocking 38.9% of women marry before the age of 18 years. In terms of teen pregnancy, Sierra Leone has an appalling rate with 28% of girls between 15-19 bearing children. In 2016, 82.2% of teen mothers said they did not want to become pregnant as teenagers. Sierra Leone has banned pregnant girls from school and a shocking 29% of out-of-school girls were pregnant. “Those men that beat their wives must stop as they are not drums, treat them with respect. Men that use money to entice women are no better than rapists. There is no justification for gender violence at anytime. They deserve respect and they must be treated like the way we treat our mothers,” the President said. In her address, First Lady Fatima Bio said the overall goal of the four-year program is to reduce early marriage and teen pregnancy. Every speaker acknowledged the horrible situation that exists in the country when it comes to teen girls and young women. “The time is now for everybody to come on board to end this menace in our society.” She said HIV, AIDS, fistula are all affecting the girls that are sent into early marriage and become pregnant when her body is yet to mature. “We must be united in this fight and that is the reason why we have called all the Paramount Chiefs and their wives to come as they are the custodians of the laws and people. Sending your child into early marriage because of a few Leones is not right as that money can only last you for up to three months and it is finished and you have also destroyed the child’s future.” She called on the judiciary, the Police, the media and all other partners to join in the fight as it is one of the most dangerous acts that is affecting the human rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone. “We must not allow the bad people to win this fight as they are in the minority and we must make sure that the call of the president to lock up rapists for life must be supported by the Judiciary and Members of Parliament.” The CEO of Africell, Shadi Al-Gerjawi, said women are part of national development and they must work together with the men in building a strong nation, but when they are treated badly then the law must frown on them and punish them. “We at Africell want women and girls to be respected and free to decide their future.” It was the same message echoed by Mercury International Managing Director, Martin Michael, another of the major sponsors. Girls are not brides and they must be allowed to go to school and become president or first lady in Sierra Leone. UNFPA’S Executive Director, Natalia Kanem identifies child marriage as one of the key drivers of teenage pregnancies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, adolescent birth rates are highest where child marriage is most prevalent, and child marriages are generally more frequent where poverty is extreme; Girls in forced marriages have little say about whether or when they become pregnant. “Compared to other age groups, adolescents who are married have both the lowest use of contraception and the highest levels of unmet needs; Married girls between the ages of 10 and 14 and who are not in school have virtually no access to sexuality education, further increasing their vulnerability to pregnancy.” The First ladies of Liberia, Ghana, Niger, Chad and The Gambia delivered speeches echoing the same message of ending teenage pregnancy and early child marriage. They all made the commitments that they will support Fatima Bio’s cause and they are optimistic that she will have the continued support from institutions and the people of Sierra Leone to keep the girls safe at all times.

15/12/18

Monday December 17, 2018.

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