By Mustapha Sesay
The Girl Child is a precious jewel that must be protected and cared for at all stages in life
despite the challenges parents continue to undergo. In our communities and educational institutions, the external factors created by these two institutions are sometimes very detrimental to the fate of the girl child.
It is on this note that parents, Heads of school, Non Governmental Organisations, working in their interest and the various line ministries, must collaborate to promote and protect the education of the Girl Child.
There are a lot of examples in our society today of victims, that have stood to the test of time and have gone through their educational pursuit. Today, many are not only role models, but are advocating for the rights of the Girl Child.
It is unfortunate to note that while the perpetuators march freely, the girls continue to suffer both at home and from the society. Education for All (EFA) and the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report states that girls constitute 54% of out of school children.
It was in the backdrop that a delegation of women and girls made presentations in support of the initiative at the 55th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly voted to pass a resolution adopting October 11, 2012 as the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child. The resolution states that the Day of the Girl recognizes the empowerment of and investment in girls, which are critical for economic growth..
It is alarming to listen to the story of this girl child; “ the man was in 20’s and asked me to meet with him in his house. I refused and he said that if I didn’t agree he would do something really bad to me – he told me he could rape me. He kept threatening me and at one point I was feeling a lot of fear. I was very scared for me and my family and I so agreed to have sex with him.”
The girl child age 17, became pregnant at Junior Secondary School 111(Examination class), was asked out of school.
This girl was among the many adolescent girls who have been banded by the government in Sierra Leone from attending formal school or sitting exams for becoming “visibly pregnant”.
We must note that, the importance of education for girls cannot be underestimated. Nearly 15 million girls – mainly those living in poverty – will never set foot in a classroom. Laws and policies that ban pregnant girls from education severely undercut that girl’s ability to provide for herself and perpetuates the cycle for her child as well.
‘.. Every dollar spent on education is an investment in economic productivity and sustainable growth. This direct connection to prosperity is clearly set out in the Sustainable Development Goals with Goal 4 calling for inclusive, quality education and Goal 5 calling for gender equality.” Christa Stewart, End Sexual Violence/ Justice for Girls Expert, Equality Now.
The ban on teenage mothers has been in place since April 2015 and was announced as official government policy by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology during the reopening of state schools following the Ebola virus epidemic in 2014.
As part of emergency measures to reduce infection rates, schools in Sierra Leone were closed between June 2014 and April 2015.
This issue of protecting the welfare of our girl child needs a lot of advocacy not only in the urban areas, but also in the rural settings, where parents are very easy to comprise issues, at the detriment of the future of their children.
According to her friends, the girl was not only their prefect, but also one of the best athletes in the village.
Reports furthered that the twenty year old man, a business and local authority used his status to impregnate this girl.
It is with this that some Non Governmental Organizations and traditional authorities are now collaborating with the government to address these issues and bring the perpetuators to book.
There is now a growing demand for the education of the Girl Child in Sierra Leone as it is usually said that “Educate a woman, you educate a nation”; this view is shared on the lips of Educated women in Africa as they struggle for the emancipation of women in the continent. Various organizations have been established throughout the country to raise the awareness on the importance of this concept on the future lives of the women and also serve as an advocacy on their rights to life and education.
Speaking to the victims, she noted that, “I like History a lot, I like reading about our country, especially the political organizations. I want to be a leader and to bring positive change. Knowing every detail in history excites and empowers me. It makes me want to be part of it, I always want to make history in our country. I always wish that one day other children will be able to read about me in their history books but without education it will be impossible for me to get into history books.”
After months the victim gave birth to a baby boy and was later encouraged and enlightened by an NGO staff about things she did not know. She told her not to give up and helped her deal with a situation if a man threatens her.
With this she started talking to small girls around , telling them not to fall into the trap that she fell into. ‘I wish I knew this friend before, this man threatened me, I would have reported him to my parents or even my older brother and sister.”Shenoted.
Parents and stakeholders should intensify the awareness campaign on the messages of keeping the Girl Child at home busy with domestic work or reading materials. We must promote inclusive activities and prohibit exclusive attitudes towards children. Girls should be encouraged to re-enrol in schools. I am sure that in a country where 60% of our country’s population is illiterate, we ALL agree that EDUCATION is a premium solution to structural poverty alleviation if we are to become global contenders with a sustainable economy. Young girls who can fulfill their potential can be powerful agents of social, cultural, political and economic change – qualities Sierra Leone desperately needs.