By Angelique Reid, Communications Specialist, UNFPA Sierra Leone
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 4 October 2017 – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and key partners met at a two-day national High Level planning workshop to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone. Organised by the Office of the First Lady, the workshop gave partners an opportunity to contribute to the planning and preparation required to showcase Sierra Leone’s achievements and challenges for a regional High Level Meeting on ending child marriage taking place in Dakar, Senegal.
In supporting the Sierra Leone delegation attending the High Level Meeting in Senegal, the planning workshop enabled partners to share successes, challenges and opportunities to ending child marriage and teenage pregnancy, as well as track the progress made so far.
Partners driving the agenda to end child marriage and teenage pregnancies in Sierra Leone attended the planning workshop and included government stakeholders, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNFPA, UN Women, Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, civil society organisations, and traditional, religious and community leaders.
Child marriage is a severe violation of human rights and a serious form of child abuse. Global statistics report that every year approximately 15 million girls are married before the age of 18. The region of West and Central Africa has the highest prevalence rate of child marriage in Africa, and the world’s second highest prevalence rate (after South Asia). In Sierra Leone the picture is equally daunting. According to the Demographic Health Survey 2013, 28 percent of adolescents aged 15-19 years in Sierra Leone have begun childbearing, and 38.9 percent of 20-24 year olds were married before the age of 18. Additionally, the survey revealed that maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is still one of the highest at 1,360 per 100,000 live births; teenage child bearing contributes to nearly one third (28 per cent) of all pregnancies nationwide; and 40 per cent of maternal deaths occur as a result of teenage pregnancy.
Chairing the two-day High Level planning workshop, First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma said, “Addressing the plight of children to realize their full potential and contribute towards sustainable development is significant. Sierra Leone needs to take urgent actions to change the grim stories and help achieve sustainable development goals.”
UNFPA and UNICEF are jointly implementing the Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. The Global Programme approach recognises that ending child marriage will involve addressing complex socio-cultural and structural factors which contribute to child marriage over an extended period.
UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Kim Eva Dickson stated, “When girls marry early, they are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed and experience violence and harassment. A delayed marriage greatly improves a girl’s chances for a healthy and productive life.” Dr. Dickson added, “The benefits of a later marriage go beyond the girl: her children, family, community and country experience better health, economic and social outcomes.”
In her remarks at the workshop, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs Rugiatu Neneh Turay affirmed the role of girls’ education, “The government is committed to investing in girls education and supporting retention in primary, secondary and tertiary education; these have a multiplier effect in delaying marriages.”
The regional High Level Meeting will take place on 23 -25 October 2017 in Dakar, Senegal. It will serve as a platform for dialogue between governments, First Ladies from the region, UN agencies, civil society and donors in West and Central Africa, where they will discuss and advocate for translating existing and future commitments into tangible actions on ending child marriages.