His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has on Monday 13th May 2013, joined development partners in fostering a campaign against the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, through the unveiling of a 'National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy'.
Launched with a popular slogan; "Let Girls Be Girls and Not Mothers" the national strategy is aimed at getting teenagers back to school and prepare a brighter future for the girls and women of Sierra Leone.
President Koroma registered government's firm commitment towards ensuring that the initiative achieves the desired goal for which it was developed, as he puts it; "the battle to reduce teenage pregnancy cannot be won if we do not unite our efforts".
He described teenage pregnancy as a menace that must be stopped through concerted efforts of all and sundry. Acknowledging commitments demonstrated by people from all sects of the society, President Koroma said the move is to end assaults on the future of girls.
President Koroma further said that despite efforts by government and development partners, adolescent girls remain one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, adding that teenage pregnancy is the most passive problem impacting the education, health, socio-economic and political empowerment of young women and girls in Sierra Leone.
The Head of State said teenage pregnancy is an issue that cannot be the future and destiny that has been prepared by parents for their daughters and young sisters, thus vowed; "we must act to assert a better tomorrow for them, their families, communities, and the entire country".
He referred to the national strategy as the Sierra Leone's roadmap for meeting the challenges posed by teenage pregnancy to the country's prosperity, saying; "my government will ensure that this country achieves the objectives set out by the national strategy.
My ministers will be held accountable for the achievement of the strategy. I see this initiative as a good test for the capacity of all stakeholders to be able to work together, in a coordinated way and to collectively address this pervasive problem".
President Koroma further reiterated the dangers of teenage pregnancy, pointing out that it threatens the prosperity of the nation as it blights the destiny of the child and mother.
He said teenage pregnancy also denies girls the benefits of education, and compromises a country's ability to secure gender equity, enhance growth and transform itself.
The Chief Executive also stressed that teenage girls must be schoolgirls and not mothers, adding that they must be book carriers, not baby carriers, and must spend their nights doing homework rather than changing nappies.
"We must give back to teenage girls the tools for a better future, and that tool is education", said President Koroma, and continued; that research has proven educating a girl yields greater benefits for a nation in terms of health, productivity, and wealth creation as well as responsible investments.
A path, he said the country has been moving along, expanding free tuition, for girls in schools and paying for young women studying the sciences at tertiary institutions.
He observed that girls and young women delaying marriage and having fewer children means a bigger chance of increasing per capita income, higher savings, and more rapid growth, adding that, when women and girls earn income, they spend 90% of it on their families.
Special guest of honour of the occasion, Her Excellency the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dame Dr. Patience Goodluck Jonathan, who focused her speech on the role of traditional leaders, said government's input will make a positive impact in the lives of girls and women of Sierra Leone, acknowledging the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy as a cause for concern in the country.
She described teenage pregnancy as an emergency national issue, and referred to the complication of pregnancy and child-birth as some of the causes of death among teenagers, and unsafe abortion complication which also leads to death.
Mrs. Jonathan said young mothers and their babies are at the disadvantages of contracting HIV/AIDS, adding that when girls drop out of schools, they will not reach their full potentials. Hence reiterated her call on traditional leaders to focus on values and traditions.
She however called on the womenfolk to play key roles in protecting young girls against the danger of teenage pregnancy and urged that teenage girls should be also schooled on how to turn their lives round as they are the future mothers.
The Nigerian First Lady also encouraged traditional institutions to create awareness raising programmes about negative effects of teenage pregnancy, whilst stating that sex education with particular focus on child development, should start from the homes and also be fully integrated into the school curriculum.
She called for more empowerment of women as the national strategy is set to efficiently raise public awareness about teenage pregnancy.
The Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Moijueh Kai Kai, said government is mindful of the consequences of teenage pregnancy as it continues to move in the empowerment of women.
He said the "Agenda for Prosperity" makes provision for social protection, wherein women's issues are well captured, especially for teenage pregnancy, to ensure that girl-mothers return to school even after safe delivery, and disclosed plans by his ministry to train more social workers.
The Deputy Minister of Education Science and Technology 2 Mamoud Tarawallie said his ministry views teenage pregnancy as a danger against girls, and therefore called for a sexual reproductive policy that will protect girls from teenage pregnancy in the country.
He observed that 61% of teenage girls are sexually active and are involved in sexual activities because of money and other material wants.
Health and Sanitation Minister, Miatta Kargbo said teenage pregnancy was killing girls in the country as they remain the most vulnerable, and that the issue is not just a health matter, but one that needs the active collaboration with partners in the campaign against teenage pregnancy as it cannot be addressed without concerted effort.
She encouraged health workers, parents and teachers to work closely in ensuring that the desired goal of the national strategy is achieved, adding that teenage pregnancy will never be a hindrance to girls and women in Sierra Leone.
The Health Minister said teenage pregnancies backed by poverty are mainly responsible for the dropout of girls from school.
Chairman of the occasion, Minister of Information and Communications, Alhaji Alpha Bakarr Sahid Kanu said the dangers of teenage pregnancy are social problems, noting the health hazards it causes to a girl.
He also noted the causes of teenage pregnancy are due to lack of adequate income at home, adding that 16-19 pupils who are supposed to be in school will be disabled by maternal death.
The country representative of the Department for International Development, Dr Phil Evans, welcomed the initiative with full support, and called for the retention of girls in schools.
Girls, he said, should be in schools and not in maternity wards, adding that teenage pregnancy is not a new phenomenon in the world; whiles the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative, Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen congratulated government for the laudable initiative to stop teenage pregnancy in the country.