Defence for Children International (DCI) Liberia, a civil society organization, has ended a two-day forum as part of its 6th Convening Forum on Children's Rights Grantees in the Mano River Union (MRU) region.
DCI Liberia has been active since March 2009 and started with a group of committed Liberians who are concerned about the deplorable situation faced by children in conflict with the law in the criminal justice system in Liberia.
This was an annual event that brought together 30 participants from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. This year's event, which began on Tuesday, December 10-12, 2019, was intended to bring to together Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other stakeholders to share ideas, strategies, challenges, and find the ways forward.
This year's forum was intended to have community leaders from the three Countries share ideas and project strategies that will be much more sustainable for prevention and response to violence against children within the region.
Foday M. Kawah head of DCI-Liberia: "We are trying to fight violence against children as well as making sure that community take ownership of the project."
Kawah said that the initiatives started since 2010 and most of the convening has been held in Sierra Leone but unfortunately, "this year six CSOs convening in Liberia to deliberate on issues when it comes to violence against children and how to deal with CSOs in these 3 MRU Countries."
He said reports emulating from the MRU region revealed that violence against children across these countries has been very high. As such, DCI and its partners have been meeting annually to design a strategy to ensure that communities take ownership. "The community will play a specific role as compared to government and civil society advocates," he said.
Kawah named child marriage, teenage pregnancy, child trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as one of the factors of violence against children in the MRU region over the years.
He said that during the forum, they developed expectations and strategies that have invited some local communities as well as child welfare group to take part in the program so that at the end they can send the message across.
He further said that another strategy they have designed was to involve what he called community mechanism, which he said, is the involvement of community leaders into the planning of meetings and that the outcome of it will be reached out to the rural communities easily in the fight violence against children.
"We also have an expert from Uganda who deliberated and shared ideas when it comes to community ownership. We expect that the community take full control to of this to mitigate all of these ills in society," he disclosed.
He thanked the Fund Global Human Rights (FGHR) including the Plan International Liberia, UNICEF and other partners who continue to support them in sharing of ideas and similar vision as we all work towards achieving the SDGs.
"Our purpose of being here is to respond to different CSOs within the MRU community and the FGHR as network and building capacity," he added.
The National Speaker of the Liberia Children's Parliament, Prince Y. Saydee said if the rights of children are to be protected in the sub-region, it has to be done collectively as long as we intend to see them live in an environment that is saved.
He stressed the importance of strengthening children and youths participation to build international collaboration. Speaker Saydee said everyone has to take the right action now because the children in the MRU basin depend on them to make a better decision for them.
"A child that we refuse to educate and protect, they are more dangerous when they get younger, if we educate them, they provide better future and good decisions when it comes to national building," Saydee noted.
He said the most important thing to do in our respective countries is to involve partners, children and the community to the decision-making process. Speaker Saydee also said there can be no way that a program is planed in the absence of children. "Let us work collectively that the children of the world will celebrate a year of violence-free," he stated.
UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Ina Christensen said her organization supports not only the work of Liberia but civil society organizations and community structures in terms of promoting the right of children and protecting them from all forms of violence in the region.
Madam Christensen spoke shortly to this paper, noted that it was about time that we strive to consider some of the reasons why the MRU region seems not to be making progress despite the level of interventions and supports to uphold the rights of children.
She said that community involvement is cardinal to ending violence against children in the region. "Many times we think that the primary or duty bearers should be government, yes! We agree, but let me say to you, all of us here are collectively responsible to make a change," she added.
Madam Christensen: "Change is felt when you get involve collectively as a community. Because they are the gatekeepers and they will be there to ensure that the fight continues."
She stressed the need for MRU countries to step-up efforts by working together, thereby ensuring that children are protected from violence. She added that if communities, youths and children must get involved to take over, the MRU countries and members, must have some common definitions through this platform.
"You need to have some common approach in terms of how you engage these communities. These three countries have some cultural values, which should be considered as a way to mitigate the problem," she stated.
"Another thing that needs to be considered is how we share information, stored data and use them because at this level if we do not have these standard mechanisms to put in place for data management communications, then what is it that we are taking to the community. "If it must work in Liberia, it must also work in Guinea and Sierra Leone," Madam Christensen noted.