Sierra Leone: Children Engage Religious Leaders On Child Marriage

The Champions Club at Save the Children, yesterday, February 23, engaged the executive wing of religious leaders and discussed ways and means to end the alarming rate of child marriage in the country.

Speaking during the ceremony at the Family Kingdom resort in Freetown, Ramatu Jalloh said the engagement was important because lot of issues are affecting girls in the country.

She said over 60% of the country's population are women and that the country's development will be affected if something is not done about them, hence they decided to bring together children and the leaders so that they can discuss pertinent issues affecting children.

In her presentation, one of the children champion members,Salamatu Davies from the Aberdeen Community, said their aim was to ensure that every girl child in the country reaches her full potential.

She observed that in this part of the world, girls are seen as second class in society and that they are quick to be given out into marriages, forced to do domestic work and vulnerable to sexual abuse in their communities.

"Girls in Sierra Leone have no voice or choice in their homes and communities. We are rubbed of our human rights to education and protection," she said.

She noted that marriage is meant for matured women and not girls, stating that if girls are given the necessary empowerment they will give back to the nation positively.

She said engaging religious leaders was one great step to end child marriage across the country, adding that it will help girls reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to nation building.

She said in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sierra Leone is ranked 18th position as one of the countries with the highest rate of child marriage.

She said 13% of girls get into marriage at age 15 with 39% of them getting married by age 18, adding that child marriage in Sierra Leone is mainly driven by adolescent pregnancy.

She said in 2013, Sierra Leone had the 10th highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in the world, stating that 28% of girls-15 to 19 years were pregnant or had already given birth once.

She further stated that data showed that 40% of maternal deaths are teenage girls, stating that 68% of boys complete primary education compared to 55% girls.

She also said data showed that 46% of women have no education compared to 29% of men, and that over 60% of girls experience sexual violence with 30% of the 60% sexual violence taking place in schools.

She said over two thousand cases of sexual assault are reported to the police annually.

The called on the religious leaders to create a policy/law to end child marriage and further called on them to have talks with decision makers, including Paramount Chiefs, among others, to end child marriage in their chiefdoms

Also speaking, 2nd Vice President of the Inter-Religious Council, Haja Mariama Kamara said women and girls are suffering the most in the country.

Pastor Sola Jegede, said religious leaders have always been against child marriage and that they have been preaching against it in their churches and mosques, stating that they always crosscheck the age of people before joining them together in marriage.

She said the blame should go to traditional leaders, who are encouraging child marriage in their communities, and called on children to be bold enough to report any sexual abuse against them.

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