The inequality and vulnerability faced by women and girls in Sierra Leone is among the worst in the world. This especially the case for adolescent girls- 39% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 46.8% of all adolescent girls’ deaths are due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth! This inequality has been ranked 151 out of 159 in the 2015 Gender Inequality Index and that’s exactly why on the 21st of December 2018, Save the Children in Sierra Leone is celebrating the launch of the finalised National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage (2018-22).
The development of this new strategy has been a long process. Save the Children in Sierra Leone began working on and advocating the importance of Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) since 2007. Since then, we have remained an active member of the technical committee and are proud that this new strategy is a major milestone for Sierra Leone and will aim to reduce the adolescent fertility rate to 74 per 1,000, and the rate of child marriage from 38.9 to 25 per cent by 2022.
Friday’s celebration took place alongside the launch of the First Lady’s new programme ‘Hands off our Girls’ which was attended by 6 First Lady’s in the region, including the First Lady of Niger and Burkina Faso. Both the National Strategy and the First ladies flagship programme were officially launched by the President of Sierra Leone on Friday 14, December. At the launch event, he stated “Child marriage is wrong. It must end and end now. Our girls are not brides…they deserve an equal opportunity to be all they can be,”. The President has committed to include as much work and government funding as possible in 2019 to these critical priority areas. In addition, the government continues to make progress on harmonising the laws relating to child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, a commitment made by the government during the W&C Africa High-Level Meeting on Ending Child Marriage.
All of the First Ladies also gave statements on the importance of protecting girls from all forms of violence including child marriage.
"Our women and girls can no longer afford to suffer from rape and child marriage."- First Lady of Liberia.
"We must continue to raise awareness among religious leaders and traditional leaders,"- First Lady of Ghana.
"Girls are the most vulnerable natural resource of our countries [...] let our girls be girls and enjoy the joys of childhood"- First Lady of the Gambia.
As part of our ambition and commitment to ensuring children survive, learn and are protected, our campaign in 2019-2021 will focus on advocating to the Government to implement this national strategy through appropriate financing, governance, public awareness and child-led accountability.
Co-authored by Vishna Shah, Ramatu Jalloh, Advocacy Communications Director & Zara R. Chitou, Regional Communications Advisor