As part of a comprehensive strategy to fasttrack the development of Sierra Leone, post Ebola, the government, in collaboration with its development partners, has launched the African Union (AU) Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa.
Sierra Leone is the 15th African nation to launch the AU campaign. Sierra Leone Vice-President Victor Bockarie told a recent meeting of the AU that his government remained firmly committed to ensure the protection of girls by putting an end to the practice of child marriage in the country.
He further expressed the government’s concern about the increased incidences of teenage pregnancy and child marriage and reaffirmed its commitment through the government’s Agenda for Prosperity, to work with everyone – especially, girls, parents, traditional and religious leaders, the legislature, judiciary and the civil society, in ending the practice of child marriage.
Recent studies in Sierra Leone by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) shows more than 10% of girls are married before age 15, and more than 30% are married before age 18. Noting that the Ebola outbreak disrupted the interventions of government to reduce child marriage and teenage pregnancy – although the outbreak has ended – teenage pregnancy and child marriage still remained a challenge in the country.
These and several other factors, the UN resident coordinator, Sunil Saigal, said, puts Sierra Leone on the list of priority countries of the UN Joint Child Marriage Programme led by Unicef and the UN Population Fund.
The first lady of Sierra Leone, Sai Nyama Koroma, said: “The cost of child marriage is high and we cannot afford it. Child marriage compromises a girl’s development, interrupts her schooling, limits her career, provides the opportunity for teenage pregnancy to occur, exposes her to the risks of fistula, HIV/Aids and STDs, domestic violence, emotional and psychological stress and trauma, and isolates her socially.
“Child marriage negatively affects our country’s economy and will lead to an intergenerational cycle of poverty.” Koroma called on the AU legislature to enact the laws protecting women and girls, and the paramount chiefs and religious leaders to ensure no marriage involving a minor is sanctioned.