International Day of the Girl Child – more action needed to protect the rights of girls in Sierra Leone

Mariama Janet Deen: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 October 2019:

Since 2012, 11th October has been marked as the International Day of the Girl Child, after the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 66/170 declaring it – a day of commemoration.

The International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC) aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges faced by girls all over the world; and promoting girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights

Nearly 25 years ago, some 30,000 women and men from nearly 200 countries arrived in Beijing, China for the fourth world conference on women, determined to recognize the rights of women and girls as human rights.

The conference culminated in the adoption of the Beijing declaration and platform for action: the most comprehensive policy agenda for the empowerment of women.

In the years following, this agenda has been pushed forward by women and leading global movements on issues ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to equal pay.

More girls today are attending and completing school, fewer are getting married or becoming mothers while still children, and more are gaining the skills they need to excel in the world of work.

Today, these movements have expanded. They are organized by and for adolescent girls, and tackling issues such as child marriage, education inequality, gender-based violence, climate change, self-esteem, and girls’ rights to enter places of worship or public spaces during menstruation. Girls are proving they are unscripted and unstoppable.

This year, under the theme, “equal rights of girls”, we will celebrate achievements by, with and for girls since the adoption of the Beijing declaration and platform for action.

Chapter iv (l) of the Beijing declaration and platform for action which is captioned – “the girl-child” says that in many countries, available indicators show that the girl child is discriminated against from the earliest stages of life, throughout her childhood and into adulthood. In some areas of the world, men outnumber women by 5 in every 100.

The reasons for this imbalance include – harmful attitudes and practices, such as female genital mutilation, son preference – which results in female infanticide and prenatal sex selection – early marriage, including child marriage, violence against women, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, discrimination against girls in food allocation and other practices related to health and well-being. As a result, fewer girls than boys survive into adulthood.

This therefore, has caused serious problems for the growth of the girl child to womanhood. Girls are too often treated as inferior, and are socialized to put themselves last, thus undermining their self-esteem and confidence. Sierra Leone is no exception.

In Sierra Leone, there are several laws regulating the welfare of the girl child. Since its ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), there have been robust measures to suppress the gap of inequality between boys and girls on one hand and between men and women on the other hand in Sierra Leone.

Sections 15 and 27 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone render any act of discrimination of persons on the basis of sex and age unlawful.

The Child Rights Act, the Devolution of Estate Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Sexual Violence Act, have all proved to be landmark legal instruments that protect the rights of girls in Sierra Leone.

However, sadly there is no law in Sierra Leone that promotes the compulsory representation of women and girls in all walks of life. This aspect of girl’s empowerment has been the most difficult and hard-to-achieve goal. This is because, in my view, girls and later women are faced with several deterring factors in achieving their goals in all the stages of socialization – from the family where the welfare of male children are prioritized, to the society which has standards that impedes the progress of girls, to schools where sex for grades is paramount, to finally the offices where women are sexually harassed. Every stage of a female’s life proves to be extremely challenging.

But how can this be challenged?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Chapter iv (l) detailed strategic objectives of the Declaration. These objectives, if adequately implemented by the government of Sierra Leone, I believe will go a long way in addressing the levels of disparity between the welfare of girls and boys:

  • eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl child: This includes the full implementation of all the Gender Laws
  • eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls: This includes the legislation against forceful female genital mutilation
  • promote and protect the rights of the girl child and increase awareness of her needs and potential: This include creating awareness of policy makers about the disadvantages of girls
  • eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training: This includes universal and equal access to free quality education
  • eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition: This means to implement policy guidelines to create awareness on the health of girls
  • eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work
  • eradicate violence against the girl child
  • promotes the girl’s child awareness of and participation in social, economic and political life. and finally,
  • strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl child.

It is my belief that, if all of these objectives are addressed in Sierra Leone, we will definitely achieve equal rights of girls across all spectrum of the society.

So let me end with a quote from the UN Secretary General – António Guterres, who said: “We need to uphold the equal rights, voices and influence of girls in our families, communities and nations. Girls can be powerful agents of change, and nothing should keep them from participating fully in all areas of life.”

About the author

Mariama Janet Deen is a mentor at the Ansarul Islamic Secondary School – Emerald Leadership Initiative Africa (Eli Africa) Girls’ Network, and a law student at the University of Sierra Leone.

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