Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 September 2016
Sierra Leone’s minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, is flying out of Sierra Leone today Sunday, 11th September, 2016, leading a delegation of nine government officials, along with the secretary general of the National Sowei Council. (Photo: Social welfare minister Blyden receiving a vote of confidence from president Koroma).
They are attending the 73rd Session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland. Top of the agenda is the hotly debated issue of female circumcision.
Dr. Blyden has remained focused and unruffled in the face of fierce criticisms of her position on female circumcision, corruption and poor management in the civil service.
But admirers and supporters of the minister say that she is winning hearts and minds over her unique style of leading her embattled ministry.
The minister will also be travelling to Geneva with 15 year old Hussein Muckson Sesay, who is currently the Secretary General of the Children’s Forum Network, to talk about the experiences of young people growing up in Sierra Leone. (Photo: From left – Mr. Jalloh the CFN Facilitator at MSWGCA, Madam Aminata the mother of Hussain, HUSSEIN MUCKSON SESAY, Hon. Minister Blyden and Chaperone Abdul Malik Bangura).
The government of Sierra Leone with the support of the overwhelming majority of people in the country, is strongly resisting the imposition of a blanket ban on female circumcision by the international community, led by the UN.
The presence of the secretary general of Sierra Leone’s National Sowei Council (NSC) – Madam Kharday Zorokong, will be crucial at the Geneva conference, where it is hoped that the international community will redefine its policy towards female circumcision and ensure that, the right of matured adults to do whatever they want with their bodies is respected.
Although Madam Kharday Zorokong who is well known for her female activism is leading the campaign against the outright banning of female circumcision, she is however, against girl child initiation.
She has made this clear at a recent national radio broadcast in Sierra Leone, that although she is a practitioner of female genital cutting, members of the NSC to which she belong, do not support the initiation of anyone below the age of 18 years.
A key strategy of the government is the mobilisation of Soweis across the country to stand at the forefront of the government’s push to reduce and eliminate initiation of young girls. The Soweis are being led by a pioneering leadership involving Yaa Koloneh, Elsie Kongolomoh and Kharday Zorokong.
Madam Zorokong’s trip to Geneva is expected to be funded by one of Sierra Leone’s international partners.
The government of Sierra Leone is hoping that this strong partnership between the ministry of social welfare and children’s affairs and the country’s female circumcision practitioners, will help reduce the harmful effects of a cultural practice that is strongly held by over 80% of the population in Sierra Leone.
Supporters of Dr. Sylvia Blyden say that; ‘given that FGM is so topical, it is most welcomed that someone who is passionate about protecting children from being initiated is on the government’s delegation to the UN in Geneva’.
The Sierra Leone delegation heading for Geneva for this important confab will include senior officials from the Justice ministry, Health, and Foreign Affairs, led by the minister of Social Welfare, Gender, & Children’s Affairs – Dr. Sylvia Blyden.
The editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph asked minister Blyden what she hopes to achieve at the Geneva conference. The is what she said: “The past three years, since we submitted our Combined 3rd, 4th and 5th Periodic Reports on welfare and state of our children, have been a very tough time for Sierra Leone.
“Everything we knew and held dear got practically broken or brought to a standstill, as we combated an enemy worse than the 11 years old war. Under the great leadership of His Excellency President Koroma, we have put the war against Ebola behind us.
“However, the devastation Ebola left behind has continued to affect our people, including our children. For example, we now have a huge number of Ebola Orphans and Child Ebola Survivors, which remain to be a very significant challenge of our vision to protect all our children.
“Indeed, given what we promised in our Combined Report that Ebola could not allow us to implement, Sierra Leone would have preferred to defer appearing at this session until the country finished the ongoing post Ebola recovery priorities of the President.
“However, on the other hand, we do see this global scrutiny appearance, as a further chance to showcase our other successes, despite the huge challenges. It is also a chance to publicly acknowledge where we need help from the World. President Koroma is passionate about the rights of children; and actions of his government reflect that in so many ways.
“I am hopeful that the delegation I am going with today into Geneva, backed up by the Team on the ground, can effectively make our case to the United Nations and the wider international community that Child Rights remains a priority in Sierra Leone, and that we need the continued assistance of the International Community to help us achieve our programmes to protect our children.
“Children matter in Sierra Leone. That is why a child is included as a part of my delegation.”