''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 9 No 7

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Thursday October 11, 2012 - The first International Day of the Girl Child is observed - a day set aside by the United Nations to recognise the rights of the girl child and what the world body calls the unique challenges girls face around the world. It is a day that should be observed and taken seriously especially in Sierra Leone where the girl child is often seen as an object of sexual pleasure, derision and forced into under-age conjugal arrangements that only benefit the men to whom they become practically enslaved.What future for the majority of girl children in Sierra Leone?Girls in Sierra Leone working on rocks to pay school fees

Today October 11, 2012 is the first observance by the United Nations of a day dedicated to the girl child and it should not be lost on all Sierra Leoneans that this is a day that should be top on the agenda of any caring government given what the girl child was put through during the country's troubles. And yet, we are sad to observe, not a word from State House nor any of the related government ministries and organisations that should make the life of the girl child good rather than one of misery and socio-economic unpredictability.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has added his voice to the call for an end not only to child marriages but pleads with all to give the girl child a chance in life.

"For its first observance, this year’s Day will focus on child marriage, which is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl’s life. Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence and abuse, jeopardizes her health and therefore constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and the development of healthy communities. Globally, around one in three young women aged 20-24 years were first married before they reached age 18. One third of them entered into marriage before they turned 15. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. In developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents aged 15-19 are to married girls, and pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls in this age group.

I urge Governments, community and religious leaders, civil society, the private sector, and families – especially men and boys, to promote the rights of girls, including through the relevant Conventions, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. Let us be guided by the theme of today’s observance – “my life, my right, end child marriage” – and let us do our part to let girls be girls, not brides."

It is no secret and records are there to show this - that the girl child in Sierra Leone was the target of armed groups who carried out massive human rights violations against children especially girl children who got gang-raped, were brutally sexually molested and made "war-brides" attached as "wives" to armed men who seized them from the comforts of their homes. And it is worth noting that this year's theme - the first - "Ending Child Marriage" - should be of concern to Sierra Leoneans and friends of Sierra Leone where the girl child is "married" off to men they were not keen on meeting, men who deprived them of their sexual, physical and psychological development and men who would want to live in the 21st century but would want to "enjoy" the depravity meted out to girls in the dark ages.

Karine Belair has noted in an article - "Unearthing the customary law foundations of "forced marriage" during Sierra Leone's civil war..." that

During the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone from 1990 to 2001, thousands of women and girls were raped, abducted, and taken to Revolutionary United Front (RUF), West Side Boys, or Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebel camps. 3 They were assigned to a man and, from that day forward, had to submit to him sexually and perform countless domestic tasks for him. This relationship between the rebels and their captives was commonly known as "forced marriage," with the captive women testifying that they were assigned to a "husband" or "rebel husband," and the rebel men referring to their captives as "wives" or "bush wives." 4 The type of marriage that was thought to have disappeared with the conclusion of inter-tribal wars and the abolition of slavery appeared to have returned to Sierra Leone from its past, invigorated and with new force.

One victim recalls what happened

“The rebels took me to the provinces. Makeni [in the north]. I was raped on the way to Makeni. I was unable to walk [afterwards], I was bleeding. Seven men raped me. I was a virgin. “In Makeni I was forced to become the bush wife of CO Papa, the second commander of Scorpion Group. “I lived with him for seven months – I was forced to have sex, but also to collect firewood and water. During that time CO Papa wouldn't let the other men touch me. “I escaped. The rebels were killing too many people. I was scared and had to escape. I was pregnant with CO Papa's child.

As the world observed this very important day, not a squeak from the government as a body, nor the President as a father and human being, nor from his paid trumpeters that today should be a central focus in the political agenda of the ruling APC party as well as on the agenda of all political parties in Sierra Leone. We believe this day should be central point of action and focus for all those wishing to enhance the life of the girl child so that this important sector of our life would be given the opportunity to develop to its full potentials.

Stories abound of the use of economic leverage to tear the girl child from the protection of poor families with offers of gifts that eventually lead to poor families practically mortgaging the girl child to unscrupulous sexual predators who use these girl children as sex objects with parents and relations too afraid to end the relationship for fear of losing the favour of these predators.

The excuse of "our culture" to marry off girls into sexual depravity is nothing new and despite the many efforts of some concerned organisations to end the unwholesome practice it is still encouraged within and outside Sierra Leone from where sexual predators and traffickers organise "arranged marriages".

We would urge all and sundry to remember such acts of forced marriage in whatever form is a crime and we would urge the government - all governments in Sierra Leone to put in place the necessary legislation that would outlaw all such practices that lure girls into marriages without their consent. The age of such consent should be set so that the child involved is not trapped into a relationship they would not want to be a part of. Legal provisions must be provided that would allow such a trapped girl child to opt out of such arrangements of her own free will.

According to the world body - 

Governments in partnership with civil society actors and the international community are called upon to take urgent action to end the harmful practice of child marriage and to:

  • Enact and enforce appropriate legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 and raise public awareness about child marriage as a violation of girls’ human rights.
  • Improve access to good quality primary and secondary education, ensuring that gender gaps in schooling are eliminated.
  • Mobilize girls, boys, parents, leaders, and champions to change harmful social norms, promote girls’ rights and create opportunities for them.
  • Support girls who are already married by providing them with options for schooling, sexual and reproductive health services, livelihoods skills, opportunity, and recourse from violence in the home.
  • Address the root causes underlying child marriage, including gender discrimination, low value of girls, poverty, or religious and cultural justifications.

Time to be a part of the 21st century, culture or no culture. We would again remind child rights advocates within and without the country to ask President Ernest Bai Koroma and all those who were present about the fate of the six year old girl, who was clad in white and forced into a satanic ritual at State House.

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The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002