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Sierra Leone launches African Union campaign on child marriage

Students in Freetown, Sierra Leone. | Photo credit: Dominic Chavez | World Bank.

Yesterday, the Republic of Sierra Leone became the 15th country to launch the African Union campaign to end child marriage in Africa, ramping up its efforts to end a practice that affects 39% of girls in the country.

“The cost of child marriage is high and we cannot afford it,” said the First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma, stressing child marriage’s lasting impact on girls’ education, health and emotional well-being.

“Child marriage negatively affects our country’s economy and will lead to an inter-generational cycle of poverty.” She added: “It is our duty […] to ensure our children are safe, provide better education, health and sanitation.”

Victor Bockarie Foh, the country’s Vice President also attended the launch. He said: “Teenage pregnancy and child marriage are two social vices that the government notes with serious concern. We renew this commitment again today and we shall consolidate our fight to ensure children of this country grow to attain their fullest potential.”

The launch was attended by over 2000 people, including the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, UN agencies, development partners and civil society organisations.

As part of the launch, children across Sierra Leone also made a powerful set of recommendations –to end child marriage. These recommendations, by young people for young people, include:

  • For parents and caregivers to stop giving children into early and forced marriage below 18 years.
  • For local councils, chiefdom committees and Parliament to strengthen national laws and policies on child protection.
  • For child protection agencies and service providers to increase their level of support towards children.
  • For chiefs, parents and caregivers to discourage every attempt to compromise when child marriages are reported and to act promptly.
  • For the Ministry of Education to send more female teachers to rural schools, and to provide scholarships for girls to stay in school.

These recommendations were developed at a Southern Regional Girls’ Summit held, before the launch, by World Vision Sierra Leone in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs.

Child marriage in Sierra Leone

  • With 39% of girls married before their 18th birthday, Sierra Leone has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world (UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2016).
  • The 2007 Sierra Leone Child Rights Act sets the legal minimum age of marriage at 18 for both girls and boys.
  • However, the 2007 Customary Marriage Act directly contradicts this by allowing parents or local government officials to consent to a child’s marriage.
  • More on child marriage in Sierra Leone.

How is Sierra Leone addressing child marriage?

  • The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs launched the African Union campaign to end child marriage on 17 August 2016.
  • A growing number of traditional chiefs have publicly condemned child marriage, often instituting punishment for perpetrators.
  • Sierra Leone was one of 12 countries selected to be part of UNFPA and UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
  • 16 Girls Not Brides members work in Sierra Leone to end child marriage and support married girls.
  • In May 2013, the President launched a two-year National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy: “Let girls be girls, not mothers”. However, its implementation was hindered by the outbreak of Ebola in early

About the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage

Launched in May 2014, the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage aims to speed up change across Africa by encouraging governments to develop strategies to raise awareness of child marriage and address the harmful impact it has.

Specifically, it aims to:

  • Identify the socio-economic impact of child marriage
  • Promote the effective implementation of AU legal and policy instruments and support policy action
  • Remove barriers and bottlenecks to law enforcement
  • Increase the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy advocacy

Originally planned to last for two years, the campaign has been extended to run until at least 2017. Fifteen countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe – have launched the campaign so far, with more launches planned for later in the year and during 2017.