In the build up to Sierra Leone’s highly anticipated presidential debate held on the 15th February, young advocates participated in a special edition of “This Day Show” on African Young Voices TV to air their views on issues affecting children, asking aspirants to address education, protection and health. Supported by Save the Children International, Plan International, National Commission for Children and UNICEF, this show was one of a series of child-led media activities which aimed at engaging young voices to discuss child rights issues they believe are key to national development, in the run up to the national elections on March 7.
Hosted by Samuel Wise Bangura, the show provided a platform for child and young advocates’ voices to be heard by candidates vying for the presidency. Furthermore, it aimed to put across the key issues these advocates would like potential presidents to factor into their vision for a better society.
Speaking on education Isha Munu, a youth advocate from Fourah Bay College, expressed concerns about the low level of accountability within the education system that has been blighted by corruption and inequality. She highlighted the devastating impact of sex for grades, fees for space by system that has disenfranchised thousands of girls from accessing or staying in higher education in Sierra Leone. As an advocate for young people she demanded that the next government commits and fulfills actions behind “the words” and doing things differently by setting up stringent follow up mechanisms to ensure policies are effectively implemented “…so that those that are expected to benefit actually benefit from it”.
Other advocates acknowledged the need for urgent action to improve education not just in terms of systems but also infrastructure and facilities for an enabling and conducive learning environment. They called for better standards, availability of learning materials and employment of qualified teachers whose conditions of service motivate them to stay in school and teach.
In relation to protection, third year social work college student and young advocate Francis Haughton, expressed concerns about the existing customary laws calling on the next government to review “specifically…the laws conflicting customary acts against the Child Rights Act”. He admonished “…we don’t want our girls to marry below the age of 18 we want kids to learn. Let them be educated so that they will be able to influence and change policies in this country”.
These concerns were echoed by Ajiayi Macauley, student of Bishop Johnson Memorial Secondary School and member of Girl to Girl Empowerment Movement who talked about the need for a policy to end female genital mutilation. Ajiayi stated that this practice had negative effects on the lives of the girl child making a passionate plea for aspirants to end harmful traditional practices because it involves “girls more than boys”. She cited the cycle of physical, emotional and health complications girls face, stressing the fact that it was a violation of child rights which increased the likelihood of early marriage. Along with other advocates they called on the incoming government to end FGM to ensure that the girl child’s priority is to complete school, not become brides under the age of 18 years.
Allowing these young advocates to make their pleas to aspirants for more attention to the rights of children, this initiative stood as a reminder of how strongly the youth can defend their rights and vision if they are given the platform to do so.
Prior to this youth-led activity, and as part of its work to ensure children’s rights are incorporated in the plans of candidates to the Sierra Leonean presidency, Save the Children had partnered with Focus 1000 to call all political parties to a meeting to address the high rates of maternal and child mortality in the country, and had them commit to including ending child marriage, nutrition and improving immunization access and use in their manifestos.
The young advocates who participated in the TV show will be called upon again after the next president is sworn in in late March to reiterate their demands for a better nation where young people are empowered to participate in nation building for better outcomes for all children in Sierra Leone.