The increasing pace of teenage pregnancy and child abuse cases in the country is so alarming that the Legislative and Executive arms of government have expressed frustration and called for the formation of a nationwide taskforce. In light of the prevailing situation, peer educators from the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) project implemented by Youth and Child Advocacy Network (YACAN) recently sensitized communities in the Western Area district.
The peer educators’ campaign targeted parents, youth, teen girls and influential people in the targeted communities with messages on girls’ protection, ending teenage pregnancy, parental care and the monitoring of girls while cautioning social distancing and the practice of major health precautions. GAA member Fatmata Samura said the decision to engage their parents and communities on teenage pregnancy resulted from the alarming rate of teen mothers in their community, stating that the many engagements and sensitizations in their communities had not produced positive responses. She said if they as teenage girls can champion the campaign, their colleagues will listen and parents will feel the gravity of their message.
Samura said with the closure of schools due to COVID-19, they expect a lot of girls to drop out of school, and called on parents and other stakeholders to ensure all their girls returned to school. Drawing a parallel between poor access to water and teenage pregnancy in the community, the peer educators called on parents to stop girls from fetching water at night. Alhaji I. Carew said male involvement in the sensitization work is key, adding they got involved in their sisters’ work to sensitize their community on the disadvantages of teen pregnancy and early marriage. He said men are mostly responsible for what’s happening to girls in their community, and pleaded with men to consider girls as their younger sisters and monitor their movements to ensure them growing into responsible citizens in the future.
Carew said girls develop faster than boys, but that does not imply that they are mature. He said men should consider the Sexual Offences Act when they think about young girls. He assured that as men they will take the sensitization to their parents’ and friends’ doorsteps with the aim of eradicating teenage pregnancy and all forms of violence against girls and women in their community. Zakiatu Seisay, a member of the GAA Dworzack group, while engaging some frustrated parents who could not connect with their children, advised them to be patient and see the girls as friends. She said situations where parents and their girls are not on the same page have the tendency of exposing them to abuse by men on the streets.
Seisay encouraged parents to make time for their children to discuss issues relating to their development, security and future, pointing that no matter how old the child is, they will always be parents. She advised parents residing in large compounds to be attentive to their children and be mindful of the people they associate with. The sensitization was done by the Youth and Child Advocacy Network in partnership with Plan International Sierra Leone as part of the GAA project that is presently focused on eliminating teen pregnancy, girls and women abuse and menstrual hygiene for women and young girls in 4 selected communities, including Kanikay, Goderich, Dworzack and Waterloo.
By Mohamed Kabba