BY: MOSES KODAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR-NETWORK OF ADVOCACY FOR YOUTH EMPOWERMENT
My name is Moses Sorie Kodah. I am a youth leader for health working primarily in the Kambia District, Sierra Leone. Kambia District is located in the North West at the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea.
I am trained youth advocate under the Youth Leaders for Health Program under the leadership of CISMAT-SL funded by Results UK and Comic Relief, London. In January 2020, I was part of a leadership training program and had the opportunity of meeting His Excellency, Ambassador Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission (picture on the left). What an inspiring meeting.
With a team of youth leaders and advocates, we have set up an NGO called Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment. Our aim is to empower the youth to make sound decisions affecting their health, education and human rights. For the first half of the year 2020, we have been carrying out advocacy activities and public engagement to highlight education and health issues particularly during these COVID-19 times.
In March 2020, we supplied sanitary items and books to adolescent girls. This was carried out through the Adolescent Girls Equipped and Resourceful (AGER) project. The objective was to encourage adolescent girls practise safe hygiene in safe places through washing hands etc.
KEY ISSUES IN MY DISTRICT, KAMBIA
Poor reproductive health and low levels of child protection has lingered for so long in communities and institutions in the Kambia District. Challenges in sexual reproductive health and child protection take different forms such as in sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, child labor and trafficking. This contributes to poor educational performance and retention rates in school. Most of the cases are hardly reported because of low confidence in the justice system, cases not treated seriously, poor networking system between the community and victims, lack of logistics and poor public engagement to raise awareness. The affected girls are left to either suffer silently or drop out of school.
Unequal attitudes and treatments between the boy child and the girl child start from traditional African homes and find routes into learning institutions. Specific roles are assigned to boys and others reserved for girls and this is where a myriad of challenges begin for the girl child, a time when their immense potential can begin to crumble. My NGO has been called upon to intervene on various cases to accelerate justice for victims. I can share a few examples below.
On the 5th March 2020, a 16 year old girl child was reported sexually assaulted by Mr X (names withheld) in Romaka Town, Magbema Chiefdom resulting in teenage pregnancy and subsequently the death of the victim. The matter was taken to the Kambia Family Support Unit for investigation before the death of the victim. The Medical officer supposed to examine the young girl was absent from post for two (2) days as alleged by the parent of the victim. On the third (3rd) day the child was admitted however, the nurses realized that the victim had taken an overdose of drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Within a few hours, the patient was pronounced dead. The members of my NGO were informed to provide support for the family. The alleged sexual molester is still at large.
On the same day, a 17-year-old girl child was reported sexually assaulted and kidnapped by Mr Y, a social worker of an NGO organisation in Kambia Town, Magbema Chiefdom. The alleged perpetrator was arrested and placed in cells for 72 hours and was given bail as the file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecution in Makeni for advice. We are closely monitoring that case and advocating for justice to prevail.
On the 10th March 2020, a 4-year-old child was reported sexually assaulted by a son of a military officer at Pebu Barracks, Magbema Chiefdom. The little girl sustained serious injuries as confirmed at the Kambia Government Hospital. The child was accompanied by staff of Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment staff to the Rainbow Centre, Freetown for counselling, treatment and support. Investigations are on-going at the Kambia Family Support Unit. The alleged perpetrator is in cells.
On the 12th March 2020, a police officer of the Kambia Police Division was reported to have sexually abused a 14-year-old girl child in Kambia Town, Magbema Chiefdom. When arrested, he used abusive words even to the parent of the survivor. The mother of the 14 year old cried sorrowfully. The accused shouted and proclaimed that ‘’Government influence would end in his release”.I called on all activists to fight for justice for this poor woman’s daughter and the entire family and we continue to advocate for justice through media interactions and providing support to the family. The accused still roams the streets of Kambia boastfully and confidently.
Through Network of Advocacy for Youth Empowerment, we are planning ten training sessions across the ten chiefdoms from August 2020 to May 2021. The workshops will give opportunity to stakeholders to share their experiences/strategies on reporting sexual reproductive health and child protection issues, the unresolved challenges, stigma and discrimination from family, community and health officials, law enforcement officers and so on.
The workshops will also educate stakeholders on the use of mobile phones and an emergency reporting system (Free line system emergency U-report system) to report issues relating to child trafficking, child labor, early marriage, rape, etc. We intend to use targeted advocacy with this group to train them on the negative results that arise when such issues are not reported, tracked and perpetrators are not prosecuted.
We plan to target stakeholders such as Teachers, Paramount/Town/ Section Chiefs, Councilors, Pastors, Imams, Youth Leaders, Women Leaders, Adolescents, District Education Officers etc. We are planning interventions at 3 levels.
Community level: Committees will be established in the communities to ensure prompt actions are taken when there is a potential or real threat regarding safety of the girl child. This committee will comprise of community stakeholders and opinion leaders with the mandate to report any suspicious incidents regarding wellbeing, sexual reproductive health and protection. This committee will liaise with government agencies within the district and help in advocacy work whilst linking up with other communities to learn/share good practices etc
Chiefdom Level: A team comprising Family Support Unit, NAYE- Salone Staff and partners will be established to carry out preliminary investigations on incident and provide feed back to the District committee to ensure transparency and accountability. This committee will also engage print and TV/radio media to talk on sexual reproductive health and child protection challenges in the chiefdom.
System level: To ensure the success of the system and committees set, we will establish a system to capture, refer, and monitor the emergency and U-report system line. This will encourage regular reporting and sharing from committees and will promote an enabling environment for dealing with sensitive issues.
The training I received in youth leadership has sharpened my advocacy skills and helped me immensely in my work. I can only reiterate my thanks to facilitators Rosemary, Push, Dr Sylvia and Dr Elvis for opening my mind to the many possibilities of good advocacy. I am certain as community awareness of child protection and abuse is increased, the negative effects associated with poor reporting and follow up of perpetrators and prosecutions will be improved.