Ending child marriage: a reality or false?
The National Commission for Children (NCC) recently conducted a research on child marriage in Sierra Leone from may-August 2016 to get first- hand information on the causes and prevalence of child marriage within various districts.
The findings of the research, according to the communications officer of NCC, Addie Valcassel, the findings have been diversified and grouped into seven categories-educational system, poor parenting, traditional practices, and religious beliefs, amongst others. Among some of the findings, the current anomalies in the educational system to some extent contribute to the prevalence of child marriage.
It is against this backdrop of the findings of the research that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Office of the first Lady in collaboration with Women in the Media Sierra Leone (WMSAL) on Wednesday 10 August 2016 organized a two days media training to end child marriage. The training was supported by plan international Sierra Leone, UNICEF, Irish Aid, UN Women and UNFPA respectively. The training, according to the NCC Communications Officer, is to engage the media to provide on- the- sport messages, focus group discussions, writing of articles, conducting vox pox’s on challenges to end child marriage and the benefit for the nation and families where children are allowed to go and stay in school.
Female journalist from the media orientation training was also proffer to end child marriage in the country. And there is no denying that the two-day training may have sharpened their professional teeth of the female journalists to handle the issue of child marriage effectively and efficiently for the good of the public.
The media may play their role in providing information on the challenges to end child marriage and the advantages for the country and families when they encourage their children to stay in school, but has government has the political will to tackle those challenges with directness or without compromises?
No matter the diversification and grouping into categories of findings of the research conducted by the National commission for children(NCC),it is typical that for government to tackle the challenges of educational system, law enforcement, poor parenting, traditional practices and religious beliefs could be extremely difficult without the required resources that would engages transformation to those areas.
The communications officer of the NCC stated, for example, that education, including unavailability of educational opportunities and the lack of trained and qualified teachers for instance-Pujehun Districts (12chiefdoms), despite a very small number of qualified teachers, 263 qualified teachers compared to 877unqualified teachers in 316 schools.
Therefore, if the current anomalies in the educational system to some extent contribute to the prevalence of child marriage, then it would be very difficult for government to reverse the trend given its inability to make the teaching field attractive to more qualified teachers. The terms and conditions of service for the teachers are not attractive to encourage most qualified graduates to take to teaching but instead, they would look out for lucrative jobs while unqualified people with limited scope for teaching that are easily accessible to them especially in the rural areas where jobs opportunities are limited.
Coming to think of how the ministry of education, science and technology (MEST) prolonged the verification of teachers and its delay in approving qualified teachers, let alone the unavailability of educational opportunities in many remote areas of the country which had deprived children of education.
They consequently marry even before they turn teenagers with the consent of their parents.
The education factor which previous governments and the current government have failed to address only epitomizes the other findings of the NCC research on child marriage this year. I need to talk on the other findings which we all know are the barn of our times.
By and large, the NCC should be commended for conducting the research to get first-hand information the causes and prevalence of child marriage within various districts in the country. The ministry of social welfare and the office of the first lady in collaboration with WIMSAL also deserve praise for organizing the two-day media orientation training that aimed to end child marriage. But all these efforts would come to nothing, if government does not have the political will to invest more in the educational sector, enforce the law without fear or favour, later to the welfare of the people most of who have in abject poverty, and ban the traditional practices and religious beliefs that encourage child marriage.
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