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Community Stakeholders Discuss Teenage Pregnancy

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Community Stakeholders Discuss Teenage Pregnancy

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Compromise at the community level remains a major fuelling factor of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, local authorities and politicians say.

The disclosure was made last week during the just concluded Community Stakeholders’ Dialogue Meeting on Commitments to Help Reduce Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriage’ in Sierra Leone. The dialogue session was convened by FOCUS 1000, one of three implementing partners of the Health Systems and Services Strengthening Porgramme, known by its French acronym PROSSAN.

The participants at the dialogue session included ward councilors and traditional chiefs from the project communities, among them tribal heads and village headmen.

Mballu Tommy, Manager of the PROSSAN project at FOCUS 1000, said the session was one aspect of the ongoing implementation of the project, which entails soliciting contributions and feedback from local stakeholders about progress on the project. Mrs Tommy said despite efforts by the government and its development partners, including introduction of a law protecting children against expolitation, the phenomenon of teen pregnancy remains rife, hence the need to convene a stakeholders’ dialogue.

“We know that there is already a law but we still have the issue and we decided to reach out to the people to know more about the issues on the ground,” she said in her opening statement at the one-day event held at the conference hall of the Council of Churches Sierra Leone in Freetown on Wednesday, March 24.

The PROSSAN project, designed to last from January 2020 to December 2021, is jointly implemented by a consortium of organizations, including FOCUS 1000.

The objective of the project is to bring reproductive health services closer to the people much in need of them. It also seeks to influence community stakeholders to improve on access to these services.

PROSSAN is funded by the French Agency for Development, and it is divided into three components: Training on HIV and other reproductive health issues; Community engagement; and Advocacy. FOCUS 1000 handles the advocacy component of the project.

A 2015 UNICEF report revealed that three out of every 10 girls in Sierra Leone were pregnant. And teenage pregnancy is a major fueling factor of maternal and infant mortality in the country.

Tenenma Rogers, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at the Freetown City Council, who represented the Development and Planning Officer of the Council, said communities have a great role to play in the fight against teenage pregnancy, while the council devises legal means towards the goal. Ms Rogers revealed that the FCC was planning on introducing a by-law geared towards tackling the phenomenon, urging the local authorities to endeavor to play their part to complement the work of the Council.

Early marriage is also considered a major contributing factor to teenage pregnancy.

According to Sierra Leonean laws, a girl can only give consent for sex at the age 18 and above. Yet Sierra Leone was ranked in the 2015 UNICEF report 18th among countries with the highest number of early marriage.

Councilor Aminata Gibril Sesay, while praising governments past and present for enacting the relevant laws seeking to protect girls against exploitation, said the laws have not been fully implemented to serve their purpose.

“We need to go beyond what we have been saying,” she said, calling out parents for their failure in taking responsibility for their girl children and leaving them exposed to exploitation. She said there is need for full involvement of local authorities in monitoring of service provision centers like community health centers, where she claimed exploitation is depriving many people from accessing services.

All the participants agreed that poverty is a common factor in all, and they say parents are to blame for exposing their children to exploitation by failing to take their parenting responsibilities. Some parents, even after reporting the matter to the police, would go on to negotiate an out of court settlement with families of the accused and force the local authorities to kill the case, they added.

“All the problem lays on us parents, for not taking responsibility of our children and allowing them to be abused,” said Councilor Mariatu.

Some of the participants also lamented inconclusive investigation of cases, which they said promotes impunity and encourages more cases in the communities.

The participants said in addition to proper enforcement of the laws, thorough sensitization is required on the relevant laws geared towards preventing abuse of particularly the girl child and preventing teenage pregnancy. They also called for harmonization of the relevant laws to resolve issues of contradictions that make it hard to prosecute cases of child abuse.

A similar session was held in Waterloo on Thursday, March 25, bringing together representatives of project communities within the Western Area Rural.

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