Suggests Post-War UN Rehabilition Programme for Sierra Leone
The Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded this afternoon its consideration of an initial report submitted by the Government of Sierra Leone, urging the authorities to continue their efforts in constructing democratic institutions and enhancing the respect for human rights, in particular the rights of the child.
In preliminary concluding observations and recommendations, Committee members congratulated the Government for sending a delegation and submitting a report despite the difficulties it had encountered due to the armed conflict. They also encouraged the authorities to harmonize the country's legislation to bring it in line with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They urged the Government to exert additional efforts to reduce discrimination against females.
The Committee suggested that the United Nations should design a post-war rehabilitation programme for Sierra Leone, similar to that of Haiti.
The Committee will issue its final concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Sierra Leone towards the end of its current three-week session, which concludes on 28 January.
The delegation of Sierra Leone consisted of Sidikie Brima, Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation; Alfred Bobson Sesay, Director-General at the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sports; Iris Juxon-Smith, Chief Social Development Officer at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs; and Miatta Howard, Administrative Assistant at the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Sierra Leone Chapter.
As one of 191 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Sierra Leone is obliged to submit periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to implement the treaty. The written reports serve as a basis for questioning and discussion between Government delegations and Committee experts.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Friday, 14 January, it will take up the second periodic report of Costa Rica.
Answering follow-up questions, the delegation of Sierra Leone said that the Government was making efforts to restructure the educational system which had been badly hit by the armed conflict during the last nine years. Teachers who had fled the country were encouraged to return home and participate in the reconstruction efforts. The Government had also continued to train teachers in the existing institutions.
The delegation said that with the majority of schools destroyed, almost 70 per cent of primary school pupils did not attend school. The Government's policy was targeted toward giving every child access to education and ultimately to ensure that education would be free and compulsory. In 1999, the Government had made provision for free tuition for all children attending first to third grades at Government-run or assisted schools throughout the country.
The incidence of drug and alcohol consumption had increased dramatically due to the nine-year rebel war, the Sierra Leonean officials said. Children abducted by the rebels were encouraged to take drugs and were forced to fight and to perform manual work such as carrying heavy goods and looted properties. Before the war, the phenomenon of drug consumption was not widely known within the society. However, during the last nine years, children had easy access to drugs such as cannabis. The Government had now taken repressive measures against persons growing cannabis and making it available to children.
With regard to child labour, the delegation affirmed that statistics had indicated an alarming increase in child labour, particularly in the agricultural sector. In the rural areas, only a few children attended schools while many of them worked in the fields.
The immunization and vaccination campaign against polio had been successful and involved 95 per cent of children, the delegation said. Hospitals for children were also expected to be increased depending on the attainment of total peace in the country. At present, there were only two hospitals for children.
Following the takeover of the capital city, Freetown, landmines had been planted by rebels, the delegation said. The Government was now seeking international assistance in its demining efforts.
No comprehensive study had been conducted on the number of children affected by HIV/AIDS, the delegation said. Up to now, 1,120 persons had been affected by the HIV/AIDS virus, out of which about 400 had died. There was no comprehensive system in place for AIDS testing in the country. The lack of resources and technical expertise had severely affected the carrying out of appropriate research and development of educational tools on HIV/AIDS.
A question was raised concerning incest, to which the delegation said that this subject remained a taboo because of the severe consequences for the person committing it. If a married person committed incest, the community could take away his wife and he could face exclusion from society. It was noted that incest was not common in Sierra Leonean society.
The practice of female genital mutilation had been considered in Sierra Leone as a perpetuation of ancestral tradition and the Government was reluctant to ban it, the delegation said. However, through awareness raising programmes, the tradition had been modified in a manner so as not to shock the population.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In their preliminary concluding observations and recommendations, the members of the Committee congratulated the Government for sending a delegation despite the difficulties it had encountered due to the armed conflict. The Government was encouraged to rebuild the democratic institutions and to harmonize legislation to bring it in line with the provisions of the Convention. Members also urged the Government to exert additional efforts to reduce discrimination against females.
An expert said that the United Nations should design a post-war rehabilitation programme for Sierra Leone as it had done for Haiti. The reunification of families with children who had been abducted and forcefully recruited as rebel soldiers should be seriously considered. In addition, children should be allowed to go back to school; and that in matters of health, every effort should be made available so that they fit within the society.
Sierra Leone should build a culture of respect for children by observing the provisions of the Convention, other members said. Participation of children was very important in the Government's activities designed for children. In its efforts to establish institutions, such as those for psychological and mental health, the Government should seek international assistance as part of a long-term plan of action.
The Government was urged to continue its cooperation with non-governmental organizations which could contribute to the human value of the country's development. The Government should play a role in monitoring and guiding policies towards the protection and promotion of the rights of children. It should also develop an inter-ministerial interaction on child rights. In addition, the Government should ensure access to basic needs by the whole population, particularly the rural one.
In conclusion, the Government of Sierra Leone was urged to continue its efforts in constructing democratic institutions and the respect for human rights, in particular the rights of the child.