HON. DR. SYLVIA BLYDEN’S OPENING STATEMENT ON THE PRESENTATION OF THE COMBINED THIRD TO FIFTH PERIODIC REPORT OF SIERRA LEONE IN FULFILLMENT OF ARTICLE 44 OF THE U.N. CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
Esteemed Members of the Committee,
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen,
I bring you greetings from His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, the Government and People of the Republic of Sierra Leone. We are grateful for the opportunity to once again address this all-important international body responsible for ensuring the rights of the children of the world are respected and upheld. The Government of the State of Sierra Leone places premium on upholding the rights of all children especially the children of Sierra Leone. I here reaffirm our commitment towards ensuring that Sierra Leone fully complies with its obligations set out in the Child Rights Convention, the optional protocols to the convention and other international instruments that are for protection of children.
During this 73rd Session of the Committee, the Combined 3rd to 5th Report of Sierra Leone (in compliance with Article 44 of the Convention) which was submitted in February 2013, as well as our State Responses to the subsequent list of issues raised, will be under consideration in the full glare of the international public. Together with my delegation, we hope to successfully engage with this Committee to ensure that implementation of the Convention and cooperation with this laudable mechanism are optimal within the State of Sierra Leone.
Mr. Chairman, I must confess that the preference of our Government was for this our appearance to have been deferred to a much later date when we would have completed the President’s ongoing 24 months post-Ebola programme that aims at restoring and rebuilding a country shattered by a war with an unorthodox opponent; an enemy unseen by the naked eye but which brought an entire subregion to its knees. I speak here of the Ebola Virus Outbreak in the Mano River Union basin. The Ebola Outbreak created a very tough time for Sierra Leone. Everything we knew and held dear got practically broken or brought to a standstill, as we combated an enemy worse than the ones of our dreadful eleven years war. Fortunately, under the great leadership of His Excellency President Koroma, we have put the war against Ebola behind us.
However Mr. Chairman, the devastation Ebola left behind has continued to affect our people, including our children. For example, we now have a huge number of Ebola Orphans and Child Ebola Survivors, which scenario remains to be a very significant challenge of our vision to protect all our children.
Indeed, given what we promised in our Combined Report which Ebola could not allow us to implement, Sierra Leone would have preferred to defer appearing at this session until the country finished the ongoing post Ebola recovery priorities of the President. However, on the other hand, we do see this global scrutiny appearance, as a further chance to showcase our other successes, despite the huge challenges. It is also a chance to publicly acknowledge where we need help from the World.
Mr. Chairman, our Head of State, H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma is passionate about the rights of children; and actions of his government reflect that in so many ways. For example, I daresay His Excellency’s decision to appoint myself as Cabinet Minister and also appoint Hon. Madam Neneh Rugiatu Turay to be deputy minister in our ministry that is responsible for children, women and social issues, is evidence of the importance President Koroma applies towards the interest of Sierra Leone children.
Mr. Chairman, prior to my appointment as Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs, I have been a recognised champion and advocate for human rights with special focus on the rights of the child and rights of women. I was for well over a decade, the Goodwill Ambassador for children of Sierra Leone; chosen by the children themselves as the most fitted adult to seek their welfare. In the case of our Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Gender & Children’s Affairs, her credentials as an activist against Female Genital Cutting, are legendary. She is so very passionate about protection of women and children. Both our carefully thought out appointments are evidence of the importance President Koroma places on rights of children and women. Thus, my deputy minister and myself are conscientious in discharging our duties and ensuring that commitments made by Government of Sierra Leone towards promotion and protection of human rights, especially those pertaining to children are fulfilled.
Mr. Chairman, we are hopeful that the delegation I am here with today in Geneva, backed up by the Team on standby in our capital Freetown, can effectively make our case to the wider international community that Child Rights remains a priority in Sierra Leone, and that we need the continued assistance of the International Community to help us achieve our programmes to protect our children.
Mr. Chairman, Children matter in Sierra Leone. Our government does not only give our children the space to fulfil their potentials but we allow them to have a voice in national decisions especially on issues to do with children. That is why a child is right here with us as part of my official delegation. 15 year old Hussain Muckson Sesay, the Secretary General of the Children’s Forum Network will be a part of the government’s team preparing responses to the important questions you have for us.
Mr. Chairman, the situation of Ebola Orphans and Ebola Survivors matter in Sierra Leone and that is why I also have with me here today, Mr. Daddy Hassan Kamara, National Coordinator of Ebola Orphans programme of Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors. He is also the National Spokesman for the thousands of Ebola Survivors we now have to take care of in Sierra Leone. Our Ebola survivors are considered to be heroes and heroines of the war against the dreadful Ebola enemy and the Sierra Leone Government continues to call on our friends and partners to support the lamentable situation of thousands of our children left affected by the Outbreak including those orphaned after their parents died from Ebola disease.
Mr. Chairman, whilst I would have been exceptionally proud of presenting responses to you today which depict 100% success rate in implementation of our obligations and promises, I humbly accept that our programmes and plans got derailed by the dreadful force majeure Ebola complex. It derailed a lot of timelines that had been set as per the report under discuss. The full implementation of policies were not rolled out in the manner envisaged by the Report nor were all the immediate plans to continue to improve on the human rights of children, got to be realised. However, the President, H.E. Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, since coming to office in 2007 initiated two inclusive rights-based development programmes: the Agenda for Change and the Agenda for Prosperity. Both programmes are informed and fully embrace the political, economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed under those international and regional treaties we have ratified especially the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These programmes, together with the ongoing Post-Ebola Recovery Priorities programme, which was launched in July 2015, have institutionalised the promotion and protection of human rights of children with a dynamic political timeline that is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. As a matter of fact, our government remains to be the very first one that aligned its national agenda programme with that of the SDGs.
Mr. Chairman, further to our Combined Report, is the supplemental report which contains the responses to the list of issues that this esteemed body raised and which responses you have been expecting to have been submitted since June 2016 but which you are only now receiving in September. Let me swiftly at this point, apologise for the lateness in our submission of the Responses to List of Issues. This was due to circumstances totally beyond my control. However, although submitted late, our responses have detailed progress that has been made since the reporting date of 2012. As challenging as the full implementation of the Convention seems, especially against the backdrop of the Ebola Outbreak, our Government is very committed to fulfilling our obligations. I now wish to highlight a few points.
We recognise the need for amendments to the Child Rights Act of 2007 (CRA), which is the enabling Act. We also seek to soon amend the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act of 2009 which unhinged the sanctity of the definition of a child by allowing a loophole for legitimising prevalence of child early and forced marriage. We also note review of discriminatory provisions of the current Constitution. So having realised the urgent need for the amendment of these and other legislations to ensure better protection of the rights of children, the Government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) has set up mechanisms that will review them and bring them in line with international standards and practice.
Sierra Leone is a nation steeped in traditional practices; some of these practices have been described as harmful and has procured a lengthy debate especially over the issue of female circumcision also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and which is deeply entrenched and steeped into the traditions and culture of upwards of 80% of our women. What our Government has done, is to isolate the sacred rights of female children specifically away from the wider debate.
I will also like to expound later during our engagements about gender based violence especially those perpetrated on young children and our efforts to combat and prosecute offenders including through a strengthening of Family Support Units of the Sierra Leone Police and the newly established Legal Aid Board.
In the past, education has been without gender parity but we have seen significant improvements that we could discuss further. We have also enjoyed improved rates of enrolments.
A tripartite Child Labour National Technical Steering Committee was formed in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that is now developing a National Action Plan against the Worst Forms of Child Labour including Child Trafficking.
In the Health Sector, there is a lot of progress made that I will be very proud to discuss further with you including free health care services for Ebola Survivors, for victims of sexual violence, for children under age of 5 years and for pregnant and lactating mothers as well as better Data Management systems and Training.
An intensive Birth Registration exercise is embedded within our ongoing Civil Registration & Vital Statistics programme so no child gets left behind uncounted.
Realising the importance of clean, potable water supply as a prerequisite to healthy children, the Government has placed huge importance on improving rural water supply to smaller villages and towns. Furthermore, we also have pipe borne water in every single provincial headquarters town. The Government is also now actively working on developing strategies to upgrade the capital city’s water supply system.
Mr Chairman, there is a lot of progress that I am excited to speak about but there are also challenges. However, in the midst of all challenges and successes, please let me end this Statement by once again reiterating full commitment of the State of Sierra Leone to this process. Let me assure this noble Committee that Sierra Leone will at all times endeavour to uphold its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I will stop at this point and look forward to the ensuing dialogue on the Combined Report and Responses submitted to your List of Issues.
I thank you for your kind attention.
DELIVERED BY HONOURABLE DR SYLVIA OLAYINKA BLYDEN
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL WELFARE, GENDER AND CHILDREN’S AFFAIRS
GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND. 14TH SEPTEMBER 2016