The Catholic Relief Services(CRS) and partners have held a day Symposium during the 16 Days of Activism on issues surrounding Child, Early, and Forceful Marriages in the country at the Paloma Hall in Kenema.

The engagement brought together pupils, traditional leaders, school authorities, and other key players in the same fight.

Giving an overview of the Symposium, the communication Officer of CRS in Sierra Leone, Abibatu Conteh stated that the theme for this year 16 Days Activism resonates with Catholic Relief Services(CRS) investment to prevent and mitigate Gender-Based Violence in our operating communities.

To demonstrate CRS’s commitment and advocacy efforts on the prevention and mitigation of Child, Early, and Forced marriages (CEFM). CRS will engage communities and stakeholders to raise awareness of Child Early Forced Marriage and highlight the importance of girls’ education referencing the finding and recommendations from the CEFM assessment that CRS conducted in 2021.

To highlight CRS activities on Child, Early, and Forced Marriages (CEFM) in Sierra Leone. To create awareness at the district level on the negative effects of CEFM on young girls in Sierra Leone.

To identify challenges in addressing CEFM and proffer solutions on how to end early child marriages in the target districts.

She furthered that CRS would work in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs at the district level to coordinate with partners and several key stakeholders were invited including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, NGOs, Chiefdom heads, parents, school authorities, journalist, religious leaders, and other relevant authorities to a round table symposium talk for discussions and dialogues about the findings of the CEFM study.

Victor McCarthy who doubles as the Senior Protection Officer at the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs commended CRS for such a program and the composition of the participants. He continues that the ministry can not succeed alone which is why it is always ready to accommodate any organization or individual that is ready to work by the mandate of the ministry.

McCarthy continued that with the type of participants present, there is no doubt that the discussion will be fruitful. Additionally that the child right act categorically criminalizes Children’s Early and forced marriage and other gender-based violence cases.

He thanked the Family Support Unit, the Rainbow Center, and the One Stop Centers where victims are taken for medical treatment processes that help expedite court proceedings.

“I sure that pupils and everyone here to going to learn a lot from the symposium and also take the messages back communities as a way of raising more awareness,” McCarthy concluded.

The town chief of Giema Town also serves as the head of all town chiefs in Dama Chiefdom, Chief Saffa Vandy CRS, and its partners for organizing such a program. He made a stern assurance that he will firmly advise his fellow chiefs and the entire chiefdom to promptly desist from all issues dealing with Gender-Based violence to the nearest police station for immediate action.

Chief Saffa pledged his full commitment to the fight, thereby instructing his colleagues to impose fines on anyone caught compromising Sexual penetration cases or involved in any activity leading to Child Early and forced marriage. He extended the same pronouncement to all his colleagues that may be found wanting.

He concluded by urging all key players to any organization that is working towards eradicating early and forced Child Marriage coupled with other GBV issues in the country.

Saffiatu Jaja Jalloh, the Manager of the Rainbow Centre in Kenema, thanked the organizers of the Symposium. She made it clear that the issue of Children, Early and Forced Marriage, and other Gender-Based Violence issues are still on the increase in the country. Because the Rainbow Centre always receives cases of sexual penetration and violence.

She furthered that the presence of parents and traditional leaders is prudent given the fact that most parents and local leaders encouraged cases of early marriage and sexual penetration and violence in their communities.

“Compromise is very common among parents and some community stakeholders in this country. I am pleading with the government to intensify and be vigilant about fines and punishment for anyone that is found compromising SGBV cases in the country, only that can lead us to success in the fight,” madam Jalloh concluded.

The program ended with an active interactive session.