Sierra Leone is ranked 181 out of 189 on the Gender Inequality Index (GII), meaning it has some highest disparities between females and males and as a result suffers more loss to human development. The gender gaps and discrimination of women and girls in health, education, and political representation, have negative consequences on their development and freedom of choice.
Although the fertility rate in Sierra Leone is gradually decreasing, the rate of teenage mothers (15-19) is increasing. Child marriage also remains a large concern.
“Today I have recognition in my family and my community.”
Marjorie was still in primary school when she realised she was pregnant. “I was driven away by my parents for what they referred to as ‘shame in the family,’” says Marjorie. “I stayed with friends until I delivered and started selling food for the upkeep of me and my daughter.”
In Sierra Leone, the prevalence of teenage pregnancy is gradually becoming a crisis. According to The United Nations Population Fund, 12.5% of girls become pregnant between 15 and 19 (Adolescent birth rate of 125 per 1,000). 39% of women aged 20-24 married before the age of 18 and 13% of women aged 20-24 were married before 15 (UNFPA Sierra Leone 2017). This severely reduces the opportunities for girls to continue their education and negatively impacts their development and future opportunities.
The situation is even worse in rural communities. Burma is a small community on the outskirts of Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone with a population of 6,000. Here, 60% of girls become pregnant before the age of 15 and are denied the opportunity to learn a skill or trade. The young mothers, who are still children themselves, are often rejected by their partners and their parents who want to avoid family shame. As a result, they are alone and unable to provide for their babies.
Many feel they have no other option than to turn to sex work to make a living. These girls are being sexually exploited and abused by adults whose role it should be to protect them. They face high risks of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and violence. Their children are vulnerable while their mothers are working, without care or protection.
Our local partner is Future Focus Foundation, a volunteer-led organisation working in rural communities across eastern Sierra Leone. Future Focus Foundation promotes social justice and equal opportunities through awareness raising and livelihood programmes. All of its programmes are developed with the women and communities they work with. The majority of the volunteers are female.
Future Focus Foundation runs a successful training centre in the community of Burma, Kerema which since 2013, has trained over 200 people in marketable trades. All past graduates are now employed or running their own businesses.
Future Focus Foundation has been a ChildHope partner since 2013.
The project provides 20 adolescent mothers with skills and training to establish their own business or secure alternative employment opportunities. This will allow them to receive a stable income and be more financially independent, to cover their basic needs and provide for their children, and be better protected from the risks of sexual abuse and exploitation.
The project’s focus is on creating tailored support for each woman and child we work with so they can access the right resources and education opportunities. We will work with the young mothers themselves to make sure they develop the different skills, suited to their strengths and interests.
We work with the community around them to promote a safer and more supportive environment for them and their families.
The young women are receiving 10-month training in either tailoring or embroidery, depending on their interests. The courses include work experience placements, and upon graduation, the women will receive a start-up kit to start their own business and an official certificate.
They receive literacy and numeracy support, as most of them are illiterate or have extremely low levels of education, and business development training.
At the end of the training, women will receive ongoing support and mentoring for up to a year or until their businesses are fully established.
This project supports a childcare facility within the training centre for 10 children whose mothers do not have help with childcare. These children will receive meals, sanitary kits, and toys to support development.
The women are encouraged to join savings groups to save for their children’s education and plan for the future. Group Savings Schemes are also monitored to ensure the women are planning their safety net.
To assess how well the mother’s improved financial security is benefitting children, social workers monitor children’s school attendance and their health and physical wellbeing.
Child protection and participation
Community-based child protection structures, such as Child Welfare Committees (CWC), will be strengthened by providing training a refresher training in safeguarding and child protection. This will support developing community prevention and response strategies to child protection issues and promote a protective environment in the homes, schools and communities for children and young people.
Staff will also follow up and support the CWC, identifying, reporting and managing any cases or child protection issues identified within their communities.
Training workshop on Savings and Accounting
120 participants from 4 communities (30 per community) received 2 days training in Savings and Loan schemes. Each group was provided with accounting tools comprising metal box with 3 padlocks and keys; calculator, 30 pass books per group, stamp and stamp pad, ledger, notebook, pens and rulers and group bye laws.
One million Leones (Le 1,000,000) were given to each group as a seed grant to boost the group saving scheme. These funds are used to provide the graduates sewing machines when they complete the course.
Over 350 pupils of the Al-Rahim Junior school benefitted from an awareness raising session conducted by the foundation as part of the peer education activity. The session raised awareness for sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) against girls and included advocacy and peer education training with young people. It also supported Girls Alert Clubs with girls from various schools in order to raise awareness and alarm on SGBV cases in schools and encourage communities to report any cases.
In the session, the foundation also addressed prevention and response to all forms of SGBV, especially sexual abuse in schools and communities, dangers of teenage pregnancy, harmful traditional practices, and early marriages.
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