Opinion

Is Sierra Leone a signatory to the Rights of the Child?

By  | 1 July 2010 at 02:47 | 1890 views

The endless reports about child abuse cases in Sierra Leone makes me wonder if our country has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(UNCRC). Of course a country like ours that is desperately seeking to improve our development index ranking among the committee of developing nations is expected to have appended its signature to this all important convention. Article 19 of the UNCRC makes the protection of children from all forms of mistreatments by it member countries a sacrosanct duty. It is as a result of this commitment that both developing and developed nations have legislated against the abuse of children. In England the main legal framework put in place for child welfare issues is the Children Act 1989. It is however important to note that this child protection legal framework has been subjected to amendments and enactment of complementary legislations such as the Children Act 2004. These amendments and formulation of new legislations are geared to ensuring that the legal framework could stand the test of time.

My question as to whether Sierra Leone has signed up to the United Nations Children Rights Convention might sound silly or rhetorical from it outlook, but I will crave the indulgence of my audience not to hastily pass that judgement on me. The question is necessitated by the fast growing culture of child mistreatment in our country that is often matched with far disproportionate punitive measures taken against the perpetrators by successive governments. Failure by our governments over the years to enforce child protection laws in our country is tantamount to discrimination against children, which in itself a form of abuse.

I know for sure a Children Rights Act has been enacted in Sierra Leone quite recently in 2007, although as a country, we were late in joining the bandwagon of nations that have already legislated on child protection measures. Notwithstanding this fact, it was my belief that it still worth the effort. However, my stance on this child protection legislation is quickly evaporating, owing to the nonchalant attitude of the authorities to vigorously implement the law. One of the provisions of this Act defined a child as someone below the age of eighteen; which is in unison with that of the UNCRC. The Act also calls for the unequivocal promotion of the welfare of the child, otherwise known as the paramount principle.

However, the frequent occurrences of mistreatment of children by adults in our country undermine the efficacy of the Children Rights Act 2007. Among the abuses perpetrated on children, the most common one is sexual abuse which has far reaching adverse psychological consequences on children than any other form of abuse. Often time, the justification given by adults for sexually abusing children is that children consented to have sexual inter-course with them. It is important to note that one of the sensitive provisions of the UNCRC and our own Children Rights Act 2007 is children’s lack of capacity to give consent. Whatever might be the arrangement between a child and an adult there is no way a child can be able to discern the negative effects of the agreement he/she had entered into with an adult and hence such agreement is not legally binding.

The spate of sexual abuse perpetrated on children by adults has become so rampant that one of our our local musical artists saw the need to come out with the popular
countries, defined parental responsibility as the responsibilities a parent owe to his or her child and not their rights over a child. Until this is instilled in parents, they will be reluctant to reason that some of their treatments towards their children are abusive in nature.
lyrics known as ‘I catch am oho honourable’... Whether this honourable is still a Member of Parliament or is dead I am not ‘Oshure’?

Again, children are not only abuse by non relatives in Sierra Leone, but news of relatives, carers and parents abusing children is not uncommon in this tiny land of ours. Research has found that the most psychological devastating form of sexual abuse on children is incest; this is so because the abuse will either take long to be unearthed or it will last forever. The unavoidable situation that will force children to live with such abusers has often resulted to children experiencing low esteem, personality disorders and mal-adjusted behaviour in their communities.

Domestic violence either direct or indirectly perpetrated on children has serious psychological damage on children. I know I will be crucified by some of my audience for the audacity to decry corporal punishment on children. I believe in as much as some of us benefited from such punishment in my infant days, because it served as a deterrent, however, the unreasonable use of force by parents and carers have severe psychological impact on children such as loss of confidence, inculcation of violent behaviour and positive attachment problems. The effects are very much visible in our youthful population today. The current violent attacks in our one time revered university campus between White Man and Black Man Camps at Fourah Bay College are ample evidence of these violent consequences on children in our country.

Notwithstanding the laidback attitude of governments to vigorously enforce child protection laws, I also understand authorities are very much careful in trying not to incur the wrath of parents/carers, who are apparently their voters and who still believe that their children are their personal property and they should not be instructed on how to parent them. In contrast to this culture, both the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and most Children Rights Acts enacted by developing
One of the ways of supporting children with such psychological problems or post traumatic stress disorder is by using cognitive behavioural therapies so as to minimise the psychological damage on them. However, whether our country has qualified social workers to carry out such therapies is another problem to think about. I will conclude by saying, if perpetration of abuse on children is not nip on the bud by authorities in our country, it will bring about a situation wherein children will not be able to actualise their full potentials in the society and hence would not be able to fill the generation gap of future leaders in our country.

Sullay Adekulay holds an MSc in social work and is registered with the General Social Care Council of England.

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