According to the last population census in 2004, women constitute 51.3% of the Sierra Leonean population and more than half of the figure are youths. Unfortunately, 10 % of them were living below the poverty line (defined as living on less than $ 1 a day), and 74% were living on less than 50 cents a day. We are now in the year 2014 and the general situation of the Sierra Leonean women, especially the youths, is not far better that 10 years ago. Every human right volunteer and gender activist would like to know why are there no significant changes in those figures 10 years later? Why women still lag behind in tertiary education, skill training and basic entrepreneurship? Well, there are too many reasons to that but teenage prostitution is a major one.
Even though the Sierra Leonean sexual offences Act strongly prohibits sexual molestations perpetrated against underage girls by their custodians or people of trust including breadwinners, relatives, trainers and teachers, there is no sign of decrement in the dreadful acts especially in the rural areas where poverty has taken precedence over human rights for too long. The case of xxx, one of the beautiful and promising girls in our youth groups in Kenema, is a glaring example. I will name her alias “Precious” throughout this article for privacy reasons.
Precious knocked at my door one morning in hue and tears after her uncle refused to support her further at school. She was drenched and hopeless. Her uncle, (name withheld for privacy reasons), was catering for four children, none of which belonged to him biologically. Precious had failed the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), which is the Sierra Leonean intermediate level and requirement for promotion to senior secondary school. The retired civil servant vowed not to pay for another year since the burden was unbearable. Fambul Tik e.V in collaboration with Youth in Action for Development (YAD), helped Precious to return back to school in 2012/2013 and she was able to pass BECE on clear standing. We convinced her uncle to shoulder her feeding and accommodation as usual while we take care of her education since the standoff was about her lazy work at school. We kept checking on her once in a while in order to know how she was progressing with education.
I personally visited Precious’ uncle in last December after she disappeared for complete two months. I needed to know what happened to her as I was, and still I’m, expecting her to grow as one of the existing examples of our success in Kenema municipality. I was told that Precious went to the village for Christmas holiday. “But she had disappeared for almost two month before Christmas”, I wondered. She called me a week later and admitted in a quivering tone what I actually expected. She was 4 months pregnant and had left the city for the suburb in order to avoid public view. She is 17 years plus, 9 month pregnant now and about to deliver.
When I approached the family to further investigate who made Precious pregnant, the uncle was the first to plead not to expose the story. In-depth investigations has revealed that Precious was sharing bed with her teacher. The teacher became her secret breadwinner almost two years ago. Which means he started abusing her sexually when she was just above 15.
This is just one of the countless stories of teenage abuse that are going unprosecuted in post war Sierra Leone. The greatest absurdity is that key family members who supposed to protect the victims are always caught in middle of the plots as they connive with the perpetrators to rob the girls of their right to education, social and economic freedom. Precious might not even come back to the city anymore let alone have the chance to continue education. She needs at least a year to breastfeed and bring up the child after which she might end up seeing herself more of a housewife and mother than a school pupil.
According to our investigations, about 70% of girls in senior secondary schools in Kenema have experienced abortion, at least one time, and most of the cases happened after they offered sex for their daily bread and other opportunities including examination marks. While some are deflowered by their guidance and later chased out of home after they get battered, others are presently facing the harsh reality of living as jobless single mothers after the men who made them pregnant disowned the pregnancies. This minimizes their chance to acquire better education and attain respectable jobs, hence the chance to participate in decision making at grassroots level.
It must be noted that the Sierra Leonean government enacted a Sexual Offences Act in the year 2012 which defined child prostitution as:
The provision of any sexual service by a person under the age of 18 for financial or other reward, favour or compensation, whether paid to the child or some other person
The Act further stated:
A parent, guardian or person with care or custody of a child who knowingly allows or facilitates in any way, the engagement of that child in an act of child prostitution commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years.
Unfortunately, we are yet to see any parent, breadwinner, guardian or school teacher being charged under the above laws.
By Isata Ngombulango, YAD