By Abubakarr Harding
In a collaborative effort to safeguard the rights of children and put an end to their exploitation and abuse in politics, Save the Children, the Children’s Forum Network, and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists at a Press Conference held on Thursday 15th June, 2023 called for an End to the Abuse and Use of Children in Politics. The Press Conference was held at Save the Children’s Headquarters on Aberdeen in Freetown.
During the conference, Ramatu Jalloh, the Director of Advocacy and Communication Section at Save the Children, expressed deep concern over reports of children being exploited and abused, involved in political activities, during the 2023 General Elections campaigns in Sierra Leone. She strongly condemned such actions and urged all political parties and candidates to immediately cease using children in political campaigns or for conveying political messages.
Jalloh emphasized that Sierra Leone, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, has a clear framework for the protection and well-being of children adding that Article 3 of the Convention highlights that the best interest of the child should be the primary consideration in all actions concerning them.
Furthermore, she stated that Article 32 emphasizes the right of children to be protected from economic exploitation and any work that may interfere with their education, harm their health, or hinder their development.
She asserted that the exploitation of children for political purposes not only violates their fundamental rights but also jeopardizes their well-being and future prospects.
According to her, Children should never be used as pawns or instruments in political campaigns or activities saying such actions undermine their rights, expose them to potential harm, manipulation, and psychological distress.
Jalloh expressed deep disappointment over recent developments that disrupted children’s education disclosing that a majority of over 220,000 pupils taking the West African Senior Secondary Education Examination (WASSCE), primary and secondary school children, were either too scared to attend their exams or did not go to school on Monday, June 12th, and Tuesday, June 13th, 2023 adding how the disruption not only impacts their academic progress but also compromises their safety and mental well-being.
In light of these issues, Jalloh called upon all political parties, candidates, and their supporters to uphold the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The following urgent actions were proposed:
– Immediately cease the use of children in political campaigns, protests, events, or activities.
– Ensure the protection of children from any form of exploitation, manipulation, or harm during the electoral process.
– Raise awareness within respective party structures and among supporters about the importance of safeguarding children’s rights.
– Encourage the reporting of instances of child exploitation to the appropriate authorities.
Jalloh concluded by appealing to the media, civil society organizations, and citizens to remain vigilant and report any instance of child exploitation or involvement in political activities to the nearest police station.
The statement was endorsed by Mahmoud Barrie, President of the Children’s Forum Network; Boi Janneh Jalloh, Executive Director of Foundation for Urban and Rural Transformation (FORUT); and Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. The collaboration among these organizations is aimed at protecting the rights and well-being of children during political campaigns in Sierra Leone.