By Foday Moriba Conteh
It would be recalled that on Monday 7th November 2022 Her Excellency, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone introduced a Draft Resolution to Declare November 18 the “World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence” at the UN General Assembly of which the General Assembly on the same day adopted a resolution proclaiming 18 November of each year as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence.
According to WHO, millions of children fall victim to sexual violence each year and many victims and survivors never come forward to disclose their experiences, seek justice or support due to the overwhelming shame associated with such incidents.
The groundbreaking resolution was initiated by Sierra Leone, in collaboration with Nigeria, to declare November 18 the “World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence”.
The First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, joined forces with the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Her Excellency ,Senator Oluremi Tinubu and the First Lady of the Republic of Angola, Ana Dias Lourenço, to commemorate the maiden edition of the United Nations World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence in the country.
The commemoration, which commenced on Friday 17th November, 2023 with a Muslim prayer at the State Lodge on Hill Station in Freetown was climaxed with a Christian prayer on Saturday 18th November, 2023 at the Winners Chapel International Church on Hillside Bye-Pass Road in Freetown.
Both events aimed at raising awareness about preventing and healing victims of child sexual exploitation, abuse, and violence. It symbolized solidarity and a shared commitment to addressing such critical issues.
Her Excellency, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio stressed the importance of safeguarding children from exploitation, abuse, and violence, emphasizing the need for collective action in order to create a safe environment for them to thrive.
Highlighting Sierra Leone’s commitment to gender equality, she shared insights into the religious tolerance in the country, evident in her, a Muslim, marriage to President Julius Maada Bio, a devout Christian. This diversity was reflected in the Islamic prayer held on Friday, 17th November, 2023 and the Christian commemoration that took place on Saturday, 18th November, 2023.
Acknowledging the Nigerian First Lady’s commitment to championing women and girls’ protection globally, she commended her as a role model.
Addressing survivors, First Lady Dr. Fatima Maada Bio urged them not to see themselves as victims but to recognize that the shame lies with those who harmed them. She assured survivors of the Government’s commitment to stand with them, provide healing and encouraged them to reclaim their pride as Sierra Leoneans.
Her Excellency, The First Lady of Angola, Dr. Ana Dias Lourenco, emphasized the urgency of addressing child sexual exploitation, abuse, and violence, urging concerted efforts to support and protect vulnerable children.
Her Excellency, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the First Lady of the Federal of Nigeria, echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the importance of proactive measures, education, awareness, and advocacy in combating child sexual exploitation.
The Minister Social Welfare, Melrose Kaminty, expressed solidarity with survivors, shedding light on the country’s efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence, including President Bio’s commitment to declare rape a public health emergency.
Highlighting the establishment of the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 and a model court for sexual offences, she called for collective collaboration to reduce this global crisis. She urged the use of technology to prevent online and offline offences and to improve the criminal justice system.
In his keynote address, His Excellency Dr. Julius Maada Bio highlighted the Government’s strides in empowering women and girls mentioning the Human Capital Development Initiative and the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Act.
Both the Muslim and the Christian prayers conducted by these influential figures served as a poignant reminder of the global commitment to protecting children and promoting their well-being.