At a glance: Sierra Leone

Adolescent girl club in Sierra Leone tackles teenage pregnancy and engenders independence

© UNICEF Video
Mbalu, 18, is passionate about her education. Find out how she shares that passion with the group of teenage girls she mentors at the Wharf club, in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.  Download this video

 

By Jo Dunlop and Nerina Penzhorn

The proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 20 per cent in 2010. Poverty hits children hardest, creating an environment that is damaging to their development in every way.

Reducing child poverty is just one of the 25 achievements we are celebrating as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in November. Learn more about the progress we’ve made and what still needs to be done.

PORT LOKO, Sierra Leone, 14 July 2014 – A group of teenage girls take off their shoes and enter a large room on the second storey of an old building, across the street from Port Loko’s bustling market. They are members of the Wharf club, an adolescent club for girls, and they meet here every afternoon.

“Today, we’re going to talk about teenage pregnancy,” announces Mbalu Bumbuya, 18, a mentor at the club.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
Mbalu tells her peers “how to protect themselves so that they can excel in life”, she says. “And I encourage them not to drop out of school.”

Tackling social problems

Teenage pregnancy is one of the most pervasive social problems in Sierra Leone today. When a teenage girl becomes pregnant, it affects her social, economic and political progress and puts her health at risk.

In Sierra Leone, more than one third of all pregnancies involve teenage girls. Up to 40 per cent of maternal deaths occur among them.

UNICEF, in collaboration with the NGO BRAC, is tackling this complex issue through a simple idea – providing a place where teenage girls enjoy hanging out while they have training in life skills, gain valuable knowledge and access mentoring from peers. By establishing adolescent development centres, BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents (ELA) programme assists 6,000 girls between the ages of 13 and 19 to achieve greater social and economic empowerment.

The wider aim of the programme is to reduce child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Through these ‘clubs’, vulnerable girls are given safe spaces for sharing their experiences. They receive training in sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the girls learn financial literacy and can access credit support to start income-generating activities.

Finding support and friendship

The club has helped Mbalu stay focused on her education. She is passionate about teaching and motivating her peers. “I tell them how to protect themselves so that they can excel in life,” she says. “And I encourage them not to drop out of school.”

It is often the poorest girls who become pregnant during adolescence, with serious long-term and wide-ranging consequences – from health complications to broader economic concerns. 

Sixteen-year-old Aminata Kargbo dropped out of school when she became pregnant.  “My friends at school started gossiping about my pregnancy, and I was so ashamed,” she says. When she joined her local ELA club, she found support and friendship, which gave her the courage to go back to school.

© UNICEF Video
Fatmata, 17, used the training and microloan she obtained through an adolescent girls' club to start a small business. She supports herself and her infant son.

 

 

Learning livelihoods, gaining independence

A lack of money for basic needs such as food and clothes drives some girls towards transactional sex. In addition to life skills training, ELA offers livelihood training in skills such as hairdressing, tailoring and poultry management, as well as financial literacy training and microcredit. 

Fatmata Dumbuya dropped out of school at 17 to marry an older man, against the advice of her family. “He treated me well until I became pregnant,” she says. “Then he saw other women and started misbehaving at home.” He did not provide sufficient food for Fatmata and their child. She decided to leave her husband, but was too ashamed to return to her family. So she went to stay with her in-laws. It was while she was there that she heard about ELA.

Now, Fatmata participates in ELA’s microfinance programme. She has had training in financial literacy and has received a small loan, which she used to buy housewares that she sells door to door.

Financial independence has had a profound impact on Fatmata’s standard of living, as well as her confidence. She is able to provide clothes and food for herself and her child, and she is respected in her community.

When Fatmata’s husband heard about her success, he came to visit her. She told him, “My business is my new man now.”  She can take care of herself.

Sierra Leone remains among the world’s poorest countries. Putting an end to poverty requires providing opportunities for all individuals, especially women and girls, to thrive through education, nutrition, and health. UNICEF continues to support initiatives in Sierra Leone that empower girls to achieve their full potential.


 

 

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