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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Nane Annan meets vulnerable girls in Freetown

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006/Savage
Nane Annan sits with girls at a UNICEF-supported centre for vulnerable girls in the community of Kanike, near Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.

By Alison Parker

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 3 July 2006 – Accompanying her husband, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, on his third visit to Sierra Leone, Nane Annan visited a UNICEF-supported centre for vulnerable girls.

Managed by the international humanitarian agency GOAL Ireland, the centre is located east of Freetown in Kanike, an extremely poor community with a population of more than 10,000 people, most of whom thrive on petty trading. Prostitution and crime are rampant.

With support from UNICEF, the centre cares for children who have been sexually assaulted, children involved in prostitution, girls vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, street girls and unaccompanied children. For girls ranging in age from 9 to 16, the programme offers psycho-social counseling, non-formal primary education, life-skills training and family tracing, mediation and reunification.

Additional services include HIV/AIDS awareness, health interventions, recreational activities, nutrition, temporary shelter and advocacy.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2006/Savage
Girls at centre managed by the humanitarian agency GOAL Ireland shake hands with Nane Annan, child advocate and wife of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Transforming lives

Ms. Annan, who was visibly moved by the stories of some of the girls she met, applauded the centre’s organizers and supporters for their timely intervention in providing a safety net for these vulnerable children.

“I must commend the efforts of UNICEF, GOAL and the entire humanitarian community – not least the local Children’s Welfare Committee – for transforming the lives of these children, giving them an opportunity to grow to be fully fledged citizens,” she said.

Sierra Leone’s recent history cannot be an excuse to neglect its children, especially girls who are facing the harsh realities of poverty, added Ms. Annan. “A nation that neglects its children, especially girls, is a nation that neglects its future and development,” she warned.

A protective environment

The country’s decade-long civil war had devastating physical and psychological effects on children.

“Despite significant and commendable gains made by the government and its partners in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children associated with the fighting forces, children continue to be at risk of economic and sexual exploitation, including trafficking and fraudulent adoption,” noted UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone Geert Cappelaere.

He called on continued leadership by the government and support from other development partners to ensure a protective environment “for all children under all circumstances.”



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