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At a glance: Sierra Leone

Executive Director says stability is bringing progress for children in Sierra Leone

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2008
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is embraced by a member of the Mother’s Club at Mankneh 2 Community School in Sierra Leone.

By Alison Parker and Alusine Savage

FREETOWN/MAKENI, Sierra Leone, 29 February 2008 – As she wrapped up a three-day official visit here yesterday, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said Sierra Leone’s stability was bringing progress for children after a decade of conflict.

Ms. Veneman, the first head of UN agency to visit the country since democratic elections were held here in September 2007, visited critical UNICEF programmes serving communities devastated by war.

“I am amazed at the level of commitment of the people to development, after a decade of one of Africa’s most severe civil conflicts,” said Ms. Veneman. “This is a clear demonstration that stability will indeed bring long-term gains for the children and women of this country.’

Addressing child malnutrition

Ms. Veneman travelled to Makeni, a former stronghold of the rebel forces during the conflict. At the Robat Peripheral Health Unit, she witnessed the implementation of an integrated child-survival package – which provides immunization, malaria prevention, hygiene promotion and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, among other services.

The UNICEF director also made a brief stop at Magbenteh Therapeutic Feeding Centre for severely malnourished children, located outside Makeni. The centre is the only community-based hospital established so far to address the high rate of child malnutrition in Sierra Leone, which is among the highest in the world.

UNICEF provides high-protein biscuits, therapeutic milk and Resomal (a modified oral rehydration salts solution for severely undernourished children), and has recently introduced Plumpy’nut therapeutic food to address early signs of malnutrition.

© UNICEF Sierra Leone/2008
Ms. Veneman with children at a community school in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone.

Education and skills training

At the Mankneh 2 Community School, situated 5 km off the main highway, Ms. Veneman witnessed the work of the Community School Initiative, which aims to provide access to education for primary school-age children who are not in school. Most of these children reside in poor and remote rural areas. 

At the school, Ms. Veneman interacted with teachers, pupils and members of a Mother’s Club that promotes quality education for children, especially girls.

The Executive Director spent the latter part of her visit with the Caritas Project for Girls, serving those who were inadvertently left out of the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programme for children associated with fighting forces during the war.

Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of these young women formerly lived in abject poverty characterized by lack of capital, limited employment opportunities and poor health. They often had to engage in begging or prostitution to fend for themselves and their babies after having been abandoned by their former captors, or ‘bush husbands’.

The UNICEF-supported Caritas programme works to restore the girls’ dignity and security by providing them with skills training that places a decent livelihood within reach.

Child-to-child advocacy

Ms. Veneman capped her visit by meeting with a vibrant cross-section of the Children’s Forum Network, a child-to-child advocacy group whose members brought key issues to her attention. Among them:

  • The challenge of completing primary education, especially for girls
  • Early marriage and teenage pregnancy
  • Traditional taboos, beliefs and practices that impede child development, including female genital mutilation.

“The children called for the urgent implementation of the Child Rights Act of 2007, which provides a legal framework to address the rights and well-being of children,” Ms. Veneman said, referring to legislation passed into law in Sierra Leone last year. The law prohibits early marriage, military conscription of children and child trafficking.



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