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Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews the report of Sierra Leone

GENEVA (15 September 2016) - The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined third to fifth periodic report of Sierra Leone on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
 
Introducing the report, Sylvia Olayinka Blyiden, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said that the Government of Sierra Leone placed priority on upholding the rights of all children and was committed towards ensuring that Sierra Leone fully complied with its obligations set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The decision of President Koroma to appoint her as a Cabinet Minister, having in mind she was a passionate activist against female genital cutting, was proof of his dedication to the rights of children.  The Government did not only give children space to fulfil their potentials, but allowed them to have a voice in national decisions.
 
In the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the commitment of Sierra Leone to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. At the same time, they had serious concerns, notably regarding female genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence, birth registration, and quality education.  Several Experts were concerned that pregnant girls, including victims of rape, were still considered a shame for the society and family, and were taken out of school. In that respect, it was important that the Government recognize that those girls were not a shame, and that they were entitled to go to school all throughout their pregnancy. Experts also emphasized the need for a good data collection system, as well as for proper care for children with disabilities.
 
In concluding remarks, Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Sierra Leone, thanked the delegation for the clarity of the responses and their commitment. Whilst noting the commitment, he underscored that the Committee had expectations in some areas and was looking forward to some responses, notably on female genital mutilation, education, birth registration, sexual and gender-based violence, care for children with disabilities, and data collection.
 
Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, stressed that Sierra Leone had spearheaded a number of initiatives under its membership at the Human Rights Council, and co-sponsored almost every resolution on children’s rights.
 
Ms. Blyiden, in her concluding remarks, assured the Committee that the Government was committed to promoting and protecting the rights of children, who were a priority.  She ensured that Sierra Leone would continue its engagement to promote and protect the rights of the child and extended an invitation to the Committee Members to come to Sierra Leone to help in that respect.
 
The delegation of Sierra Leone consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Office of the Attorney General, the Ebola Orphans Programme, the Children’s Forum Network, the National Sowei Council, and the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today, to consider the fifth periodic report of New Zealand (CRC/C/NZL/5).
 
Report
 
The combined third to fifth periodic report of Sierra Leone on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be read here: CRC/C/SLE/3-5

PRESENTATION OF THE REPORT
 
SYLVIA OLAYINKA BLYIDEN, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said that the Government of Sierra Leone placed priority on upholding the rights of all children and was committed towards ensuring that Sierra Leone fully complied with its obligations set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Confessing that the Government would have preferred deferring the discussion until after the ongoing 24 months post-Ebola programme that aimed at restoring and rebuilding the country, Ms. Blyiden informed that even though the war against Ebola was over, there was a huge number of Ebola orphans and child Ebola survivors. Ms. Blyiden proposed that the decision of President Koroma to appoint her as a Cabinet Minister, having in mind she was a passionate activist against female genital cutting, was proof of his dedication to the rights of children. The Government did not only give children space to fulfil their potentials, but also allowed them to have a voice in national decisions. That was why the delegation included a fifteen-year old Hussain Muckson Sesay, Secretary General of the Children’s Forum Network.
 
Even though the implementation of programmes and plans envisaged in the report had been derailed due to Ebola, since 2007 President Koroma had initiated two inclusive rights-based development programmes, namely the Agenda for Change and the Agenda for Prosperity.  Both programmes fully embraced the political, economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed under international treaties.  Further to the combined report at hand, there was a supplemental report which contained the responses to the list of issues.  Ms. Blyiden recognized the need for amendments to the Child Rights Act of 2007, as well as the Divorce Act of 2009, which allowed for a loophole  to legitimize early and forced marriage.  The Government had also noted the review of discriminatory provisions of the Constitution. All of those would be reviewed and brought in line with international standards and practice.
 
Questions by Experts
 
RENATE WINTER, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Sierra Leone, in reference to a newspaper article she had read from Sierra Leone referring to the idea that the delegation would be going to Geneva to “defend” its case, said the Committee was a treaty body and not a court, and clarified that the Committee was there to assist the country with its difficulties. Recognizing the difficulties of overcoming the long war, following which the Ebola virus had spread, Ms. Winter acknowledged that the country had had to restart almost from scratch.
 
She noted that the laws were good, but said that the problem was sustainable implementation of the laws. Donors were willing to assist, but not endlessly. Therefore, it was important that the country ensured sustainability once the donors were gone. Roughly fifty percent of the country was under the poverty line. In addition, the problems were greater and of a greater nature in the countryside than in Freetown.
 
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Sierra Leone, said, having in mind that the Committee had only received the report the previous day, that compromised the idea that Sierra Leone had made progress. 
 
Had the Government thought about ratifying the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure?  The Convention was not directly applicable before the courts; was there jurisprudence that referred to the Convention?
 
The Guardianship Unit for Children and Women had been experiencing a lot of hardships – what measures were undertaken to strengthen its budgetary and personnel needs? What measures were undertaken to help develop local councils, and what were the attributions of the National Commission for Children and its role?  Would the National Commission play a role for the independent follow-up to  the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and if so, was it fully independent and compatible with the Paris Principles?
 
Question was asked on the existence of an overall strategy with action plans indicators, and follow-up resources as well as human and financial resources, for the implementation of the rights of children.  Was the Convention translated in all languages, and what was being done for the proper dissemination and translation of the Convention and its Optional Protocols?
 
There were local laws that authorized customary marriage and the delegation was asked to provide information in that respect.  How was the State party thinking about amending the law?  By harmonizing the definition of children, an end would be put to early marriage.  
 
Sierra Leone had moved from 51 to 78 percent of birth registrations in 2010, however there were still difficulties in that regard.  Could more information be provided for the programme that had been put into place to ensure birth registration?

Referring to the problem of discrimination, Ms. Winter said that females were still discriminated against in the legislation. Discrimination was also prevalent in the countryside, especially against persons with HIV/AIDS and albinos. What was the Government doing in that respect?
 
Regarding the best interest of the child, would there be possibilities for writing guidelines that would interpret the best interest of the child, and when could that be done?
 
The right to live and development was problematic, and Sierra Leone had an alarmingly high child mortality right. More information was asked in that regard.  There were problems in the health care, especially with malaria, where the problem was the fact that the population, especially mothers did not want to use the nets.  What was being done to raise awareness among the population?
 
The abuse of drugs and alcohol, especially among young girls who had turned to prostitution, was worrisome, noted the Expert and asked about measures taken.  There was also a very high rate of illegal abortion, which compromised the health of women. Would there be a law that would allow abortion?
 
Rape was alarmingly high, which was especially the case with rape due to incest. That was problematic and girls were often blamed for it. What could be done to make families understand that it was more important to save their daughters than their “honour”?
 
On the issue of the judiciary, question was asked on what could be done so that the judges and police were able to assist children, and protect their rights against the system. 
 
Another Expert noted that there were two institutions – the National Commission for Children  and the Commission for Human Rights, and wanted to hear more about their specific mandates on children protection.  
 
An Expert inquired about the measures undertaken or envisioned to ensure better awareness raising for the reporting of cases of rape and incest? What measures were undertaken for access to care and capacity building among the police, the judicial sector, and the health care sector in this respect? What was being done to ban corporal punishment, he asked.  
 
The Committee remained very concerned over the widespread persistence of female genital mutilation, which was forced on girls at a very young age.  Why was there such vehement opposition to that practice?  Could information be provided on the death of a child, Fatoumata Toure, after she had undergone female genital mutilation? Was there a hotline to help children in such instances?
 
Another Expert inquired about independent monitoring. Who was responsible for the appointment and how?  Which of the Commissions was mandated to receive complaints by children or on behalf of children?
 
In reference to sexual exploitation, an Expert stated that during the Ebola crisis, there were 14,000 young girls that had become pregnant.  Where and by whom had they become pregnant? How many of the perpetrators had been brought to court? Allegedly, when girls were pregnant, they were not allowed to go to school.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
In response to whether the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure would be ratified, the delegation stated that once the Ebola recovery was completed, there was no reason why that would not be done.
 
Regarding discrimination, those questions would be settled when the review of constitutional processes came up at the national referendum.
 
On the issue of the disparity between the Customary Law Act of 2009 and the Child Rights Act of 2007, the delegation noted that that could be done with an amendment by the end of the year.  Currently the Law Reform Commission was undertaking all law reform plans, and working together with the Government.
 
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs accepted that the budget allocated to gender affairs was low, and thus they were lobbying to increase it. The development of the national budget in Sierra Leone was through the involvement of civil society. The delegation invited to Committee to look at the supplementary report in respect to the budget allocated for promotion and protection of child rights.
 
Child protection desks had been set up in every local council in Sierra Leone.  The justices were trained in gender laws, the Child Rights Act, so that now there were child rights justices on the local level.
 
The delegation informed that the National Commission for Children was very compatible with the Paris Principles and was completely independent from national interference. Children had access to the National Commission.  It was the Human Rights Commission which had a mandate to receive complaints, but the two institutions enjoyed a very good relationship, and often jointly raised complaints against the Government.
 
Even though the Convention on the Rights of the Child had not been translated in all twenty languages, training was done in the local languages.
 
Currently there was an ongoing birth registration programme. There was no longer a need for the payment of fees for the late registration of births, informed the delegation.  
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
An Expert wanted to clarify whether the Commission for Human Rights was in charge of children and adolescents.  Was there a specialized unit for children’s rights?
 
Another Expert asked about the communication and coordination between the Commission for Human Rights and the National Commission for Children.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
There was a Child Welfare Unit within the Commission for Human Rights, said the delegation.
 
Birth registration was a right of every child born in Sierra Leone, whether in the hospital or at the community level.  It was therefore free of cost.  Additionally, local councils provided oversight for birth certificates.  That new system improved the registration rate.
 
The delegation acknowledged that infant, child and maternal mortality was a big problem. Improvements had been realized thanks to vaccinations and institutional deliveries. Post-natal visits had also improved the mortality rate, as had the treatment of HIV. However, all of the gains had been dropped due to Ebola.  Presently, the Government was looking at and implementing ways to reduce the rates through human resources, ensuring more midwives, improving the supply chain system, community health workers, tackling malnutrition, and improving the data management system.  Plans were underway to distribute four million mosquito nets, as well as to improve the sanitation and access to water, as well as to raise awareness.
 
Regarding the Abortion Act, the Government of Sierra Leone insisted on being of the people, by the people and for the people. And there were people who did not want the Government to condone abortion.  People had to be allowed to speak, and the Government had to listen. The sooner the aspect of the legislative language was handled - the better.
 
The delegation asked the Committee to provide information on discrimination against albinos.
 
On children with disabilities, the delegation said that the Government was committed to ensuring their rights and programmes, and this included specialized schools for the blind, deaf and so forth.
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
An Expert inquired about the application of the 2012 Law on Sexual Violence, which provided free access to health care for those who suffered from sexual violence. However, the Committee had received information that no health care was provided. Could the delegation provide specific answers on that point?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
It was not true that sexual offences were not prosecuted. In the last three months of 2015, over 350 cases had been referred to the courts.  With the promulgation of the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 and the Domestic Violence Act, specialized courts for children had been established. When a child had been abused, the child went to a specialized court hearing that was held on Saturdays, and the hearing was recorded.  No one saw the children when they testified. There were also special provisions in place for the protection of women who had suffered sexual violence.  There were protective mechanisms in place.  In addition, senior officials, public figures and role models spoke publicly on sexual and gender based violence.  Furthermore, the Government had developed mechanisms by which children and women could access services, including through child welfare committees.
 
On awareness-raising, a delegate informed that documents had been developed and distributed in response to victims of sexual and gender based violence.  A holistic and comprehensive support was provided for survivors.  Structures were in place, such as Child Welfare Committees. The first point of contact were medical personnel, and the services of community-led bodies and the non-governmental organisations were also engaged to ensure that the honour of families was not tainted.
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
An Expert asked whether more detailed information could be provided on the 350 cases on sexual and gender based violence that had been brought before the court.  What were the sentences?  What was the number of referral of victims?  How many cases of violence in schools, including sexual violence, had been brought to the court?
 
Reply by the Delegation
 
“the Government was paid by the white man” to promote its abolition. Therefore, the Government’s approach was not to compromise its trust with those communities, but to approach them from a different angle.  It was not a simple black-and-white issue.

Questions by Experts
 
An Expert acknowledged that, because of the Ebola virus, the vulnerability of children had increased due to the disintegration of the family environment. What was being done to support families and tackle that vulnerability? What were the measures to implement the policy of deinstitutionalization for children?  How were quality standards made effective for children that did not have a family environment?
 
Another Expert had received information about sexual exploitation of children by teachers. Was the Government aware of that and what was it doing about it?
 
Allegedly, child labour had surged as a result of Ebola.  Question was asked on provisions that protected those children and programmes were envisaged to get the very young children away from the streets, from trading and from the mines.
 
An Expert inquired how many children were in institutions and foster homes, and whether they were placed in foster homes or kinship care. What were the criteria for deciding that the child should go into care, whether it was into an institution or foster care?  Were there plans to scale up monitoring in the institutions? What were the challenges in implementing the alternative care policy, inquired the Expert.
 
Another Expert asked the delegation whether there was any data on children with disabilities.
 
On mental and psychosocial health, the Committee had responded that intensive training had been provided for 21 nurses. Was that enough, and did the training include doctors?
 
Were there structures in the school system that provided counseling on sexual matters?
What was being done to promote and protect the rights of street children?
 
Raising the issue of the sale of children, an Expert inquired whether the Committee's recommendation requesting that the country tighten the fight against illegal adoption had been acted upon within the framework of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
 
As for the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the Committee had requested that the law criminalize recruitment of children in armed groups, even though the problem was not as critical now that the civil war had ended. What was the status on the review of the legislation in that regard?
 
Another Expert asked what timeframe was envisaged for Sierra Leone’s accession to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The delegation informed that nearly 60,000 vulnerable families received benefits in cash and various social benefits, priority being given to Ebola survivors.
 
The delegation acknowledged that it did not have statistics on the number of children who were incarcerated with their mothers, following conviction to a prison sentence. The living conditions in the detention center, created after the establishment of the International Tribunal for Sierra Leone, met modern standards.  At the same time, conditions of detention in other prisons were significantly less favorable.
 
The country had to adopt modern techniques to develop capacity building for collecting statistics, which also meant having sufficient human resources. The Government expected to hire about 600 social workers in the near future, while currently only 49 were operating in the entire territory.
 
Regarding corruption, the delegation acknowledged that the payment of bribes or sexual favors to obtain good grades from some teachers was a problem.  When such cases were reported, the authorities took the necessary action.
 
On the question of the Trust Fund, the Government had not been able to set it up, but the delegation shared the sentiment of the Committee that it had to be opened as soon as possible.
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
Regarding data collection, an Expert inquired why the system had not been opened and running, even though there was support by international organisations. What was the institutional mechanism?  Did they have a type of body that drew up statistics, and, if so, how was the information collected about children?
 
What efforts had been made to improve and enhance the quality of education and to enhance access in rural areas?
 
Another Expert asked whether social workers also intervened and worked in prisons. What services were offered to incarcerated mothers with children?
 
On economic exploitation, apart from sanctions and punishment, what was planned to provide children with care, asked the Expert.
 
Another Expert had received information that a code of ethics would be established for teachers, which would particularly focus on training and the corruption and behavior. The delegation was asked to provide further information in that regard. Having in mind that parents were important to children – even those that sent children to work instead of school – what other alternatives were there to punishment of parents?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
The Statistics Body was mandated to collect statistics, and it was the same body collected census data.  Every single department in all Ministries had at least one staff that was seconded to it from the Statistics Body.
 
Social workers were being deployed as part of the President’s post-Ebola policy. They were people who had a minimum certificate in social work from a recognized university. They would work for an initial period of twelve months. Despite the economic downturn, the Government had agreed to employ 200 more social workers.  Whereas the teachers and the health workers stayed in their peripheral units, the social workers worked on the ground and travelled. The importance of the social workers was that they were working not only to collect data, but to serve the people, intervene where needed, and to change the mentality of the population. They were the only ones, apart from justice workers, who could conduct unannounced prison visits at any time of day or night.
 
Women with children in prison, who had been charged with a serious offence reported to the Government, which in turn provided care for the children.
 
The code of conduct had indeed been developed to train the teachers, as well as develop standards for schools.  Primary teacher schools had to have a higher teacher’s certificate, while secondary school teachers had to have a university degree.  Additional classrooms had been built in order to have a maximum of 35 children in class.
 
A school feeding programme would start this year, in order to ensure that children remained in school. There were three categories of street children. The first category was children that had parents, and went to work on the streets during the day and went home at night. Other children were on and off streets and knew they had parents, but did not necessarily go home at night to sleep. The third category were children on the streets, who had come to the cities from the countryside in order to study or work, and had ended up homeless. Very often that third category of children ended up committing crimes, being tortured or sexually abused.  All districts had to have remand homes. Those were entry care centers, whereby children were given medical, social and psychological help, and reunified with their families.  Social workers conducted follow-up visits to ensure the reunification. The Government was working on reunification packages.
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
An Expert wondered what alternatives existed if the process for reunification failed. Were children put in residences if they could not be reunified with their families?
 
Were there trials for parents who subjected their children to child labour?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
There were instances of trials and sentencing for parents who subjected their children to labour.
 
When the family reunification system failed, the Ministry of Social Welfare was given a mandate to remove the family from the home and looked for a foster family.
 
On the criteria for a child to be place into foster care, the delegation explained that there were several categories.  If the child was abandoned, it was automatically put into care. If the child was an orphan, which was a sore reality due to the Ebola crisis, there was stigma against him or her, even from the family.  There were four recent cases of children, the eldest being 17, who had been kicked out of their homes due to the stigmatization based on Ebola.  Another category was children who were victims to abuse within the home.  Those children were automatically taken out of the home, and an investigation was conducted to ascertain the cause.  Another category were children who had been at war, and they were also given special care.
 
A remand home was for juvenile delinquents facing a trial. There were specialized homes during the time when the juvenile was facing trial.  Approved schools were in place for after the juvenile had gone through the trial.  Those were specialized schools where children who were convicted, and placed under detention, were educated.
 
There were also cases of paternity disputes, where two men claimed to be the father of the child. In that case, the best alternative was frequently to put the child under care, especially when the dispute was aggravated.  There were also maternity cases.
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
How did the Ministry find out about cases of violence, given that there were currently only 49 social workers?
 
Were children below the age of fourteen also put in remand homes, an Expert inquired.
 
Was the best interest of the child a final criteria, when the paternity or maternity disputes were in question?
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
Ms. Blyden commended the best interest of the child position paper that had been published by the Committee.  Unfortunately, it was often seen as within the culture that a woman would get disciplined by a man.  Those were thus traumatic situations during which it was in the best interest of the child to be taken out of the home instead of witnessing violence. The family support unit of the police had proven to be very important in these cases.
 
There was preventive treatment of victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and survivors were provided with free health care in all government health facilities.  There were three such Rainbow Centres which provided care to victims. There was also a hotline for victims.
 
Birth registration was also an issue, which would be tackled by the establishment of 250 registration centres.  Birth registration was free, and the fee for late registration was not implemented, but only used as an incentive for parents to register.  
 
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
 
How effective was the health care service? Were all victims of sexual violence entitled to free of service health care, asked the Expert, who had received information that victims were asked for money.
 
Replies by the Delegation
 
In rural settings there were no enough medically trained doctors.  According to the laws, those had to testify.  There was an issue whether these health care providers received money from women or not. The laws were there, but the logic of those doctors was that if the courts summoned them to testify, they would lose time which they could have spent working and earning money for their families.  According to the law, only a trained medical doctor could testify in the court.  The Government was working on changing the law in order to allow for medical personnel who were trained to testify in courts.
 
Another issue was access, the delegation said. When a child or woman was raped, there were no appropriate doctors specialized for that in remote villages. They thus had to be moved to a bigger town, which incurred costs for the family stay, food and so forth.
 
Sensitization for the promotion of education was being done on all levels, including promoting a song with an easy and happy melody that could be sung by children. The Government had launched a strategy entitled the “Ali Child Development Strategy” with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund.
 
The Government fully funded the provision of food in schools, as well as books. It was also pushing girls to aspire to traditionally male dominated fields in education. There was a conscious effort to make girls more confident in education.
 
On child labour, there was a steering committee which involved stakeholder Ministries, in order to ensure that the National Action Plan that was being currently developed, including fight against trafficking, would be developed.
 
A strategy for early childhood had been drafted, and it was a five-year plan.
 
The delegation informed that no one forced pregnant girls to go to school. They were traumatized, and had to avoid being mocked in classes and stigmatized. They received psychosocial counselling in the centres.  Young people had access to condoms. There was a teenage pregnancy secretariat that addressed all related issues.
 
Breast-feeding practices were being improved through several initiatives, including integrated management of nutrition. Women were recommended to breast-feed and there were guidelines in that regard.
 
Children and adults were not put together in mental health hospitals, a delegate said.
 
Drug and alcohol abuse was admittedly a big problem. In order to address the issue, the Government had adopted a law in 2008, and agencies were working to target the scourge, in cooperation with Government bodies.
 
Over six million bed nets had been distributed through the President’s programme following the Ebola crisis, however the problem was that they were not being used.  The Government was working hard to promote their use.
 
On the accession to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the delegation said that Sierra Leone had very stringent laws for international adoption. Unless some kind of kinship was proven, adoption was very difficult.  It could also not be done through an agency.  The potential parent had to bond with the child over a period of six months, and under the supervision of social workers. In addition, certified reports were requested following adoption, on an annual basis.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Member of the Committee and Co-Rapporteur for Sierra Leone, thanked the delegation for the clarity of the responses and their commitment.  Whilst noting the commitment, the Committee underscored that it had expectations in some areas and was looking forward to some responses.  Those were, namely, on female genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence, free of charge and universal birth registration, and quality education.  The Committee also asked the delegation to consider that when a girl was a victim of rape she should not be ashamed not to go to school, and was entitled to go to school with her classmates. The implementation of a good data collection system and the opportunity for proper care for children with disabilities were also important.
 
YVETTE STEVENS, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, said that Sierra Leone had spearheaded a number of initiatives under its membership at the Human Rights Council. Namely, it was the Chair of the Core Group on Child Early and Forced Marriage, it had initiated the Resolution on Persons living with Albinism, was a Member of the Core Group on the Protection of the Family, and had co-sponsored almost every resolution on child rights.
 
SYLVIA OLAYINKA BLYIDEN, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, stated that for Sierra Leone children were indeed the focus.  Regarding female genital mutilation, she highlighted that she had recently given a speech to the children and the nation which had gone viral, and in which, out of the six minutes, she had dedicated three minutes to the fight against female genital mutilation. She had been very vocal in her speech, stating the position of the Government that it would not allow for their children to be cut, and that any child under the age of 18 would be protected. The Government was using female practitioners themselves to spread that message.  The fight against female genital mutilation focused on protecting the children, whilst at the same time leaving the responsibility of adult women to do what she wanted with their bodies. Ms. Blyden promised that the Government would do its utmost and best to combat sexual violence. She also noted that access to education was a legitimate concern, and the Government would continue to work on it. However, in the context of rape victims going to school, she reiterated that the power of peer pressure had to be put into context.  What the Government had was a protective mechanism, through which the mental and social wellbeing of the girl was being protected.  She ensured that Sierra Leone would continue its engagement to promote and protect the rights of the child and extended an invitation to the Committee Members to come to Sierra Leone to help in this respect.
 
BEYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Chairperson, concluded the meeting by stating that he hoped that the concluding observations would receive the deserved attention.

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