International Day of the Girl Child
Case Study11 October 2018
International Day of the Girl Child: Empowering adolescent girls in Sierra Leone. Copyright UNFPA in Sierra Leone.
Poor adolescent girls are amongst the most vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone, one of Irish Aid’s Key Partner Countries. They experience profound structural exclusion, discrimination, unequal access to opportunities, resources, decision-making and legal protection.
Adolescent girls are particularly exposed to risks of violence, early marriage and early motherhood. 12.5% of teenage girls are married by age 15 and 28% of adolescent girls aged 15-19 have begun child bearing. The high prevalence of teenage pregnancy poses severe health risks for girls, excludes them from educational opportunities and traps families in cycles of intergenerational poverty. The Government of Sierra Leone has committed to reducing levels of teenage pregnancy and making free, quality education available for all children. Irish Aid, as a noted champion for the rights of teenage girls in Sierra Leone, is supporting the government in the delivery of this commitment. We are doing this through engaging with the Ministry of Education and Education Development to create the conditions that encourage adolescent girls and particularly poorer girls to enrol, progress and complete their secondary education. This was a key area of work for Irish Aid in Sierra Leone during and post the Ebola crisis when rates of pregnancy increased. In 2017 nearly 8,500 out of school pregnant teenage girls returned to mainstream school, supported by an Irish Aid funded “Access to Education” project.
Lack of basic information on sexual and reproductive health, weak service provision and economic factors such as sex for assets, emerge as a major factors exacerbating the problem of teenage pregnancy, particularly in rural areas. Adolescent girls in particular have little control over critical factors affecting their lives. Such factors include dropping out of school, early motherhood and early marriage, and experiencing the trauma of Female Genital Mutilation. Irish Aid is supporting the implementation of the Teenage Pregnancy and Child Marriage Reduction Strategy (2018-2022) through development and roll-out of Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Life Skills education for in and out of school adolescents. In addition, we are supporting initiatives which create opportunities for girls to develop confidence, voice and leadership skills, change discriminatory social norms and attitudes against girls and creating livelihood opportunities for teenage mothers to increase their income earning capacity.
Through these initiatives, Irish Aid aims to bring about fundamental improvements in the empowerment, protection and realisation of rights for adolescent girls in Sierra Leone.