Sierra Leone: Every child wearing a school uniform must be safe

Learn about the policies the Ministry of Education of Sierra Leone is implementing to scale up programs and plans to make sure every child who goes to school is safe to learn.

December 06, 2022 by David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Sierra Leone
4 minutes read
Young students at the Kailahun District Education Committee School (KLDEC) located in Eastern Sierra Leone. Credit: George Lewis/The World Bank.
Young students at the Kailahun District Education Committee School (KLDEC) located in Eastern Sierra Leone.
Credit: George Lewis/The World Bank

As a child I lived in fear. I remember hearing stories of the rape during the civil war in my home country and being constantly scared that people I knew would be affected.

During the civil war, as we ran into an unknown village after an attack on my home city, Bo, I remember thinking I would dedicate myself to make sure no child would have to live through that fear again.

Years later, in 2019, when I was offered the privilege of becoming minister of education by His Excellency President Julius Bio, I was proud to accept and eager for change. My chance had come.

My team and I set to work to make schools safe in their totality. And to make what was being taught radically transformational for our society, through the curriculum, so children will be safe now and in the future.

Our approach is that from when a child puts on a school uniform at home, through their travel to school and experience in the school, to when they get home, they are our responsibility. As the Ministry of Education, we must keep them safe so they can learn and develop.

There are solutions and now is the time for political leaders around the world to try to end the violence against children; there can be no more delay.

Fear of failure can, and does, prevent action. But action, not words, is what we need. Since being in office, my team has taken a range of actions to promote gender equality and prevent violence in and through education because I believe that if violence can be learned, and it can also be unlearned.

I have been at the ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Ministerial Conference’ this week, hosted by the UK government, speaking about the role education has to transform our world. Sustainable investment in equitable transformative education will prevent violence and promote peace. It is an essential ingredient to tackling sexual violence and transforming harmful gender and social norms.

In Sierra Leone we are taking action now. The reality is that simple policies can transform societies:

  • We have banned corporal punishment in schools.
  • We have developed and rolled out a guide to reducing violence at the school level. Teachers are central to this.
  • We have developed a national pathway to justice for survivors of violence in and around schools.
  • We have enacted a national policy on radical inclusion in schools.

And this is still not enough. We are developing the Comprehensive School Safety Policy and are working to scale up programs and plans to make sure every child in a school uniform is safe to learn.

At the PSVI conference, I had the opportunity to meet with friends, partners and colleagues to discuss ways to mobilize more action. One way this is happening is through signing the Freetown Manifesto, developed in 2022 by partners including UNGEI, UNESCO and the Global Partnership for Education. The purpose of the manifesto is to build momentum for gender equality in and through education.

We are thrilled the UK government signed up during the conference and I call on all governments, organizations and individuals to sign up today to enable us to come together in this movement.

Another way was through announcing myself as a political champion for Safe to Learn, a global partnership convening countries and organizations who are as committed as I am to ending all forms of violence in, around and through schools.

At the conference there was recognition that children’s access to safe, inclusive and gender transformative education can prevent the systemic social norms that enable violence to happen, and to be exaggerated in times of conflict.

Schools have often been a safe haven from violence. They are more than that. They are a place where ideas develop to make sure the safe haven is not just the school but that it grows and expands across the community and country. The seeds of peace are sown in our classrooms.

Timing is critical when it comes to achieving change. It was clear at the conference that not enough has been done at the global level over the last 10 years to achieve real change.

This time it must be different. We need change now. We need it not just for the survivors who explained so powerfully not just why, but how violence can be prevented. We need it for every child who will wake up tomorrow, put on their school uniform and who should never have to experience the fear and violence so many before them have experienced.

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This is indeed a very laudable initiative and actions taken to end violence against school-going children. It will be really good to have a system in place to ensure that the children were the correct school uniforms to school and do not have gears under their uniforms or in their school bags that can easily facilitate the removal of the school uniforms that can not -identify them with their respective schools when they want to engage in violent acts in any situation. The inspection of school uniforms by parents and teachers before going to school and on arrival at school will go a long way to minimize the children's ability to hide their identity in times of violent situations. Parents have a key role to play to support these initiatives for the greater good of our society.

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