Ms. Christiana Thorpe

at the
United Nations Special Session on Children

New York
9 May 2002


The Global Movement for Children Campaign in my country chose number seven of the ten point rallying call as its clarion call after the war. Educate every child.

Since we came here we have learnt that of the 90 million pledges signed to say YES TO CHILDREN, the demand to educate every child since to be paramount. In 1990 Tomtien declared education for all children, adults, male and female. Yet twelve years down the line today we are still talking of over 100 million children of primary school age not being in school. 39 per cent of these children are in sub-Saharan Africa, 38 per cent in south Asia, 53 per cent are girls and 47 per cent boys. The relationship between gender and economic disparity speak for themselves.

The World Education Forum of Dakar, Senegal 2000 left us with the Dakar Framework for action where governments and NGOs again pledged to meet our collective commitments for the education of our children. The sub-Saharan Regional Framework for Action included among others the need to 

"pay special attention to street and working children, nomadic communities, children in remote environments and areas of conflict, minority groups, HIV/AIDS orphans, child prisoners and disabled children" (Dakar Framework for Action, p.27)

I come from Sierra Leone, a country that has experienced 10 years of armed conflict and from our experience, I would like to share with you a couple of lessons learnt through our children during the conflict.

After the event of May 25th 1997 we finally had to run and thousands of us found ourselves in Conakry the capital city of neighboring Republic of Guinea where we were to become "unregistered refugees" for the next ten months.

FAWE with the support of UNDP Sierra Leone organized a Non Formal Education Programme for our externally displaced Sierra Leonean children and youths in Conakry. Three thousand three hundred and ninety two registered. One thousand eight hundred and ninety two were below 18 years and one thousand five hundred between 18 - 25 years. One thousand six hundred and seventy two were girls and one thousand seven hundred and twenty were boys. They all displayed one characteristic syndrome violence. By then the war was only five years on and already at that stage our children had imbibed a culture of violence. Yes violence does beget violence. It dawned on us then that we needed to put in place as a matter of urgency a strategic plan and systematic programme on Education for a Culture of Peace.

This was the first lesson we learnt, and now that the guns are silent is the time to effect such a programme through our Educational System. Our children up to eighteen years old have not had the experience peace. They need to be taught peace and this must form an integral part of the Basic Education programme in Sierra Leone.
However there is a major constraint:
On the 10th of May this year about thirty five thousand three hundred and ten children will take the national primary school examinations: The age range is 10 - 17 years. Under normal circumstances this exam is taken by
12 year olds. In 1990 the Registrar of Births and Deaths recorded 16,095 births. Even if all these children survived the war years, and I am certain 40% of them did not, we still have a surplus of 18 thousand children who because of the war have not been able to access the exams before this year.

Come the new school year in September 2002, 50% of these children will not get into school simply, because there are no schools. The schools are all destroyed and need to be rebuilt. I am saying that we may have as many as seventeen thousand teenage boys and girls out of school and roaming the streets, six months from now. Will that constitute a foundation for sustainable peace?  The Global Movement for Children, Sierra Leone Chapter, is focussing on education and the NGO's concerned are very worried about this phenomenon. Our children need schools and need them very urgently.

The second lesson I would like to share has to do with our work with girl child combatants/raped victims. Most of you are familiar with the brutality that accompany the act of rape during war. Allow me to summarize the story of Zainab a girl victim and perpetrator, but for us at FAWE a double victim.

I was among the school children captured by the RUF in 1995. When we were captured, we were all taken to a very remote RUF base. By then I was 15 years old and a virgin. I was gang raped the very night I was captured, as an initiation to the RUF community. We spent 3 (three) months in military training at the hills there.

When Government jet bombarded our base, we pulled out to another location for one month. We were drugged whenever we were to go on mission. On coming back to the base, there were three particular rebels who would ask me for sex. If I dare refused, I would be forced at gunpoint or gang raped. They did not want us to escape and join our relatives. They were so cruel to us then. I mean to most of the girls. I seized the opportunity to escape when we attacked Freetown in January 1999, by then I was eight months pregnant. Barely two months after my escape I delivered twins - 2 boys- (end of story.)

Since March 1999 to date FAWE has worked with seven hundred and twenty five girl mothers ages 12 - 18 years. With assistance from UNICEF, UNHCR, and other International NGO's, FAWE helps these children to shoulder the responsibility of motherhood and single parenthood when most of them have never experienced adolescence. Their educational needs are enormous:

o Basic Education
o Reproductive Health Education and Motherhood Skills, but above all
o Training in sustainable livelihood skills for self-reliance. .

The end of conflict is NOT synonymous to attaining PEACE. Sustainable peace must be built on a bed rock of quality basic education for all Children.

I thank you for your kind attention.