‘Hands Off Our Girls’

‘Hands Off Our Girls’ is a movement that was started in 2018 by Fatima Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone. The movement is a reaction to sexual violence committed against women and teenage girls who fall pregnant as a result of this.

WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF THE CAMPAIGN?

The campaign focuses on the following issues:

  • early marriage
  • sexual based violence
  • child trafficking and prostitution
  • promoting sexual and reproductive health education
  • preventing mother to child transmission of HIV and AIDs
  • sustainable and inclusive advocacy for cancer and Fistula (Fistula is a connection between vessels and organs which do not usually connect. A common fistula is an anal fistula where a small passage develops between the end of the bowel and the anus.)

WHY IS PREGNANCY IN TEENAGE GIRLS HIGH?

There are many reasons why teenage girls become pregnant, rape being a major cause. There is much sexual violence in Sierra Leone, an issue which the president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada, recognises. He declared a State of Emergency over rape and sexual violence in 2019. The government of Sierra Leone also passed the Sexual Offences Amendments Act of 2019 which aimed to increase prison sentences for sexual offences, especially against minors.

Another important factor causing teenage pregnancy is child marriage. Sierra Leone has the 19th highest child marriage rate in the world. 13% of girls are married by the age of 15. This has a serious impact on their futures. Many girls are forced to leave secondary school to take care of the home and any children they may have. Many girls suffer as a result of becoming pregnant too young. They can face complications with their pregnancy, and there is an increased rate of maternal and child mortality rates in their case.

Poverty forces many young girls to exchange sex for money or food. They do so often with little knowledge of how to protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is a consequence of poor access to accurate knowledge on reproductive and sexual health. Many lessons regarding sexual intercourse have a biological basis and do not provide information on contraceptive use and how to access contraception. Contraception is the use of artificial (non-natural) methods to prevent pregnancy. Even when girls have sex with a partner they choose, the lack of information on contraception leads to pregnancy.

WHY DO GIRLS LEAVE SCHOOL?

When girls get pregnant, many are asked to leave school because there is a fear they will influence others. This, however, is untrue, women cannot physically cause other women to get pregnant. Many girls who are pregnant did not want to become pregnant so would not encourage other girls to become pregnant. Leaving school before completing their secondary education can limit a girl from achieving the skills necessary to make money and care for their children.

CONCLUSION

The ‘Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign is important in protecting young girls in Sierra Leone from child marriage and early pregnancy. It is also very important in changing the view on teenage pregnancy and advocating for the importance of thorough sexual education and the continued education of young expecting mothers. Other First Ladies are supporting Fatima Bio by extending the conversation beyond Sierra Leone.

Marwin Ramos

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