The Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Alhaji Moijueh Kaikai yesterday disclosed that the ‘Bondo Society’ is part of Sierra Leone’s culture; therefore it will never be banned.
He made this disclosure at a jam packed hall of Soweis from all the corners of the country at the Family Kingdom Resort, Aberdeen.
The objective of the one day consultative conference was to have open discussions with Soweis from all 14 districts around the country to remind them of their obligation and responsibilities as well as to listen to them on the way forward to provide them with coping alternatives.
With support from Government and UNICEF, the Chief Executive Officer, Advocacy Movement Network (AMNeT), Hawa Samai commended sowei representatives for the huge turnout, stating that it is important that they meet from time to time to discuss issues surrounding the welfare of children, especially the girl child.
She said this is not the first time of calling a conference for traditional practitioners, and now that the ebola outbreak is now history, there is a need for head of Soweis to be updated in order that they hold further consultations with other colleague Soweis who are still in the habit of initiating underage girls which is totally out of line with the memorandum of understanding signed between Soweis, Government and partners.
Madam Samai, in a delightful mood, was optimistic that the one day session will impact positively and make room for better understanding among soweis as well as between Government and partners involved in children’s issues.
UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection, Zihariliwa Nawalge was happy to be part of history, noting that child’s rights is equally important as the initiation rites, and as parents they have the responsibility to protect the right of the child.
He commended them for their role during the height of the ebola epidemic, noting that a good number of them (soweis) adhered to the rules and regulations of health personnel, while those who were thirsty for money flouted the laws, but lost their lives to the disease.
Mr Nawalge explained the mandate of UNICEF, which seeks to protect the rights of women and children, and to ensure that there is improved access to all that they deserve in life.
He maintained that all over the world children continue to face the challenge of protection, health, education, child labour, and teenage pregnancy including early child marriage which is often linked with early initiation into the bondo society.
The UNICEF child protection chief said statistics show that by 2050, if urgent measures are not taken, almost all girls will marry before they turn 18 years, and it is for this reason UNICEF in collaboration with Government and AMNeT will continue to engage and work with communities to effect change and improve on child rights involving local authorities.
President of National Council of Soweis, Koloneh Sesay revealed that the consultative session further bridged unity among district soweis, noting that the bondo society is not what some people think, but it is an organised society of teaching young girls as they grow into womanhood.
She assured the gathering of upholding all what is enshrined in the MoU signed between soweis and Government, and that part of it is to make sure those girls not 18 years and over should not be initiated, and even when they are of the right age, consent must be sought before initiation.
As a result of the age difference, the soweis appealed to Government for alternative coping mechanisms while they wait for girls to reach the age of 18 years, noting that their livelihood depended on initiation which was carried out several times a year, but now it is only done once or twice a year.
In his keynote address, Minister of Social Welfare, Alhaji Moijueh Kaikai allayed the fears of some soweis who disclosed that rumour was that Government was to ban bondo initiation in the country.
He was delighted that the conference was held which, according to him, is a new beginning after the ebola epidemic.
Minister Kaikai noted that the bondo society will never die as it is part of our tradition and culture, maintaining that he grew up in the home of soweis, therefore he holds high respect and regard for the society.
He called on the soweis to assist Government and partners to maintain and uphold the rules and regulations binding them and the Government and for them to be each other’s keeper in order not to flout the law as it will hold them responsible.
As mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and relatives, Minister Moijueh Kaikai called on the women to protect young girls and teach them what is right and wait till they reach the ripe age of initiation.
He stressed that teenage pregnancy and early child marriage is seriously affecting society and it is a burden on Government and partners, therefore he urged them to inculcate the “prevention is better than cure” method which will yield positive results rather than shy away to talk to children about the dangers of early sex life and marriage.
Local authorities from the various districts also added their voices in support of the women to assist Government protect children, especially young girls.
By Ade Campbell
Tuesday December 15, 2015