Children and youth contribute to peaceful elections in Sierra Leone

By Global Fund for Children | August 10, 2023 | Africa & The Middle East | Youth Empowerment

This blog post was written by Tity Sannoh, CFN Western Area Rural District; Stanley Swaray, CFN-Kenema District; Hindolo S. Jaia, CFN-Bo District; and Michael Nabieu, a youth leader and a former member of CFN-Bo District.

With Sierra Leonean children at heightened risk during the national election period, GFC partner Children’s Forum Network employed several strategies to safeguard children before, during, and after the elections.

The Children’s Forum Network branch in Kenema District, Sierra Leone, is part of GFC’s Ending Violence, Empowering Girls initiative, which is supported by Tides Foundation and People’s Postcode Lottery.

In Sierra Leone, national elections have long been moments of heightened emotions and tension. While they cannot vote, children are often the victims of political violence, political polarization and discrimination, and political intimidation.

Michael Nabieu raising awareness on the importance of peaceful elections. © CFN Western Area Rural District

For the 2023 national elections, which took place in June, current members and alumni of the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) developed strategies to raise public awareness to prevent children from getting involved in political violence, advocate for politicians to leave children out of politics, and attract the attention of national and international actors to the impact of political violence on children and young people. CFN is a child-led organization that speaks on behalf of the interests of children in challenging circumstances in Sierra Leone by giving space for child participation through the national Child Parliament. Since 2020, Global Fund for Children has been providing flexible funding and capacity development support to CFN’s Kenema branch to amplify its voice and work.

Below, four current and former members of CFN outline their advocacy efforts to keep children safe during this year’s election process.

CFN Western Area Rural District Branch

“Through the effective use of radio stations and community awareness campaigns, the children and youth of CFN Western Area Rural District raised awareness among politicians and parents about the need to refrain from using children during elections. Our effort not only aligned with the national constitution, which condemns the exploitation of children, but also fostered a safer and more protective environment for children during an electoral process. The accomplishments of CFN serve as an inspiration and a reminder that children can be powerful agents of change when given the opportunity to voice their concerns and shape their own future.”  – Tity Sannoh, age 18, member of CFN – Western Area Rural District, Sierra Leone.

Children preparing their manifesto

Young activists preparing a manifesto for political parties and the government to protect the rights of children. © CFN Western Area Rural District
CFN Bo District Branch

“As they say, ‘An informed mind is a prepared mind.’ For us to be well prepared in ensuring children are safe, we actively enriched our minds on how children should behave before, during, and after the election. The gained knowledge was disseminated to the general membership of the CFN – Bo District branch. The empowered members were certified as ambassadors to spread these messages within their communities.

With the support from the national body and partners, CFN – Bo District branch, in conjunction with other branches of CFN in other districts, drafted and validated a children’s manifesto, which was presented to all political parties about the problems children face during the election period, along with proposed solutions. We included in the children’s manifesto that the political parties should neither involve nor allow children in their political activities.

CFN Bo engaging its members and other partners on how they can become peace ambassadors. © CFN Bo

We sensitized parents through radio and TV stations within the district to keep their children safe from all forms of abuse, violence, and violation of their rights before, during, and after the country’s election. We also embarked on community engagement to enhance children’s safety. On the Day of the African Child event on June 16, 2023, we engaged hundreds of children and advised them not to get involved in election activities and avoid being used to incite violence. We conducted awareness activities promoting peace and discouraging children’s involvement in electoral activities in the major streets of Bo, marketplaces, and common areas where political [activity] often occurs.

We also served as observers at polling stations and centers, where we were able to observe that there were no children involved in the electoral process or in political violence.” – Hindolo S. Jaia, age 16, President of CFN – Bo District branch.

CFN Kenema District Branch

“Two weeks before the election started, CFN-Kenema took to most of the radio stations in the district to raise massive sensitization about the involvement of children in politics. We spoke to thousands of parents using the radio. We also launched a community sensitization effort targeting hard-to-reach communities, streets, market centers, and offices in Kenema, informing the public about the dangers that involvement in electoral activities holds for children. We worked collectively as a team, with boys and girls, young people with disabilities and those without disabilities, all sending out the message that elections are for adults only.

Working as observers, our team also monitored polling centers and polling stations to ensure that children were not taking part in the elections.” – Stanley Swaray, age 18, Public Relations Officer for CFN-Kenema.

A street campaign to promote violence-free elections. © CFN Bo

“As a creative writer, I staged a writing marathon this year where I wrote several articles and blog posts addressing every actor in our electoral process to see how we all can refrain from violence and promote peace throughout our electoral period. This action of mine captured the attention of many national and international media and development partners, along with community radio stations.

I also joined the group of young and devoted Sierra Leoneans at CFN in advocating for a peaceful election process by engaging people in various settings across the country. Our messages were appreciated by Sierra Leoneans and contributed to a peaceful election process in many parts of the country.” – Michael Nabieu, age 21, youth leader and former member of CFN-Bo District.

Header photo: CFN Bo raising awareness to prevent children from getting involved in political violence. © CFN Bo

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