With Rohey Jadama
Welcome to another edition of Children’s Corner. In today’s edition, we are featuring an interview with Mr. Ebrima Ceesay, who will be talking about child marriage, gender based violence, amongst other issues affecting children.
Children’s Corner: Could you kindly give a personal background of yourself to our esteemed readers?
Ebrima: I’m obliged by the opportunity to be on this edition of the Children’s Corner. For the esteem readers of this Column, my name is Ebrima L. Ceesay. I was born in Brikama-Ba in Central River Region. I’m a young Gambian Social Justice Activist working on issues such as Children and Women’s Rights issues, Youth Empowerment, Hunger and Poverty through my involvement with various youth organizations. For the past 8 years, I have been volunteering with quite a number of youth organizations such as Activista The Gambia, Voice of The Young, National Youth Parliament and the Tallinding Home Red Cross Link. However, I am currently part of a core team to establish “He For She” Campaign Youth Platform The Gambia, which is in solidarity with the global He For She campaign. Our aim is to mobilise young men and boys globally to stand up and take action for the achievement of gender equality. Furthermore, I am a Rhize Catalyst Fellow and a Women Deliver Young Leader; both of which are fellowship programs on movement building and sexual reproductive health and rights.
Children’s Corner: What is the motivation behind this personal commitment?
Ebrima: I encountered the Voice of the Young during my early junior school days through a training conducted by the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) on child rights and child protection but little did I know this would be another turning point in my life. Young and growing up, I see on a daily basis children sleeping in the streets, the growing rate of child sexual abuse and exploitation, children deprived of their rights to education, indiscriminate violence against children, harmful practices justified by our traditional society and a wide range of issues affecting children (some I have been victim of). Joining the Voice of the Young and the accompanying benefits it has accorded me to develop and thrive and to stand up and speak up had molded me into an ideal model for a host of kids in the streets and gave me the platform to address the day-to-day difficulties faced by us, children, at that time always sets alight my passion to continually stand up for what had I benefitted from. In short, VOICE OF THE YOUNG is my motivation and CHILD PROTECTION ALLIANCE sets me on the right path.
Children’s Corner: AFRICA HAS THE SECOND HIGHEST RATE OF CHILD MARRIAGE
GLOBALLY AFTER ASIA. 39% OF GIRLS ARE MARRIED BEFORE THEIR 18TH
BIRTHDAY. AS AN ACTIVIST, HOW DO YOU INTEND TO SENSITIZE GAMBIANS ABOUT?
Ebrima :The statistics on child marriage are shocking and continually goes to show that world leaders have failed to live up to the promises they’ve made to children with the advent of the Convention on the Rights of Children and the African Charter on The Rights and Welfare of Children (CRC); that they will protect, promote and fulfill the rights of children to survive and thrive, to be heard in times of decision making that affects their lives and develop in an environment fit for all children to reach their fullest potentials.
Moreover, the increase rate of child marriage in Africa is making a mockery of the commitments made 25 years ago to address child marriage amongst many of the issues affecting children with sub article 2 of article 21 of the ACRWC citing that “Child marriage and the betrothal of girls and boys shall be prohibited and effective action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years and make registration of all marriages in an official registry compulsory”. In other to make progress in our quest to end child marriage, the general public needs to be reminded constantly about the negative consequences and effects of child marriage. This I would do through using the social media to spur urgent actions by young people and policy makers, engage the community in discussions to understand the cultural and religious dynamics of child marriage being one step to understanding the issues surrounding child marriage in the community and enhance advocacy for the enforcement of the already in place legal instruments to protect and promote the rights and welfare of children.
Children’s Corner: Moving on to another key dimension. What are some of the challenges that children face from your community and its surrounding?
Ebrima: Coming up with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the international community has recognized that children are people who have rights by virtue of being human. This came as a great step towards the greater for children as it had seek to recognize children (“us” still consider me a child) as subjects to rights and oblige the duty bearers, governments, institutions and adults to fulfill these right we are subjects to. However, it goes without question that children still continue to face key child rights violations and discriminations key among them according to the UNICEF-Banjul MICS report 2010 child protection issues birth registration, gender parity at senior secondary and tertiary education levels, violence against children issues ( e.g. corporal punishment, Child Sexual Abuse and exploitations), Maternal Mortality, harmful social and cultural practices (FGM and child marriage) remains to pose challenges to the development of our children in The Gambia and this applies to a host of African Countries. Furthermore, the participation of children in decision making processes that affects their lives have been inadequate therein misrepresenting the needs of children in our societies. On the bright sight we also acknowledge the gains made by the governments during these years; however there is always room for improvement as we are yet to achieve the almost faced out MDGs and other development agendas.
Children’s Corner: ACCORDING TO A UNICEF REPORT, 42% AND 37% OF WOMEN BETWEEN THE AGES OF 20 AND 24 RESPECTIVELY WERE MARRIED IN CHILDHOOD. HOW WOULD YOU ADVOCATE FOR THE ERADICATION OF SUCH PRACTICE IN THE GAMBIA?
Ebrima: Child marriage is a complex issue that is driven by a number of factors defined in different societies. Child marriage has devastating and long term effects (health, education, psychological, emotional, mental etc.) on the life and the future of girls. It is human rights, gender, health and culture, as well as a development issue. As advocates, we ought to make researches and develop our capacities to be able to understand the underlying issues of child marriage ranging from early sex, teenage pregnancies, poverty, gender inequality and a host of other issues; if we would want to effect a sustained positive social change.
The eradication of child marriage is just a will to be pin to paper away from reality. Our advocacy on these issues should be specific to the laws. There has been a lot of rhetoric in our laws to protect children, which we need to revisit and take action. My advocacy on child marriage for the years to come would focus on the advocating of a minimum age of marriage as stipulated in the CRC and intensify efforts to ensure that the practice is criminalized. Using the social media, community engagements, public forums and other platforms and milestones.
However, children need to form alliances in their concerted efforts to talk about the issues affecting them and amplify our voices for a change.
Children’s Corner: Any Last Word?
Ebrima: My last words go to our parents. Giving your child off to marriage would only heighten poverty situations. Imagine when you could have given him/her the right to education that could prepare them for the responsibilities and the growing need for human resources to set off our development aspirations. How fulfilling would be when your child has now reached his/her fullest potentials to care for you and your family. That feeling when your son or daughter is giving back to the community in a most honorable manner as compared to her building a family that she could not guide to reach their potentials.
To the NGOs and CBOs, we need to heighten our advocacies for right policy space and raise awareness to change the lives of our people for the better.
Children’s Corner: Thank you for granting us an interview?
Ebrima: Thanks to you as well for the opportunity to be heard.