A girl, 13, sits recounts being raped by a neighbourhood boy in the northern town of Makeni. Her family complained to the police, and the boy is now scheduled to appear in court, but her mother says the officials have been slow in addressing the issue. Few gender-based crimes are prosecuted.
In March 2009 in Sierra Leone, children and adolescents continue to face barriers to protection and education. Infant mortality and under-five mortality rates remain the highest in the world, and nearly a third of the country s children lack a primary caregiver. Girls are particularly vulnerable, contending with gender-based discrimination and harmful social practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Some 56 per cent of girls marry before the age of 18, and 94 per cent of girls are subject to FGM/C, a procedure that can cause infection, chronic pain, complications during pregnancy and delivery, and increased rates of infant mortality. Education remains a hurdle for all children, with only half of all primary schools presently functioning. Dropout rates are high, particularly among girls, orphans, and children affected by poverty or sexual exploitation. UNICEF is responding to these conditions by working with Government officials and NGOs to rehabilitate schools and implement standards of care for all children. UNICEF is also working with community groups to promote girls education.