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In a meeting with Youth and Child Advocacy Network Sierra Leone (YACAN-SL), Girls Advocacy Alliance Project (GAA) and the Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MEST) officials held on Wednesday 29th November, discussing the gaps, challenges, identified in addressing sexual violence in schools and also limit the implementation of the Teacher Code of Conduct (TCC).


MEASURES IN OVERCOMING THE EXISTING CHALLENGES IN SCHOOLS

- Enforcement of existing education policies/instruments
Formation of steering committees on education at community levels
Review and popularization of the code of conduct for teachers and its enforcement.
In-service training for teachers and parents on violence and sexual harassment.
All school to provide guidance counselling units (well equipped).
Schools to have suggestion boxes.
Regular engagement/sensitization of all stakeholders including teachers, board members, CTA, admin, pupils etc.
Create room for peer group discussion.
Adequate infrastructural facilities.
The learning environment should be made students/pupils/child-friendly by all stakeholders.
Routine but confidential pupils random sampling on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and sexual harassment.
Abolishing teacher volunteers in schools.
Make the child right act and other related instruments child reader friendly.
Board of governors to be committed and enforce/implement school prospectus.
Guidance counselling to strengthen school communities for effective child-rearing to be enhanced.
Teachers should endeavour to know the parents/guidance of their pupils.
Expand and improve the school-community relationship.
Help parents to acquire parental skills.

HOW CAN WE ADVOCATE FOR THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION TO ADDRESS SEXUAL VIOLENCE & HARASSMENT

MEST should improve guidance and counselling units in schools.
Head of schools should countersign for payment of teachers’ salaries to teachers in their schools.
Recruitment of guidance counsellors in schools.
MEST should set criteria for the recruitment of guidance counsellors.

STATEMENTS BY ATTENDEES

As the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the gaps and challenges identified in addressing sexual violence in schools and also the limit of the implementation of the TCC, the meeting came out successful and all present gained new ideas on how to address issues surrounding girls in schools especially sexual violence which is on the high increase because of the vulnerability of girls in schools and other communities.
In her statement concerning sexual violence in schools and the teacher code of conduct, Mrs Esther who is the project manager of Girls Advocacy Alliance Project from Plan International told all members of the Alliance including the ministry of education science and technology that some schools are not safe for girls and for which Gender Based Violence is on the increase.
An unknown speaker on the roundtable discussion said, addressing sexual-based violence in schools is key because it helps our young adolescent to develop their potentials when they are not sexually harassed in schools and other social communities. He also made mention of the teacher code of conduct in which he reaffirmed to all present that the ministry of education is in engagement with core groups and international partners to review the teacher code of conduct.
In his conclusion he said:

Head of schools to take more Responsibility.
If the teachers misbehave, the head of the school should be held responsible for lack of monitoring/supervision in the schools.
To create reader and child-friendly version of the teacher code of conduct.

In an open discussion around the roundtable meeting, we all agreed to fight against adolescent sexual-based violence in schools and also review the teacher code of conduct which should be child and reader-friendly. In order for children to have the power to speak, they should be empowered and educated around issues that have to do with them.
Mr Charles Kamara from Education For All (EFA) stressed that schools are safe for children but actions to be taken against individuals who perpetrate or abuse the rights in schools. Children especially girls cannot talk about their issues in schools as result of lack of knowledge and the fear of the school administration.
In the discussion, many important points were raised including:

School pupils especially girls to give firsthand information on their issues in schools.
Lawmakers, law enforcement officers especially police to be present in discussions concerning girls in schools.
Bia laws to address the abuse of girls in schools.
Measures to prove the unproven doubt of GSBV.
Compromising offenders by school administration/authorities should stop.
Limiting the number of male teachers in female schools.
Teachers should be trained to train people for the future.
Background check on individuals before employing them as teachers.
Taking actions against offenders and protecting victims.
Talking to CTA's, SMC's, teachers, pupils etc.
Awareness raising
The Ministry of Education to foster their advocacy and monitoring.
Schools to report issues to the ministry of education.
Inspector of schools to undertake their job.
Female teachers who also abuse girls through lesbianism should be brought to book.
Compromise of GSBV in schools and communities is dangerous.
Termination of service for professional misconduct by teachers and school authorities.
Female teachers conniving with male teachers and other men to sexually abuse girls in schools
Involvement of parents in discussion concerning SBV
Actions/intervention to be taken before it happens
To stop the culture of silence and stand up for the rights and protection of adolescent girls.

Councilor Abubakar Kamara contributed that on their part as a council, they have incorporated the monitoring tools to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence for both academic and infrastructure and assure the group that all defaulters to be taken into the book.
As parts of the fight against SGBV, adolescent girls should be allowed and given the platform to speak for themselves. Community and group counselling centres to be established with the aim of helping to protect GBV against adolescent girls. Talking to girls about ADOLESCENT & SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH. To consider culture and bi-laws including human rights. The discussion to reflect on the teacher code of conduct.
Differentiating the two terms, teacher code of conduct has to do with the classroom and profession has to do with where teachers have to be qualified for employment.
Using situational approach is also key in the fight against SGBV as human rights as serving as a huge challenge in addressing the issues as lack of monitoring girls and technology in schools (rev. girls watching porn pictures and videos in their phones)

As one of the participants and also a female of the Methodist Girls High School, madam Kailie confirmed to stakeholders that they as girls do go through a lot in various as result of stigmatization and discrimination, especially in public schools. Madam who served as the voice of adolescent girls around the roundtable discussion draw the attention of stakeholders to the following:

Girls in most especially public schools experience Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
The use of unwanted words/statements against girls in schools (eg..my wife, back boot, gear one etc.)
Even when they as adolescent girls know a time teachers are doing bad, they tend not to stop them because the teachers will claim to do their job.
MEST to recruit new teachers who have the love for education and passion for children especially girls.
It's a threat for girls to report teachers in schools because when it comes out to be negative on the teacher, all other teachers will join hands together to fight that particular pupil who made the report and to do worst in the schools.
The activities of SGBV has been happening in schools inclusive Methodist Girls High School.
It is a problem for girls to report their matters especially issues they have to do with SGBV.
The teachers will be an enemy to female pupils especially adolescent who refuses their friendship especially love proposal or request.
Guidance counsellors are absent in schools.
Teachers focusing on technology/social media than teaching the kids in schools.
Discrimination of some girls in schools (especially those in last forms) because they are not been considered as relevant pupils in the schools.
Child labour in schools (working for teachers.

Madam Kialie of the MGHS concluded saying that stakeholders in the education sector should push for the truth and protect adolescent girls against SGBV and to also terminate any teacher that is engaged in such activities and doing. This she said because if it continues, the great potentials of adolescent girls will not be manifested to transform the culture of silence but if there is a stop to it, then girls will have the free will and friendly environment to learn and actualize their potentials.
               
HOW TO ADVOCATE

The issues discussed in the meeting were all relevant as key partners, CSO's, CBO's, NGO's and the ministry proposed the following as a way to advocacy to addressing the SGBV in schools.

Looking at teachers and technology especially social media during school hours.
Establishment of guidance counselling units in schools.
Empowering adolescent girls with information on SGBV.
To encourage and allow adolescent girls to tell their stories.
To stop children/pupils from taking smartphones to schools.
Teachers to frequent in classes and on time.
Reviewing the method of paying teachers.
To end the exploitation of girls
To get/recruit more trained and qualify guidance and counsellors.
To create a consortium to protect adolescent SGBV but in question.
Institution to fetch their impacts.
Monitoring and supervision of schools.
To advocate the UN family to guidance counselling units in all schools.
Actions to be taken against the teacher code of conduct in the review.

Upon the agreed plan of actions on how to advocate, concerns were raised on how to identify key among them which is the recruitment of guidance counsellors and the establishment of guidance counselling units in schools.
Concerns were brought up that guidance counseling is a social issue not teaching matter, a guidance counselor should not be any subject teacher or teach because the course itself is a field on its own, guidance counselors to visit the home pupils for monitoring, guidance counselors to be excluded from teaching profession, all schools to have guidance counselors for especially career building, the 2,200 guidance counselors been trained should be distributed evenly across the country.

The last question that was asked by the dictator of YACAN Mr Faud Kanu was, what strategies the Ministry of Education has put in place for guidance counselling in schools

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