Promoting safety and enhancing welfare through participation - The Liberian Children's Case

A Speech Delivered in Kakata, Margibi County at the year-end Program of the Children’s Parliament of Liberia
By: 
Martin K. N. Kollie, Guest Speaker

December 26, 2016
The Speaker of the Children’s Parliament, Hon. Satta F. Sheriff
The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Prince U. D. Tardeh
Other Executives and Members of the Children’s Parliament
Representative of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection
Local County Officials
Our cherished Liberian children in whose honor we have assembled
Members of the Press
One and all:

I am glad to be a part of this historic gathering at such a time as this. I wish all of you compliments of this festive season and hope each one of us will make a child to smile even with the little we have. We must take a step further to reawaken dying hopes. With few more days to 2017, we must aspire to inspire a child in need if the true essence of this season must be fulfilled. We have nothing to live for if we cannot help a child to accomplish his/her dream.

We must reach out to rescue them (children) from the streets, orphanages, slums, ghettos, gambling centers, gold mines, plantations, rock-crushing fields and hideouts. Some of them are experiencing serious trauma as a result of neglect, forced labor, trafficking and all forms of abuse. If we fail to act now in the best interest of every child, then it means that our nation’s destiny is on a sinking foundation.

Honorable Speaker, I am grateful to you and your hard working team for preferring me as the guest speaker of this very important occasion. Surely, it is an opportunity for me to share few thoughts about issues confronting Liberian children. It is an opportunity for me to make a genuine case on behalf of all Liberian children. It is because of you (Liberian Children), I have travelled from Monrovia to Kakata.

I bring you profound greetings from my family, my party (SUP) and conscious students of the University of Liberia, where I currently study Economics. Again, I am humbly honored to be in your midst. Before going any further, I want to congratulate the leadership of the Children’s Parliament for advancing the ultimate interest of Liberian children during these very difficult moments in our country’s history.

Even in the midst of scarce resources and increasing challenges, you have stood your ground in defense of children across Liberia, Africa and the World. We are proud of you, and please do not give up. It is my hope that you will continue to advocate for the rights and welfare of Liberian children. There are times you will feel lonely and disappointed in your struggle and advocacy for children, but I encourage you to hold on and keep the flames ablaze.

Hon. Speaker and other Executives of the Children’s Parliament, when I woke up this morning, I chose to take a walk and experience the glimpse of Christmas. While walking, all I could see were dozens of children selling cold water, balloons, chewing gums, biscuits, plastic bags, candies, etc. Even on Christmas, they have no time to rest and smile, because they have to hustle just to survive.

The clothes of some of them were even torn up with cut-slippers on their feet selling under the hot sun. This is the harsh reality that remains prevalent across our nation. All through the year (365 days), these children are used as bread winners for their families. Even during this festive season, they have no choice, but to risk their lives between speeding vehicles just to put bread on the table.

While selling on street corners, some of them are even abused in the process. They live and grow up with such stigma and trauma. They are bruised and pierced by internal bitterness as a result of the torture they endure every day. These are the appalling realities of the day that continue to confront Liberian Children. These are the appalling realities that we must defeat together if we are serious about securing a new Liberia.

Honorable Speaker, when I was a child like most of our children selling in the street today, I had similar experience. I sold coldwater too. I sold kerosene, mosquito coil, candle and matches. Those were difficult moments for me, and narrating my story is like pointing back to a dark past that made me an adult even before reaching adulthood.

I know what it means to sell coldwater under hot sun as a child. I know what it means to sell candle and mosquito coil as a child. I know what it means to walk far distances as child to sell kerosene and matches in the dark. These are terrible experiences that hinder the proper growth and development of every child. These are appalling realities that make a child an adult before his/her time. We must break these hurdles in order to create a safer environment for every child.

Hon. Speaker and members of the Press, today I have chosen for us to look at the other side of these appalling realities. Even in the midst of these existing challenges, we can still find solution together. This is what I believe, and this is what we must work towards as an indivisible nation and a united people. Having said that, permit me to speak to you briefly on the theme: “Promoting safety and enhancing welfare through participation - The Liberian Children's Case.”

Yes, I said ‘promoting safety and enhancing welfare through participation’. Promoting the safety and enhancing the overall welfare of Liberian children through participation is what our nation needs to prioritize now in order to prevent a bitter future. This is the best model and formula to pursue. If we must make Liberia better, then it means that we must improve the living standard of every child. If we must make Liberia better and build a prosperous nation, then it means that we must get children involved in decisions that affect their lives.

Liberia needs an aggressive pro-Child policy that would be fully implemented. We need active children laws and not inactive laws. We need enforceable statutes, and not non-enforceable ones. As a nation and a people, we have a choice to make. Either we decide to choose a better future over a bitter future or we decide to choose a bitter future over a better future.

Choosing a better future would mean providing access to quality primary education, safe drinking water, better health care, improved housing, good sanitation and play-ground for Liberian Children. Choosing a better future over a bitter future would mean going beyond the literature of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2011 Children’s Law of Liberia, and the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Choosing a better future over a bitter one would mean finding genuine solution(s) to child labor, force marriage, teenage pregnancy, rape, sexual harassment, infant mortality, child prostitution, sex trafficking, kidnapping, child pornography and neglect. It would mean dealing with the culprits of rape and putting an end to impunity, force marriage and child prostitution!!

Today, I have come to make a genuine case. I have come to make a case for our government and its partners to increase their support to programs that are intended to promote the welfare of children. I have come to make a case against rape, teenage pregnancy and all forms of violence against children. I have come to make a case for state-of-the-art Primary Schools, Safe Homes and Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) to be constructed. I have come to make a case for ‘free and compulsory primary education’ across public and private schools.

I have come to make a case for our government to shutdown gambling enterprises and ghettos across the country. I have come to make a case for these ghettos and gambling centers to be turned into public libraries and reading rooms for children. I have come to make a case for us to take our children off the streets and put them back in the classrooms. I have come to make a case for us to pursue those who are using our children on gold mines and plantations. I have come to also make a case for us to put an end to FGM and other harmful cultural practices that undermine the dignity, self-esteem and welfare of every child. This is the case that is so dear to my heart.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it will interest you to know that in a period of one year, particularly in 2014, Liberia had a total of 554 rape cases. Recently, the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection reported that about 731 children were raped and sexually abused between January and March 2016. Aren’t these figures provoking enough to command our collective action in finding rapid and lasting solution? Of course, they are!!

The rate of teenage pregnancy in Liberia is at 38% according to UNFPA. Liberian girls below the age of 17 years are found in night clubs prostituting themselves, least to mention smoking, alcohol and drug abuse. We must break the cycle of rape and teenage pregnancy. We must break the barriers of violence against children. It is possible for us to promote the safety and enhance the welfare of Liberian children in our lifetime.

Hon. Speaker, I want to recommend to our government the passage into law of a National Child Welfare and Development Program (NCWDP). Under this system, at least each Liberian child will benefit from a quarterly or monthly assistance package (cash, books for school, food, etc.). I would also like to recommend the establishment of a functional Taskforce on Child’s Rights and Welfare (TCRW) at national, county and district levels. We must not settle down for anything less. Our nation stands to risk a lot if we ignore these concepts and suggestions.

The children are our future and fortune. We must invest in them now in order to harvest tomorrow. Our campaign for this coming New Year must be 'Invest to Harvest'. There can be no harvest without investment. You can take an action to rescue a child's dream from dying. Reach out to redeem a Liberian child who is suffering from trauma as a result of neglect. The parents and families have a leading role to play. The communities, religious bodies, academic and vocational institutions must take responsibility too. The burden is upon all of us….

Hon. Speaker, it is my hope that the next generation of children will have no reason to experience what this generation of children is experiencing. Today, I stand with the Children’s Parliament to demand justice for Melvin Tucker and Jackson Kordah who were brutally hit by President Sirleaf’s convoy on December 2, 2016. We demand justice for little Alvin Moses and Reuben Paye who were mysteriously found dead in the vehicle of a Nigerian national in 2015. We are also demanding justice for Shakie Kamara and Angel Togba who died in cold blood.

In my capacity as a Global Columnist of The African Exponent, I shall continue to use my pen to campaign and advocate for Liberian children and children worldwide. In my current capacity as Youth Ambassador of the International Human Rights Commission, I shall endeavor to work along with the Children’s Parliament and other pro-children institutions to promote the rights and welfare of Liberian children. In my newest position as West Africa Bureau Chief / Editor of Global Afrique, I shall make the voices of children heard across Liberia, Africa and the World.

Hon. Speaker, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, as we crossover to 2017, I admonish all of us to increase our voices and take action in order to protect Liberian children and enhance their welfare. May God bless our nation, our children and our people…I thank you…

Liberian Observer

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