By Issa Davies
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 14 July 2009 – Osman Kamara, 16, was born blind in Freetown. At the age of five, he was enrolled at the Milton Margai School for the Blind, and he has lived there ever since. Osman is now a fifth-form pupil in one of the secondary schools in Freetown; with the aid of the Braille, he participates effectively in the classroom and makes good grades.
There are over 100,000 blind people in Sierra Leone, and many of them have experienced various forms of discrimination and neglect. In an effort to ensure equal rights for blind and other disabled children – and for all young people – the Sierra Leone Child Rights Act (CRA) was passed into law in June 2007.
Training on child rights
The CRA criminalizes child abuse and seeks to better protect child rights and welfare in Sierra Leone. The CRA also stipulates that disabled young people should have equal opportunities and access to social amenities and jobs.
In keeping with the intent of the CRA, the document has been embossed in Braille. Osman is one of about 100 blind children in Freetown who are receiving training on the Act, thus ensuring that they understand their rights.
Similar training sessions will be conducted in the northern, eastern and southern parts of the country.
‘We need equal opportunities’
UNICEF supports the CRA Steering Committee, which is led by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, in collaboration with various non-governmental organizations that facilitate training sessions and sensitization campaigns on child rights. UNICEF has also facilitated the translation of the CRA into a simplified, child-friendly version.
Osman uses his fingers to read the Sierra Leone Child Rights Act in Braille.
All of the training manuals and guides have also been embossed in Braille, and are being taught to blind children by blind teachers who have been trained by the CRA Steering Committee.
“Being disabled does not mean we cannot do things on our own. We are as much Sierra Leoneans as any other people, and we need equal opportunities!” said Osman. “We now have the opportunity to read our own materials, and these trainings will help us to know more about our rights and responsibilities.”
Advocating for disability rights
Osman is also a member of the Children’s Forum Network, an umbrella group of children from every district in the country. The network advocates for children’s rights, participation and welfare.
With the experience and knowledge he has gained at the training sessions, Osman hopes to establish a branch of the network at the Milton Margai School for the Blind. His goal is to continue to advocate for equal opportunities and educate younger blind children about the CRA.
“Understanding the CRA has made us feel empowered and more confident to advocate on our rights and responsibilities,” said Osman. “With this, we are now calling for a positive change of attitudes towards blind and other disabled persons in Sierra Leone.”