The Ministry of Planning and Economic Planning (MoPED), with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on Wednesday 5th October 2022 ended a day’s engagement with 40 members of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the National Population Policy (NPP) respectively at the D&S Resort, Makeni City, Bombali District.

The 40 participants were drawn from various Muslim and Christian denominations like the Catholic, the West African Methodist and Ahmadiyya and Bashari Missions.  

The IRCSL Secretary General, Rev. Dr. Osman Jesse Fornah enlightened that the council is not an activist or pressure group but advocates to the government for and on behalf of the people on national issues, that the council would work with MoPED on the issues raised except those against their religions and that they are ready to engage government on the issues they disagree on guaranteeing that they would cascade the knowledge and information gained during the engagement with their respective memberships in the regions.

The IRCSL also called for the ICPD and NPP documents to be simplified to sensitize their members on the issues raised through radio and bring teachers on board the sensitization campaign.

Among others, participants unanimously resolved that they must be involved in the early stages of preparation of national documents such as the ICPD and the NPP, that IRCSL is not against comprehensive sexual education disclosing that they have the largest membership and highest number of schools in the country.

They also called for regular engagements on issues in line with the Holy Bible and Quran, that they support the radical inclusion in the NPP but against pregnant girls going to school and asked the rhetorical question: “How sustainable will the ICPD and NPP be?” Asserting that their observations would not create much impact as the policies have already been approved.

According to the IRCSL, they want to know the nexus between international and national conventions signed by government on behalf of the country, that the international community forces police on African and poor governments, and that African governments do not scrutinize police imposed on them by the international community and that abortion is murder except when the life of the mother is at stake.  

Earlier in his statement, the Chairman of the event, the Development Secretary, MoPED, Mr. Osman Conteh highlighted the challenges facing Africa such as rape, sexual reproductive health, women’s empowerment, reproductive health and rights, population and planning and appealed to the religious leaders to work with the government as partners in development to address the issues to improve the lives of the people.

In his statement, the Director of Performance Management, MoPED, Dr. Robert Moikowa underlined that the main thrust of the NPP is to effectively manage the country’s population with the aim of reducing the dependency rate in the country and reiterated the need to improve on population planning and management intimating that the ICPD was for countries to prioritize three main areas with respect to population and development like zero unmet need for family planning by 2030, for government to allocate 1% of the health budget to family planning, reduce unmet need from 28% in 2019 -20%, training of midwives, nurse anesthetics as well as provide an inclusive platform to achieve these and provide the political and financial direction.

Mr. Peter Koroma, Program Specialist, UNFPA recalled the ICPD held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1994 that was attended by 179 countries including Sierra Leone asserting that the conference endorsed the ICPD policy to among others prioritize human rights issues and poverty reduction and commended the government for reducing maternal deaths by 40% observing that they are also monitoring the progress made on the implementation of the ICPD.

According to Mr. Peter Koroma, UNFPA puts a premium on reproductive health, and engagement with the IRCSL would help change people’s cultural and traditional practices, underscoring that every pregnancy is wanted and that every child is saved.

The IRCSL Secretary General, Rev. Dr. Osman Jesse Fornah commended MoPED for recognizing the role of the council which he reiterated is very important in the country to maintain peace and religious tolerance, revealed that Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal deaths in the world, that in spite of the progress made to reduce it more needs to be done and called for the abolition of harmful traditional practices.

He also informed that the council was established to address all issues of national importance, that their greatest strength is mobilizing their membership and pledged that they would do all within their powers to address the issues raised that are not at variance with the Holy Bible and Quran such as discouraging teenage pregnancy stressing that the IRCSL is against all forms of abortion.

Rev. Dr. Osman Jesse Fornah furthered that some of the causes of high infant deaths in the country are a lack of professional medical staff, ambulances, and poor road network and pledged their commitment to the government and the ICPD reiterating that they would not compromise with sexual penetration and rape.

In his welcome statement, the Deputy Mayor of Makeni City, Mr. Santigie Mansaray disclosed that some mosques and churches may clash due to their proximity during worship services and called for the swift intervention of the authorities.

Presentations were also made on the overview of the Country Office 7th Program and UNFPA Strategic Plan and the three Transformation Goals by Mr. Peter Koroma, the ICPD Commitments and Progress Report.

The highlight of the engagement was discussions and commitment from the religious leaders while the vote of thanks was rendered by Rev. Father Dr. Thomas Gogra.  

By Bah

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