The rights of disabled Youths still a pipe dream in Sierra Leone

By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

A group of disabled youths march on the street of Kabala town, Koinadugu district, Northern Sierra Leone on international day of persons with disability.

“ The denial of a meaningful political voice to the youth has had devastating consequences for Sierra Leone.  More avenues for the youth to express themselves and to realise their potential need to be created.  Political space should be opened up so that the youth can become involved in governance and in the decision-making process.  Youths must have a stake in governance,  the TRC recommendation 312.  .
For years,  despite the recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) many youths including disables have been left out in the decision making of the country, with little improvement on their lives and welfare in Sierra Leone, most of the policies geared towards the respect of their rights have been outdated. They still continue to struggle from basic things, employment,  the full realization of  their fundamental human rights even after more a decade with the passing of the Disability Act of 2011.

31-year-old Mohamed Kamara is a disable youth working at the Grafton Camp, a skilled worker in pottery but struggles with life and to get a daily meal for his family. He was born with no disability, but the war left a scar on him when rebels shot his legs during the country’s 11-year civil conflict that left hundreds of thousands of civilians’ dead in which many were left homeless has left him paralyzed only to be walking using crutches. The country has a number of people who were amputated, some left with disability issues as rebels used cruel techniques and means of punishing civilians. Today most of disabled youths across the country wallow the streets of Freetown with nothing to do and some can’t fend for themselves and are forced to begging as it is the means they can fend for themselves.

Even though those disables that are educated, have university or technical and vocational training certificate they still continue to struggle from access to employment, food, shelter, getting access to basic life, and lack of disabled friendly environment.

  Mohamed is not one of, there are others who struggles too with life. The streets, offices, transportation are several challenges disabled struggled with daily with some left on the streets whenever they fend transport as they could not compete with able bodied men. 

‘’War is not good. The rebels left me disabled and paralyzed, now they have left my life in ruins. Life isn’t easy for me ever since and the government hasn’t help us much. most of my other colleagues beg on the streets of Freetown,’’ he said.

He said that due their disability people discriminate them, and when they compete with able bodied men, they are left out adding that despite the passing into law of the disability Act in 2011, most people refused to take them in leadership positions boasting that he is qualified to work in any office.

“I want to urge any disable to report to the disability commission any breach of their human rights especially they been discriminated. we are now have  a legal desk in the commission that specifically look at this issue,’’ said Saa Lamin Raymond Kortequee, Chairman disability Commission.

Saa Kortequee said they as a commission have encouraged many private companies, businesses, and other business that they can hire as many disabled people as possible into their work places and they can give be tax reduction in their firms.

“Private companies, businesses please take this as an opportunity as well as a way you can help in the development of Sierra Leone. By employing many disables, you will help reduce unemployment in the country,’’ the disability commissioner said.

Apart from discrimination, there is still challenge with disable friendly environment as it is visibly seen in almost all the government buildings, streets, offices, colleges, and universities and even in the transportation systems in the country. Many will argue that its only now ten years ago that we have laws for the provisions of disabled friendly environment by the government.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) mentioned in its report , recommendation  stated that  Youths were the driving force behind the resistance to one-party state rule in the 1980s adding that  they also bore the brunt of the state’s repressive backlash as  during the conflict, youths formed the bulk of the fighting forces in all the factions. 

“The civil war has aggravated matters for the youth.  After ten years of war, thousands of young men and women have been denied a normal education and indeed a normal life.  Their childhood and youth have been squandered by years of brutal civil conflict.  Many young Sierra Leoneans have lost the basic opportunities in life that young people around the world take for granted.  These young people constitute Sierra Leone’s lost generation.  The Commission recommends that the youth question be viewed as a national emergency that demands national mobilisation.  This is an imperative recommendation,’’ TRC recommendation 313 .

Despite this recommendation, challenges for youths a very huge even with the establishment of the National Youth Commission by the Koroma -led government huge challenges remain from adequate funding ,

“The Commission recommends that Government work towards the transformation of the youth portfolio of the Ministry of Youth and Sports into a National Youth Commission.   Such a Commission should be located in the Office of the President.  The mission of a National Youth Commission would be to address the youth question as a fundamental priority in post-war reconstruction. Currently, the Youth Ministry is constrained by an overburdened civil service bureaucracy that prevents it from carrying out its basic tasks and functions.  At present the Ministry is unable to finance its programmes in the provinces.  In short, the Ministry of Youth does not have the means to address the youth question,’’ TRC recommendation 308  added.
For this commission recommended that government Protection of Human Rights of citizens and also among many other recommendations the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (HRC). Government has now established a human rights commission in the country and has made several recommendations also highlighting the need for the protection of the rights of youths in the country including the disabled.

“The Commission recommends that all political parties be required to ensure that at least 10% of their candidates for all public elections are youths.113  This includes national elections, local government and district council elections.  Legislation should be enacted to make this a legal requirement.  The National Electoral Commission should be required to enforce this minimum representation.  Such a stipulation will require all political parties to nurture and develop meaningful participation of the youth.  This is an imperative recommendation’’. TRC Recommendation 313
This Renowned Human Rights Lawyer and Expert Rashid Dumbuya Esq.  said that universities in Sierra Leone should create a disabled friendly environment for Persons living With Disability adding that the law is very clear that disables should be entitle to barrier free environment, and as country that is a signatory to many international treaties, the International Convention on the Rights of Person’s with Disability, thus the country is obligated under law to honour it.

“We are building colleges; we do not think about disables. The same toilet that even poses challenge for able bodied persons is the same the disabled used which is even much more challenging for them. We are building universities and we do not think about ramps; places where disables can just move their wheelchairs. The classrooms are not sensitive to persons with disability,’’ Lawyer Rashid said.

Lawyer Rashid added that there is no brailing system, including recording and special needs for classrooms in the universities across the country, except for the University of Makeni which carters for the disables.

 “We are calling on the University of Sierra Leone, Milton Margai college, College of Medicine, Njala University, Eastern Polytechnic to emulate the University of Makeni that has created special needs for disables, Lawyer Rashid said in statement marking the celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disability in Sierra Leone in collaboration with the National Disabled Women’s Forum.

The Human Rights Expert said the reason why disables are not employed in the country is largely because the buildings aren’t disabled friendly thus stating that it is difficult for organization, private firms not to bring on board disabled in their workplace.

“The challenges are many. I will not be able to name them all here, we know of shelter, transportation, and water. All these things are affecting you. It is not just enough to get the laws, we should implement them,”

Nenneh Kargbo is the Interim Secretary General, National Disabled Women’s Forum (NADWOF), stated that disables are been challenged in all facets of the society.

“Come to think about government building, neither the new ones nor the old that are accessible for women with disability. If you go to the hospital, the hospital that are government owned which disabled should access free medical care, but they are discriminated,’’ she said, adding that it is a real challenged for them and even with banks and other public buildings.

She said many of them have not be able to go school because the schools are disable friendly adding that that is why many are uneducated, unemployed which makes lives miserable for them.

“How many of us have gone far in terms of access to education?  what have we acquired in terms of skills generally? so many of us are in the streets begging. Women with disability have soared in number in the streets more than their counterparts. It is a challenge. How are prepared are we for the future,’’

*This article is produced with support from MRCG through the ATJLF project on: “Engaging the media to change the narrative on Transitional Justice (TJ) issues in Sierra Leone.”

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