‘Every child wearing a school uniform must be safe’ : A blog by Minister David Sengeh


Minister Sengeh
The Honourable David Moinina Sengeh at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference 2022

The Honourable David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer in the Government of Sierra Leone, is committed to realising safe and inclusive education for children. He has been working to build safe education systems in Sierra Leone and around the world – serving as the chair of the Advisory Board of UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report and member of the High-Level Steering Committee for Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education, the highest body in the UN for SDG 4.  

In a further step to drive global change, he has now joined hands with the Safe to Learn global initiative as a Safe to Learn Champion – becoming a powerful advocate for ending violence in and through schools that affects hundreds of millions of children each year. 

Below, he writes about his reflections at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference 2022, which brought together delegates from around the world to ensure safe education in crisis. He discusses the important work being done to end violence and make schools safe to learn, in his government, Sierra Leone, and beyond. 


As a child, I lived in fear. I remember hearing stories of widespread rape during the civil war in my home country, and being constantly scared that people I knew would be affected. 

During the civil war, as we ran into an unknown village after an attack on my home city, Bo, I remember thinking I would dedicate myself to make sure no child would have to live through that fear again.

Years later, in 2019, when I was offered the privilege of becoming the Honourable Minister of Education by His Excellency President Julius Bio I was proud to accept and eager for change. My chance had come. My team and I set to work to make schools safe in their totality. And through  the curriculum, to make what was being taught radically transformational for our societyso future children will be safe. Our approach is from when a child puts on a school uniform at home, through their travel to school and experience in the school, to when they get home, they are our responsibility. As the Ministry of Education, we must keep them safe so they can learn and develop. There are solutions and now is the time for political leaders around the world to try to end the violence against children - there can be no more delay.

From when a child puts on a school uniform at home, through their travel to school and experience in the school, to when they get home, they are our responsibility. As the Ministry of Education, we must keep them safe so they can learn and develop.

Fear of failure can, and does, prevent action. Since being in office my team has taken a range of actions to promote gender equality and prevent violence in and through education because I believe violence can be learned, and it can be unlearned. 

I have been at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Ministerial Conference this week, hosted by the UK Government, speaking about the role education has to transform our world. Sustainable investment in equitable transformative education will prevent violence and promote peace. It is an essential ingredient to tackling sexual violence and transforming harmful gender and social norms. 

Talking is not enough, we need action and in Sierra Leone we are taking action now. The reality is, simple policies can transform societies:

  • We have banned corporal punishment.
  • We have developed and rolled out a guide to reducing violence, at the school level. Teachers are central to this.
  • We have developed a national pathway to justice for survivors of violence in and around schools.
  • We have enacted a national policy on radical inclusion in schools.

And this is still not enough. We are developing the Comprehensive School Safety Policy and are working to scale up programmes and plans to make sure every child in a school uniform is safe to learn.

At the PSVI conference I had the opportunity to meet with friends, partners and colleagues to discuss ways to mobilise more action. One way this is happening is through signing onto the Freetown Manifesto, developed in Freetown in 2022 by partners including UNGEI, UNESCO and the Global Partnership for Education. The purpose of the manifesto is to build momentum for gender equality in and through education. We are thrilled the UK Government signed up during the conference and I call on all governments, organisations and individuals to sign up today to enable us to come together in this movement. 

Another way is through announcing myself as a political champion for Safe to Learn, a global partnership convening countries and organisations who are as committed as I am to end all forms of violence in, around and through schools. 

Minister Sengeh at PSVI

The Honourable David Moinina Sengeh with Howard Taylor, Executive Director, End Violence Partnership,  at the PSVI Conference 2022.

At the conference there was recognition that children’s access to safe, inclusive and gender transformative education can prevent the systemic social norms that enable violence to happen, and to be exaggerated in times of conflict. Schools have often been a safe haven from violence. They are more than that. They are a place where ideas develop to make sure the safe haven is not just the school but that it grows and expands across the community and country. The seeds of peace are sown in our classrooms.

The seeds of peace are sown in our classrooms.

Timing is critical when it comes to achieving change. It was clear at the conference that not enough has been achieved at the global level over the last ten years to achieve real change. This time it must be different. We don’t just need change, we need change now. We need it not just for the survivors who explained so powerfully why things must change, but critically how violence can be prevented. We need it for every child who will wake up tomorrow, put on their school uniform and who should never have to experience the fear and violence so many before them have experienced. 


The Safe to Learn initiative is supporting collective action and investments to keep girls and boys safe wherever they learn. Its Call to Action sets out in high-level terms what needs to happen to end violence in schools and calls on governments to strengthen legislation, policy and investment to prevent and respond to violence. Learn more.