Sierra Leone’s Parliament passed the Basic and Senior Secondary Education Act 2023 into law in April 2023. This progressive Act seeks to reform the education system by making it more inclusive, accessible and rights-based and lays out regulations to eliminate violence and improve learning outcomes in the country.
The Act covers a wide range of regulations, such as ensuring the inclusion of children with physical or learning disability, banning discrimination, legalisation of youth advisory groups and, prohibition of corporal punishment and protection from violence and abuse.
Ending violence in schools
An estimated 246 million children around the world experience violence in and around school every year. This may be in the form of peer-to-peer bullying, sexual exploitation, or physical violence. The new Act in Sierra Leone explicitly calls for schools to foster a learning environment that is “psychologically safe, free from all forms of violence and abuse and facilitates learning”
Prohibition of corporal punishment
Almost half of all school-aged children (793 million) live in countries where corporal punishment in schools is not prohibited. With the enactment of the Basic and Senior Secondary Education Act, 2023, Sierra Leone has taken the crucial step of explicitly prohibiting corporal punishment of children in schools.
The Act states: “corporal punishment and all other forms of degrading punishment designed to cause, or create the reasonable fear of, physical pain in a pupil, administered or threatened for the purpose of domination or control are prohibited.”The ban applies not just to school staff and teachers, but also to any person or students’ relatives on school grounds.
With this new legislation, Sierra Leone becomes the 136th state worldwide to legally protect children from corporal punishment in schools. Learn about global progress towards prohibition of corporal punishment.
Prohibiting all forms of abuse and exploitation, including online
The Act also prohibits any form of exploitation of a pupil. It prohibits teacher-to-pupil and pupil-to- pupil violence including bullying, harassment, verbal abuse and sexual abuse. Cyber bullying, whether peer-to-peer or by educators, is also specifically prohibited.
Inclusion and protection for young mothers
Early pregnancy can be damaging to young girls’ development – and denying these young girls education threatens to deprive them of opportunities and push them to the fringes of communities. Up until 2020, pregnant girls in Sierra Leone had been excluded from education through a longstanding ban. This new Act has explicitly included the 2020 policy that lifted this ban and ensures pregnant girls cannot be denied education.
The Act states that, “Pregnant girls, parent learners, children from the poorest homes, rural areas and underserved communities shall be encouraged to access, stay in, complete school and enjoy all the facilities provided in the school,” and that there should be “no discrimination between pupils in the matter of their admission to and treatment”
A pioneer in making children #SafeToLearn
The Government of Sierra Leone has been committed to safe learning. In 2019, Sierra Leone endorsed the Safe to Learn Call to Action, which 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. The endorsement marks an important political demonstration of the country’s commitment to ending violence in and through schools.
In a step to drive global change, The Honourable David Moinina Sengeh, Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Chief Innovation Officer in the Government of Sierra Leone has 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. Read his blog on safe education in and beyond Sierra Leone.
Learn more keeping children Safe to Learn and Ending Corporal Punishment.