Sierra Leone - Social development

A community center, opened in 1946 in Freetown, enabled the Welfare Department to sponsor women's institutes and other groups interested in child welfare and domestic affairs; promote youth groups; set up programs for the care of the aged, the blind, and the mentally handicapped; and train staff and voluntary workers. In 1955, these allied services were reorganized into a new government department, now known as the Ministry of Social Welfare. A National Coordinating Committee concerned with community development and social services has also been set up, and there is a National Training Center for social workers. In 1972, the National Council of Social Services was established as a central body for coordinating and channeling the work of voluntary organizations. A national pension system exists only for public employees. Workers' compensation insurance with private carriers is compulsory. This program excludes small plantations with fewer than 25 agricultural workers, domestic servants and casual workers.

Women are guaranteed equal rights under the constitution, and a number of women have held prominent posts, including that of Supreme Court justice. Even so, discrimination and violence against women are frequent. Women carry out most of the strenuous agricultural work, and are responsible for child rearing. Women are less likely to attend or complete school, and only an estimated 6% are literate. They do not have equal access to economic opportunities, health care, or social freedoms. Female genital mutilation, a practice which is painful and sometimes life threatening, is an entrenched cultural practice. It is estimated that as many as 80–90% of girls and women may have been affected. There is considerable local opposition to advocates campaigning to have the practice banned. Domestic abuse and violence is a widespread social problem.

The government's human rights record has improved, although there are continued reports of the mistreatment of detainees and illegal detention, as well as summary execution of suspected rebels by government and ECOMOG forces.

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