February 8, 2019
By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
President Julius Maada Bio has declared rape and sexual violence as national emergency and ordered the Judiciary to slam life imprisonment on those that would be found guilty of the offences.
The landmark decision could not be unconnected to a recent call by Child Welfare Society-Sierra Leone (CWS-SL) to declare national emergency as a result of the increase number of rape and sexual violence against women and children.
“The Chief Justice should consider creating a special division with assign judges to deal with cases of rape and sexual violence. With immediate effect, sexual penetration of minors is punishable by life imprisonment,” Bio ordered.
The maximum sentence for sexual offences is 15 years imprisonment as stated in the Sexual Offences Act of 2012.
Bio, who was addressing stakeholders at State House, said the ‘despicable’ crimes of sexual violence were being committed against women and girls that are mostly below age 15.
He said there were nearly 3,000 reported sexual assault cases and about 602 of those survivors were below thirteen years, and that seven of them contracted HIV AIDS.
“2,404 have sexual transmitted diseases, thousands more are scared and traumatised by their ordeal and only 39 of those three thousand reported cases were successfully prosecuted and 2,961 of the survivors of sexual violence were denied justice,” he said.
The president said his government was working in close collaboration with inter-agency institutions with the view to ensuring that a full circle of services ranging from reporting, investigating, treating patients to prosecuting were free, uncomplicated and delivered speedily.
He promised that they would invest in the training of specialised police personnel, providing adequate forensic facility, collating and collecting comprehensive sexual violence data, delivering free medical services to survivors and cartering for safe homes and psychosocial care for them.
He noted that his administration would engage community and Civil Society Organizations to eliminate the culture of compromising sexual violence cases across the country.
“We must put an end to the scourge that is wrecking the nation. On this note, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare rape and sexual violence as national emergency,” he declared.
The president also ordered all government hospitals to be providing free medical treatment and certificate to victims of sexual abuse, and that a specialised division must be set up by the Sierra Leone Police to speedily handle all cases of rape and sexual penetration of minor.
He called on the Judiciary to consider using 136 proceedings to speed up rape cases and that the Law Officers Department should consider charging all persons accused of rape and sexual violence as an offence of aggravated assault.
He stated that a dedicated national telephone line for reporting rape and sexual violence cases will be made available to the public in due course.
Earlier, Dr. Olabissi Claudius Cole, medical doctor at the Rainbo Centre, the only provider of free medical and psychosocial services, said the centres saw 3,137 cases of sexual and physical assault across their five centres with Freetown recording the highest.
She noted that Gender Based Violence and rape were a huge problem in Sierra Leone, with the World Health Organisation estimating that 1 in 3 women would have experienced rape within their life.
“I am very pleased that the problem of gender based violence in Sierra Leone is finally getting the attention of the government and concrete actions are being taken to address this menace in our society. But we still have a long way to go,” she said.
The Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Justice Babatunde Edwards, affirmed commitment to speedily try sexual offences cases, but noted that the elements in such offences ‘are not easy to prove’.
Justice Edwards also suggested that a law must be developed to punish those that settle for compromise on sexual penetration cases and ensure ‘drastic measures are put in place to tackle drastic situation’.