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Hon. Chernoh Bah addresses ECOWAS Parliament

June 1, 2021

By Jariatu S. Jusu

The Leader of the Sierra Leone delegation, Hon. Chernoh Maju Bah has in his report to the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Parliament stated that sexual assault on children in Sierra Leone has been on the increase.

Hon. Bah made the above statement at the ongoing first Ordinary Session of the fifth Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament held in Abuja, Nigeria.

“Sexual assault on children has been on the increase. In many cases of sexual assault on children, parents accept payments instead of taking the perpetrators to court due to the difficulties involved in dealing with the justice system, fear of public shame and economic hardship,” he said.

He stated that in March,2020, government announced the immediate end to a ban on visibly pregnant girls and teenage mothers attending school and that the 10-year old ban was seen as divisive and discriminatory.

“The change in policy has resulted in more pregnant girls attending school. In 2020, the Ministry of Education reported that approximately 1,572 pregnant girls took the West African  Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) and the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE),” he explained.

He reported that the common cases reported to the police and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) include rape, sexual exploitation of children, arrests made without warrants, congested detention facilities, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of fair public trial.

In a recent address to Parliament, Hon. Bah said President Bio expressed his government’s commitment to decongesting prisons and investing more resources in the safe, secure and human custody of inmates, and has pledged to cause the legislation of the abolition of the death penalty, which he considers cruel, inhumane, and unusual.

He further stated that in March, 2020, President Bio declared a 12-month State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that Parliament approved the measure, which granted the President’s broad powers to maintain peace and order including mandatory restrictions on movements.

He added that the State of Emergency declaration included restrictions on assembly as it banned meetings of more than 100 persons.

He said in a few cases, police used excessive force when dealing with demonstrators and used public order laws to deny requests for protests and demonstrations.

He narrated that more than 400 former Liberian refugees remain without legal status in the country. Their refugee status expired in 2017 when they became “residual caseloads” under UNHCR protection. They refused repatriation and integration and demanded resettlement in a third country.

He said the UNHCR denied their resettlement citing the former refugees’ contradictory statements and that the group applied for local national identification documents, but authorities were yet to act on the applications.

To guarantee press freedom, Hon. Bah told the assembly that the government worked with Parliament and other stakeholders to repeal the 55-year old seditious libel section of the Public Order Act, 1965 that criminalized free speech. This demonstrated the willingness of government to promote the freedom of press in the country

Hon. Bah however, states that before COVID-19, economic growth had recovered, and was increasing at an impressive rate. Inflation had eased down 4 percentage points to 13.9 percent by the end of December 2019, with a projected return to single digit by 2021.

He said as part of efforts to contain the spread of the disease, “The government, like other nations, adopted several containment measures including suspension of flights, closure of borders, restrictions on inter-district movements, partial lockdowns, night curfews, a ban on gatherings, closure of schools, mosques and churches. These measures have unintended adverse consequences on livelihoods and activities in key sectors thereby weakening growth prospects in 2020”.

Hon. Bah said like all other countries globally, Sierra Leone’s economy has been adversely affected by the impact of the pandemic. Notwithstanding, Sierra Leone has recorded remarkable strides in sustaining economic stability despite the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the Bank of Sierra Leone’s astute monetary policy reduced inflation to single digits for the first time in six years, stabilized the exchange rate of the Leone against regional and major world currencies, and significantly increased international reserves to unprecedented levels.

The Ministry of Finance continues to implement sound economic policies and public financial management reforms that are geared towards maintaining a stable economy and addressing the financial and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

He stated that government is reviewing and updating various legislations, promoting sustainable environmental protection including national reforestation and timber management initiatives, managing and conserving wetlands, and furthering community-based environmental education.

“Sierra Leone faces multiple risks from climate change that threaten key economic sectors and increase the potential for wider environmental degradation. High dependence on agriculture, and natural resources, coupled with high rates of poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation expose Sierra Leone to climate change impacts. Climate projections in Sierra Leone include increases in temperature, more extreme weather, including more intense precipitation, and rise in sea levels,” he said.