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‘Incidents of early marriage happening at a disturbing rate’

- says WIMSAL prexy

March 13, 2015 By Victoria Saffa, Hawa Amara & Jariatu Bangura

Incidents of early marriage and sexual violence are happening at a disturbing rate in Sierra Leone, according to president of Women in the Media Sierra Leone (WIMSAL), Asmaa James.

She was speaking yesterday at the Harry Yansaneh Hall of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists in Freetown, during a symposium organised by the group as part of events to commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD), themed: “Make it happen – enforce Sexual Offences Act, review 1861 Abortion law, stop early marriage and rape”.

Quoting a 2014 crime statistics released by the Sierra Leone police, Mrs. James said some 11,358 incidents of sexual and domestic violence were reported with 2,154 complaints related to child sexual abuse, while 77 incidents of rape were reported.

“We are concerned about the slow progress in addressing some issues relating to reproductive and sexual health of women in Sierra Leone, and we are therefore calling on the government, particularly Parliament to expedite the process of reviewing sections 58-59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act,” she said.

The WIMSAL president said the passage of the Sexual Offences Act in 2012 demonstrated that government was heeding loud calls to protect women and girls in the country as the enactment was a boost to the justice sector in general, following the enactment of three significant gender bills in 2007 – Devolution of Estates, Domestic Violence and Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Acts, respectively – to improve the right of women, along with the Child Rights Act in the same year.

In his keynote address, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affair, Mustapha Bai Attila, noted that government cannot stop gender-based violence perpetrated against women and children without the help of Sierra Leoneans, especially the media.

He revealed that no fewer than 57% of women have been gravely affected by the Ebola outbreak, adding that his ministry would review the 1861 abortion law and enact the Gender Equality Bill.

Also, head of Family Support Unit (FSU), Mira Y. Koroma, said statistics of gender-based violence against women and children was prevalent and on the increase.

“We have a total of 2,124 reported cases of sexual penetration against children and women, and 1,157 penetration against children were charged and only 193 were convicted,” she said. “We also have a total of 77 reported cases of rape of which 28 were charged without conviction; and also 9,157 reported cases of domestic violence of which 969 were charged, but only 62 convicted in the whole country.

Ipas Country Director, Valerie Tucker, vowed to continue advocating for the review of the 1861 abortion law in the country, adding that even though religious clerics have strongly opposed the campaign, women have the right to make decision on their own.

She said the choice of doing safe abortion must be necessitated by real circumstances like rape, incest, epilepsy and teenage pregnancy, noting that although most women face difficulties with these conditions, yet their husbands stop them from undergoing abortion.

President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Kelvin Lewis, stated that more women are vulnerable to the Ebola virus as many more have been affected by the disease.

He called for proper enforcement to eradicate the disease and for the enforcement of the Sexual Offences Act and prohibition of early marriage and rape.

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