May 10, 2018 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
A quintet of right-based organisations has in press release called on the government of Sierra Leone to take urgent action to halt the increase in Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) across the country, as reported by the Rainbow Centre and Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI).
Equality Now, Defence for Children Sierra Leone, Graceland Sierra Leone, Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace and Women against Violence and Exploitation said in a joint release on Wednesday, 9 May that: “We the undersigned human rights organisations working on advancing the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone are urgently calling on the leadership and all political actors to make immediate action to address the increase in incidence of sexual Gender Based Violence across the country.”
They averred that their research reveals that 56% of rape victims in the country are between 11-15 years, adding that these are mostly school going children and once they get pregnant they end up dropping out of school.
“Many of the girls we serve have become pregnant due to the type of sexual violence reflected in this statistics. Many more girls under the age of 18 become pregnant as a result of exploitative relationships with much older men, which is a crime in Sierra Leone. Girls are subjected to multiple violations of their human rights, including forced and early child marriage and female genital mutilation.”
According to the right groups, girls who got pregnant as a result of rape or sexual exploitation end up being double punished as they are banned from attending school while in most cases there is no access to justice for rape ordeal, with perpetrators going unpunished.
Thus, in order to tackle the troubling issue, they called on the new administration to rein in on perpetrators and to protect victims from double jeopardy by allowing pregnant girls in school.
“In his address pursuant to his swearing in to political office following recent elections, H.E. the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, promised to prioritize the education sector in Sierra Leone. We are calling upon him to ensure that all pregnant girls are allowed to continue with education and further lift the ongoing discriminatory ban.”
The group noted that the country has made tremendous steps in the ratification of international and regional laws that seek to promote and protect the rights of women and a girl, adding that at the national level the Sexual Offences Act 2012 is comprehensive in the proscription of offences and penalties.
However, the release added that despite the enactment of these laws the rights of women and girls continue to be abused, adding that not even the establishment of Family Support Unit within the Sierra Leone Police has caused police officers to take adequate and timely action to ensure through investigations are conducted and suspects arrested and arraigned in court.
“We therefore urge the government of Sierra Leone to ensure that the laws that protect girls are fully implemented and enforced in Sierra Leone and that perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to book; adequately equip the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) to ensure that the officers are in a position to effectively handle all cases reported to them; develop and implement programs that ensure that girls know their rights and have access to safe spaces and other resources including a programme of comprehensive sexuality education as part of the curricula delivered in all schools; and provide sexual and reproductive health rights services to girls,” the release urged.
It further called on the government to put in place measures that address the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and sexual exploitation and conduct nationwide campaigns to alleviate stigma and discrimination endured by pregnant girls.