Declaring rape and other forms of sexual violence a national emergency, the Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio has called for life imprisonment for sexual penetration of minors.
The head of state who addressed women’s rights activists in the State House on Thursday, February 7, said those convicted of sexual offenses against minors would face life in prison.
Following months of campaigning by activists, the president declared a national emergency, stating, “We as a nation must stand up and address this scourge.”
The brutal rape of a five-year-old girl by her 28-year-old male relative in Sierra Leone became the rallying point for a year-long campaign that on Thursday pushed President Julius Maada Bio to declare the prevalence of sexual violence a national emergency.
The girl has been paralyzed from the waist down since the rape incident a year ago.
“Some of our families practice a culture of silence and indifference towards sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatized,” Bio added.
In November 2018, President Julius Maada Bio also called for life prison sentences for offenders.
Sexually-motivated crimes in Sierra Leone carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison but a few cases are actually successfully prosecuted. The assault of the five year old is still unpunished.
Last year alone, police statistics indicate reported cases of over 8,500 sexual and gender-based violence, a third of which involved a minor. The number has risen from 4,750 in 2017 to 8,505 since the beginning of 2018. Activists, believe actual figures are much higher as most cases are never reported. According to the Rainbow Initiative, a local organization dedicated to the fight against sexual violence, on average every month, around 150 young women get pregnant due to rape.
In December 2018, Sierra Leonean First Lady, Fatima Bio launched her “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign to increase awareness of violence against girls, combat sexual violence, child trafficking and prostitution, child marriage and teenage pregnancy. She also led a demonstration in the capital to raise awareness of the issue.