Sierra Leone welcomes ban on child marriage.


Sierra Leone celebrated a landmark moment with the introduction of a new law banning child marriage, marked by a ceremonial event in Freetown organized by First Lady Fatima Bio. The occasion saw President Julius Maada Bio signing the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act into law, amidst the presence of distinguished guests, including first ladies from Cape Verde and Namibia.

Under the new legislation, anyone involved in marrying off a girl under the age of 18 faces severe penalties, including a minimum of 15 years in jail or a fine of approximately $4,000 (£3,200), or both. The move was welcomed by many, including Khadijatu Barrie, a university student in gender studies, who shared her personal experience of seeing her younger sister married off at the age of 14. She expressed relief that such a law could now prevent similar occurrences and protect vulnerable girls in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, a society with deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, often sees girls subjected to forced marriages, where fathers dictate their daughters’ marital futures. Barrie herself narrowly escaped a similar fate at the age of 10, fleeing her family home after her father disowned her for resisting marriage. Fortunately, she found support from teachers who paid her school fees and a compassionate worker from a UN children’s agency who helped with accommodation. Despite her own ordeal, Barrie acknowledges the challenges faced by rural communities in breaking away from traditional practices and believes widespread awareness and enforcement of the new law are crucial steps towards societal change.

The Ministry of Health estimates that one-third of girls in Sierra Leone are married before they reach 18, contributing significantly to the country’s high rates of maternal mortality—one of the highest globally. Those liable under the new law include not only the groom and the parents or guardians arranging the marriage but also attendees of such weddings.

First Lady Fatima Bio has been a vocal advocate against sexual abuse since her husband assumed office six years ago. She has actively campaigned for legislative measures to protect women and girls, making the ceremonial signing of the bill a significant public event. Despite receiving limited local coverage since its passage by MPs a few weeks earlier, the law’s significance was not lost on those who attended the ceremony, including President Bio’s young daughter, symbolizing a hopeful future for girls in Sierra Leone.

President Bio, reflecting on his personal journey shaped by the strong women in his life after losing his father at an early age, emphasized his commitment to empowering women and girls. He highlighted the pivotal role of his mother and elder sister in nurturing his ambitions and stressed his belief in a future where women in Sierra Leone have equal opportunities to excel. His endorsement of the new law as a means to empower women echoed sentiments shared by rights activists and international observers, who hailed it as a transformative step forward for human rights in the country.

Child Marriage Act, rights activists commended Sierra Leone for taking a decisive stance to protect vulnerable girls and uphold human rights principles. The U.S. Bureau of African Affairs lauded the legislation as a significant milestone that not only safeguards girls’ rights but also sets a precedent for robust human rights protections across the region.

The implementation and enforcement of the new law will be critical in ensuring its effectiveness. Civil society organizations, alongside governmental bodies, will play a pivotal role in educating communities about the law’s provisions and supporting initiatives aimed at empowering girls and women. The success of these efforts will determine Sierra Leone’s progress in curbing child marriage and fostering a more equitable society where girls can thrive without fear of early marriage and its associated risks.

Sierra Leone embarks on this new chapter in its fight against child marriage, the collective efforts of government leaders, activists, and community members will be essential in realizing the law’s transformative potential. The journey towards gender equality and human rights advancement requires sustained commitment and collaboration, ensuring that every girl in Sierra Leone has the opportunity to fulfill her potential and contribute to a brighter future for the nation.

Sierra Leone’s ban on child marriage represents not only a legal milestone but also a moral imperative to protect the rights and dignity of its young girls. With strong leadership, advocacy, and community engagement, Sierra Leone can pave the way for a future where every girl can live free from the threat of child marriage and pursue her dreams with confidence and security.


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