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Sierra Leone News: With over 3000 reported SGBV cases…Sexual penetration by minor is punishable by life imprisonment-Pres. Bio

Putting an end to the scourge of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) against women and girls across the country, President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday 7 February 2019, declared ‘sexual penetration by minor is punishable by life imprisonment’. He made this disclosure just after his official declaration of sexual assault, rape and violence against women and girls as a national emergency at the Conference Hall in State House. According to President Bio, as a nation they should not sit by and look away or allow the acts to continue to happen, as they are great people. He disclosed that each month hundreds of cases or rape and sexual assaults are being reported countrywide. President Bio said the despicable crimes are being committed to women, children and even babies as some of the fatalities are as young as three months, disclosing 70% of survivors of the traumatic experience are below age 15 years. “Very sadly thousand more cases of rape and sexual violence go unreported,” he said, maintaining whatever statistic he will be given will just be a tip of the ice bag as the perpetrators are getting younger and their acts are getting more violent. “Of nearly 3,000 reported sexual assault cases 602 of the survivors became pregnant, 7 contracted HIV/Aids, 2404 had STDs, thousands more are scared and traumatized by their ordeal,” he said, disclosing only 39 of the 3,000 cases were successfully prosecuted whiles 2,961 of the survivors denied justice. He called on everyone to address the scourge as a nation as his government will continue to work with relevant partners in addressing the gaps and deficiencies in the 2012 Sexual Offences Act, adding his government will train specialized police, provide adequate forensic facilities, collate and collect comprehensive sexual violence data. After declaring rape and sexual violence as a national security issue President Bio made the following directives;

  • All government hospitals must provide free medical treatment and certificate to every rape victim and sexual abuse
  • A special Division of rape penetration of minors be created by the Sierra Leone Police that will be separate from the FSU to speedily handle all cases of rape and sexual penetration of minors;
  • The Chief Justice consider creating a special division with assigned Judges to deal with cases of rape and sexual violence;
  • Sexual penetration is, with immediate effect, punishable by life imprisonment.
  • High Court should consider the 136 proceedings in the High Court in order to speed up prosecution and trial of all new cases of rape and sexual violence
  • Law Officers Department should charge all perpetrators of rape and sexual penetration with an offence of aggravated assault.
  • A dedicated national emergency telephone number to report rape and sexual violence will be made available to the public in due course.

According to Chief Justice Babatunde Edwards, before the commencement of the High Court Session of 2019 in January, he received over hundreds of sexual offences indictments just for Freetown, which prompted him to telephone the Rainbo Initiatives Board Chair, Dr Olabisi for them to organize training for Judges, Magistrates and Staff on the issue. He disclosed solving the menace requires a multi sectoral approach down from the investigators, Law office, Rainbo Center, Judicial Support Staff, Magistrate and Judges as everyone should be on board if they are to succeed. Justice Edwards disclosed that sexual penetration and rape cases are not easy to prove as they require evidence, he explained that from a workshop they attended, Judges were able to learn if an investigation does not begin within 72 hours they are likely to lose it and the Court will take the blame because at the end they might not be able to get a conviction. He cited Black Stones saying, “It is better for several innocent people to be around in society than one innocent man to go down prison,” explaining they need people to support the whole process. The Chief Justice said he thinks there should be a law dealing with the issues of compromising and negotiation on such matters, explaining these are the things that are delaying the process of prosecution of rape cases and sexual violence. He however assured the nation that the Judges will be very effective this time in handling such matters as a result of the just concluded training they benefited from He maintained he will engage the Inspector General of Police to see how best they can organize trainings for police in bringing the culprits to book. According to Dr Olabisi Claudius Cole, Board Chair Rainbo Initiative, the declaration by President Bio sends a strong message that the country is entering a face of zero tolerance and the law will bite, maintaining the days of impunity are over. She disclosed Rainbo Centres have supported more than 30,000 women and girls that survive rape and other forms of Gender Based Violence, disclosing 93% are girls below age 17 years and 24% below the age of 11 years. Dr Claudius Cole said as at present Rainbo Centre is operating as the only service provider on free medical and psychosocial victims of Gender Based Violence across the country, disclosing they are operating in Freetown, Kenema, Kono, Bo and Makeni. “In 2018, Rainbo Centres saw 3,137 cases of sexual and physical assault in our 5 Centres but only 1.2% of these cases were successfully prosecuted’” she said. Explaining, she furthered that GBV is a huge problem in Sierra Leone as WHO estimate 1 in 3 will have experienced rape within their life time. She maintained sexual assault cases accounted for 2,900 whiles physical assault recorded 237 totaling 3,137 GBV cases nation wide with Freetown recording the highest cases. “The youngest survivor seen in 2018 is 12 months, the youngest pregnancy as a result of rape was 12 years,” she said, disclosing their staff on a daily basis sees 10 to 15 new cases which are becoming overwhelming. She disclosed the cases seen are often girls, below 17 years that are raped by a neighbor, family friend, teacher, Islamic leader, biological father, stepfather, brothers, and classmate, adding it is usually someone the survivor knows that commits the illegal act of rape.

 

  Freetown Kenema Kono Bo Makeni Total
Sexual assault cases 1,598 717 517 53 15 2,900
Physical assault cases 2 32 203 0 0 237

According o the Head of the Family Support Unit Superintendent Fatmata Jebeh Daboh, they are operating 76 Units with 6 Regional Coordinators investigating Sexual and Gender Base Violence since the Unit’s inception in 2001. Addressing SGBV countrywide, she maintained the Inspector General of Police has created the Sexual Assault Syndicate (SAS) with a special mandate to investigate all sexual violence cases, disclosing lack of logistic and infrastructure are affecting the smooth operations of FSU in addressing the issue. According to her in areas where Rainbo Centres are not operating, the FSU is finding it very difficult to respond to issues of SGBV. Lack of forensic lab, vehicles and medical Centres, where in most cases they hire commercial vehicles to transport victims. The President of 50/50 Group, Fatu Taqi, expressed appreciation for President Bio’s declaration in protecting women and girls across the country, despite the fact it will not reduce the numbers but will open the minds of people to be aware that something will be done for such action. According to her the things that have been swept under the carpet and now in the opening for them to discuss and put an end to the menace, disclosing the fact that there will be specialized Judges she is assured women and girls will be safe. The President of the Kailahun Women in Governance Network who also serves as the Representative of the Eastern Region Women Network, Lucy Gondor, maintained their cries and prayers have been answered and their hopes have been restored in protecting women and girls. It could be recalled over the past decade women have been presenting position papers to previous government officials and also quite recently to President Bio, crying for protection and assurance in society for them to have protection from SGBV and other related issues. “With this declaration the position of women and girls in society is now guaranteed’” she said, maintaining they will now intensify their engagements with the Traditional Authorities to ensure the issue of compromise becomes a thing of the past. A survivor of rape, who also survived the deadly Ebola disease presently residing at the Don Bosco Safe Home for Girls, was able to share her experience, broking down in tears after she disclosed she was raped just after losing her parents and other family members through the Ebola.

By Alhaji Manika Kamara

Friday February 9, 2019.

 

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