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Sierra Leone Enacts Landmark Law Banning Child Marriage

Sierra Leone has officially banned child marriage with the introduction of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. The new law was celebrated at a ceremony in Freetown, organized by First Lady Fatima Bio and attended by dignitaries, including first ladies from Cape Verde and Namibia. President Julius Maada Bio signed the Act into law, marking […]

Sierra Leone Enacts Landmark Law Banning Child Marriage
Sierra Leone Enacts Landmark Law Banning Child Marriage

Sierra Leone has officially banned child marriage with the introduction of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. The new law was celebrated at a ceremony in Freetown, organized by First Lady Fatima Bio and attended by dignitaries, including first ladies from Cape Verde and Namibia. President Julius Maada Bio signed the Act into law, marking a significant step towards protecting the rights of girls in Sierra Leone.

Under the new legislation, anyone involved in marrying a girl under the age of 18 faces a minimum of 15 years in prison or a fine of approximately $4,000 (£3,200), or both. This includes the groom, the parents or guardians of the child bride, and even attendees of the wedding.

University student Khadijatu Barrie, whose sister was married off at 14, expressed her support for the ban but lamented that it had not come sooner. “I really wish it had happened earlier. I could have at least saved my sister and my friends and other neighbours,” the 26-year-old gender studies undergraduate told the BBC.

In Sierra Leone’s patriarchal society, it is common for fathers to forcibly marry off their daughters. Barrie herself faced this threat at the age of 10, but managed to escape after her father disowned her. With the help of teachers who paid her school fees and a UN children’s agency worker who provided accommodation, she was able to continue her education. Barrie emphasized the need for widespread awareness of the new law, especially in rural areas where traditional practices are deeply ingrained. “If everyone understands what’s there waiting for you in case you do it I’m sure this country will be a better one,” she said.

The Ministry of Health estimates that one-third of girls in Sierra Leone are married before turning 18, contributing to one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.

First Lady Fatima Bio, who has been a vocal advocate against sexual abuse since her husband took office six years ago, ensured that the signing of the bill was a significant event. President Bio, reflecting on his upbringing by his mother and elder sister, stated, “Together, we want to build an empowered Sierra Leone where women are given an even platform to reach their full potential. I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone is female.”

Rights activists have hailed the new law as a watershed moment. The US Bureau of African Affairs praised the legislation on social media, calling it a “significant milestone” that not only protects girls but also promotes robust human rights protections.

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africaChild marriagenew lawTDGThe Daily Guardian