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Sexual Offence Act is a blessing to women in Sierra Leone

Sexual Offence Act is a blessing to women in Sierra Leone

For far too long, Sierra Leonean women and girls have suffered immensely as a result of sexual or gender based violence during and after the civil war in the country – an act that many human rights organisations deem cruel, inhuman and among all, degrading of the integrity of women and girls in society. (Photo: Isatu Gbla, author)

Despite the fact that such a despicable act has received a spate of attention in both the media and international institutions, it has relatively little recognition from some politicians, especially those across the sub-Saharan Africa, whose commitments to address sexual exploitation remain blurred.

This is apparent in many African states who have deliberately failed to acknowledge the magnitude of this problem, and as a result, it has caused severe harm and inhibits victims’ access to treatment.

In Sierra Leone for example, an Amnesty report on Sexual Violence Survivors Await Justice states: “Six years after the war, little has been done to ensure that these survivors of sexual violence receive justice, acknowledgement of their suffering, or reparations.”

Thanks to the dynamic leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, whose effort in addressing such menace has become exemplary, thus the timely enactment of the Sexual Offences Act 2012.

Such move has not only restored the dignity and hope for women and children in Sierra Leone, but also received accolade from international and other humanitarian organisations across the globe.  A statement issued by the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, (CARL-SL) commending such move immediately after the enactment is a case in point.  This is because CARL-SL and other human rights organisations are very much aware of the fact that stigmatism and discrimination of survivors are huge obstacles to women and girls who are trying to rebuild their lives after traumatic experiences.  Many women and girls want justice and reparation in order to become economically independent.

The enactment of the sexual offences act has therefore opened a new chapter in the history of Sierra Leone.  According to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, “Only a country thoroughly addressing the wrongdoings of the past can build a solid foundation for a successful and sustainable future.  More needs to be done to support these survivors, both in terms of access to justice, services, and to help them reintegrate into society.”

It is against this background that I think women in Sierra Leone should give kudos to President Koroma for such a bold and decisive action.

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  • I have been writing a summary of the Act for a Berkeley, CA based human rights center. I notice that Carl-sl says and other NGOs quote Carl-SL as saying the Sexual Offences Act now imposes sanctions on persons, regardless of their status, who enable monetary settlements for the sexual conduct prohibited under the Act. Thus, family members or Government authorities found engaging in such practices stand to face terms of imprisonment of not less than two years and not less than five years, respectively, under the new Act.
    Could you please direct my attention to the provision in the Act that talks about monetary settlements? Thanks, Gail Saliterman

    8th December 2012

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