The Office Of The First Lady, in collaboration with The Ministry of Gender and social welfare staged a peaceful protest against sexual violence on Sat 15th Dec. in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This is the first time in Africa, that we have First Ladies coming together to support their counterpart by participating in a peaceful protest. The procession started at the Supreme Court Building at Cotton tree, to Aberdeen Junction 8km away. The Protest is part of the program to Launch the First Lady’s 2019 – 2022 strategic plan themed: “Hands Off Our Girls”.
Usually, these kind protests aimed at empowering women and dealing with social issues, are initiated and carried out by non-governmental organisations. Our unconventional First Lady is taking the lead on advocating for women and children because she is passionate about issues concerning them.
Before the commencement of the protest, The Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Hon . Baindu Dassama , read the position paper she submitted to the Minister of Justice at the front of the supreme court building. Hon. Dassama is not happy about the state of affairs concerning violence against women, this she said should be carefully examined and justice should prevail. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice; Hon. Priscilla Schwartz, responding to the document, made it clear, the issue will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.
The First Lady did not pull punches. She stated that rape will not be tolerated. She was down-to-earth , as she addressed the over 600 persons present at the submission of the Position document .
The peaceful protest started as The First Ladies from Chad, Gambia and Niger joined. The First Ladies were very energetic and made it clear that violence against women will not be tolerated in the continent. The protest started with about 1 thousand protesters at cotton tree, as at the time the procession got to Congo cross, there were over two thousand protesters.
What made the demonstration unique, was the support by the Police, the Military, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, they all joined the peaceful protest. Lawyers came to show support by participating in the protest, though the Lawyers did not have the “Hands off our Girls “ T-shirts, they joined the demonstration in their suites.
H. E. Fatima Maada Bio, believes this protest is an important avenue to bring about the much desired change in the society. Awareness created by the peaceful protest will put the spotlight on organisations meant to protect our women, and create a sense of accountability.
From International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 until December 10 each year, women around the world mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. During this period, campaigns are waged globally to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls. Under the 2018 theme Orange the World: #HearMeToo, a host of events are being held to raise awareness and create opportunities for dialogue between activists, policy-makers and the public.
Like in previous years, Sierra Leone has actively participated in this campaign. This year was particularly poignant as the statistics from the media pointed to the fact that the crisis is getting worse. Rape and other sexual and gender-based violence had been a persistent problem long before the war. The war brought matters to fore. Since then there have been numerous attempts to address these terrible crimes.
Many had assumed that with the enactment of the three Gender Acts of 2007, Domestic Violence Act; Devolution of Estates Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, and the subsequent enactment of the Sexual Offences Act (2012), the culture of impunity would rapidly be brought to an end. Although still early days since these laws were passed, the problem seems to be worsening.
Data circulating on social media suggested that there were 2579 sexual penetration cases so far in 2018 – 6 were HIV positive and 484 pregnant. Rainbo Center data obtained from its website indicate that in October 2018 there were 237 cases of sexual assault, 49 pregnancies, 103 sexually transmitted infections and 1 HIV/AIDS case. Radio Democracy which actively reports these cases has left many listeners equally depressed and enraged. The age of the victims is getting younger. 45-year-old man penetrates a 9-year-old girl. 28-year-old man rapes 5-year-old girl. 35-year-old man penetrates 4-year-old girl. Astonishingly and sickeningly, the youngest rape case was a 7-month-old baby.
Clearly, despite the enactment of these progressive laws and years of sensitization, the dastardly act remains pervasive. However, this is not the time for disillusionment or giving up. It is a time to double our efforts and to think of new strategies to defeat the pedophiles and rapists.
The Sexual Offences Act has made it relatively easier to prosecute rape and other sexual offences but the conviction rate remains low due in part to shortcomings in our criminal justice system. We lack prosecutors in most parts of the country. Geographical factors make the formal legal system inaccessible. The capacity of investigators remains limited. They lack basic equipment such as rape kits to undertake important tests. Key witness including parents and guardians refuse to cooperate and in some cases receive money to ‘settle’ the case out of court. The absence of a witness protection programme also makes witnesses afraid to come forward.Legal technicalities such as corroboration and in some cases the requirement of a voire dire where a witness is a child are also major impediments in the prosecution of sexual offences.
The media has not always helped. Some have published pictures or information about victims leading to the disclosure of their identity. This coupled with the lack of confidentiality has helped ensure that the stigmatization surrounding rape and the culture of silence remain firmly in place. As immediate family members are usually the perpetrators, lack of adequate social workers and halfway houses has also deterred many witnesses from coming forward.
Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS) continues to do a great job associating with the prosecution in a number of sexual offence cases. The Bar Association can do more to work with them in this laudable effort. We can also work with the Legal Aid Board to train more paralegals who can help victims navigate the legal process especially in parts of the countries where there are no lawyers or in instances where people cannot afford lawyers.
However, not all the problems are legal and the courts, though they need to do a lot more, should not be the only frontier where this war is fought. It must be a comprehensive and multi-pronged battle. It must be waged at home by parents. The long taboo of not discussing sex must end. Sex education and preventive mechanisms must be part of our curriculum in schools.
As we realized with Ebola, our traditional leaders have a crucial role to play. It is important that we engage them at every level in this struggle. They should not only help raise awareness but must ensure that the local courts deal sternly with perpetrators. As recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the practice under customary law of compelling women and girls who have been raped to enter into marriage with the offender should be abolished.
Achieving justice for victims of sexual violence requires long-term commitment. It also requires political will and collaboration amongst all the actors. It is a comprehensive journey that we must all support government in ensuring it is eradicated.
_Basita Michael is President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. It does not purport to reflect the position of any institution of which she is a member.
THE High Court in Suva has made a milestone sentence after judge Justice Daniel Goundar sentenced a 74-year-old father to life imprisonment for raping two of his biological daughters.
While sentencing the man, Justice Goundar declined to fix a non-parole period.
The man is convicted of seven counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault.
The incidents occurred between 1982 and 2013.
Justice Goundar said the man got away for his crimes for 31 years because of the authority he had over the victims.
The court heard that he impregnated the first victim at the age of 14 years and later raped the child born out of the rape when the second victim turned 10 years.
Justice Goundar said the demon for those victims was real in the form of their own biological father.
The man has been sentenced to life imprisonment for each count of rape and five years imprisonment for the offence of indecent assault.
The State was represented by Assistant DPP Dato Shyamala Alagendra, Lavenia Bogitini and Juleen Fatiaki.
MEANWHILE, BELOW IS AN EDITORIAL DONE BY FIJI SUN ONLINE ON THE RULING OF THE HIGH COURT
EDITORIAL: ODPP Must Be Applauded For Setting Precedent In Rape Ruling
High Court judge Justice Daniel Goundar has shown that rapists and child rapists will not be let off easy by the justice system.
Yesterday, he sentenced a man to life imprisonment. The man, fathered a child after he raped his daughter. He went on to rape that child when she turn 10.
Justice Goundar showed this beast no mercy and convicted him of seven counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault.
This is the first time a rapist has been jailed for life by our courts. The role the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) played in this need to be acknowledged as well.
Assistant DPP Dato’ Shaymala Alagendra herself led the prosecution team in this case and argued successfully that the lives of both victims will never be the same again after going through 31 years of abuse.
She needs to be applauded for the role she and her team played in setting precedence in the country.
The state prosecution had called an expert witness, the Director of the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Programme and a Clinical Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Dr Daryn Reicherter, in this case to give expert evidence on the mental health consequences of sexual violence and rape on children.
In his evidence, Dr Reicherter said that this case was one of the worst he had ever seen and said both victims in this case had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and showed severe anxiety symptoms as well as chronic suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Last month the Supreme Court had set another precedence in another rape case, also involving a man who raped his biological daughters.
In this matter, the rapist, again, the father had appealed to the Supreme Court against his sentence of 16 years. The Supreme Court after hearing that the Office of the DPP has filed additional material showing an increase in the prevalence of child rape in Fiji, the court agreed the sentence required an enhancement.
He was jailed to 17 years and nine months, with a non-parole period of 16 years.
The court also agreed with the State that it was necessary to review the previous tariff of 10 to 16 years for child rape offences.
The court concluded that the current tariff for child rape offences in Fiji is now 11 to 20 years imprisonment. The court also said that the tariff could be exceeded in particularly heinous cases.
And, that is not all. Under the guidance of the Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde, his office yesterday filed documents appealing three rape sentences. They are of the view that the sentences are lenient and harsher penalties need to be imposed.
The Office of the DPP is doing its job, the Judiciary is doing its job in sentencing these rapists.
Are you? Are you turning a blind eye to the abuse?