Aminata Kane, Chief Executive Officer of one of the country’s telecommunications companies operating in Sierra Leone, Orange SL, was one of the panel speakers at the Africa Digital Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that brought together  individuals from different countries of the telecommunications landscape.

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.

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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.

Obituaries

With gratitude to God for a life well lived

Obituary for the late Evelyn Lauretta Idowu-Davies
Sunrise:11 February 1925
Sunset : 10 March 2019
Aged 94
Funeral & Communion service : Friday 22 March at the Ebenezer Methodist Church Murray Town at 2:30
From the Children and grandchildren at home and abroad.

17th March 2019, marks the 20th Anniversary of the passing away of HONORABLE, DR. SHEIKH BATU DARAMY SR, aka, SB Daramy.  Dr. Sheikh Batu Daramy, Sr. B.Sc (Economics from London School of Economics, UK), M.A., Ph.D from Howard University, was born on 20th September, 1920 in Makeni.  Today we remember one of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) oldest members.  In 1948, Hon. Dr. Sheikh Batu Daramy was awarded a Sierra Leone Government scholarship to attend the London School of Economics from where he graduated in 1952 with a B.Sc in Economics. ...

The death is announced of Mr. Fuad Din Gabisi age 84 years whose sad event took place today Monday 12th November, 2018. He is survived by his wife Balkisu Din Gabisi of 3 Ingham Street Fourah Bay Community, Freetown. Sisters: Haja Bola Deen (Late) and Ola Din-Gabisi (UK)
Children: Mrs. Christiana Bultman-Sulaiman of the USA
Mr. Sulay Din Gabisi of USA
Miss Zainab Din Gabisi of Freetown
Mr. Aziz Din Gabisi of Freetown
Mr. Dyfu Din Gabisi of USA
Grandchildren
Miss Blanche Bultman of USA
Mr. Fuad Din Gabisi ...

The death is reported of Police Constable Santigie Ado Kamara formerly of the Operational Support Division (OSD), Panlap Division, Makeni and of Binkolo, Safroko Chiefdom. He died by road accident on Saturday 4th August 2018. Aged 39. He is survived by his wife Isatu Kamara, children Teresa, Samuel, Kenneth, Augustine, Emmanuel and Marie. Brothers: Abu, Kelfa, Karim, Gbessay, Sampha and Dura. Sisters: Jane D.M Sesay, Amie, Isatu, Sinnah, Sentho, Sarah, Helen, Fatu and Kadiatu. He will be buried on Sunday 19th August, 2018 at Binkolo. May his gentle soul Rest In Peace!

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