Published On: Wed, Jul 3rd, 2024
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Sierra Leone bans locals from marrying children | World | News

Sierra Leone has introduced a new law banning child marriage, promising jail sentences and fines for anyone involved in illicit ceremonies.

The law was introduced and celebrated at a ceremony in the capital, Freetown, organised by First Lady Fatima Bio, whose “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign has been instrumental in advocating against the practice, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The first ladies from Cape Verde and Namibia were among the invited guests as Fatima Bio’s husband, President Julius Maada Bio, signed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act into law.

The new law means anyone now involved in the marriage of a girl under 18 will face a jail sentence of at least 15 years or be fined around $4,000 (£3,200) – or both.

30 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys are married before the age of 18, and the rates are even higher in rural areas, according to HRW. Around 800,000 girls are currently married in the country, half of whom wed before turning 15.

University student Khadijatu Barrie, whose sister was married off at 14, said she welcomed the move but wished it came sooner.

“I could have at least saved my sister and my friends and other neighbours,” the 26-year-old told the BBC. Sierra Leone is a patriarchal society and forced marriages remain common.

Barrie says she faced having to marry aged 10 but refused. She then fled from her family home after being disowned by her father, according to the outlet.

Luckily, she found teachers prepared to pay for her school fees and met a sympathetic worker from the UN children’s agency who helped her find accommodation.

But she says it’s more difficult to resist long-standing traditions in rural areas, and every community will have to be informed about the change for it to deter the practice.

“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, as per the BBC.

Parents or those attending illegal weddings could also face fines. West and Central Africa has the highest prevalence of child marriage globally, and is home to almost 60 million child brides, according to UNICEF.

A 21-year-old Sierra Leonean former child bride, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters that she was forced to marry aged 14 and is considering going to court since she could now get an annulment under the new law.

Human Rights Watch researcher Betty Kabari said the law should “break the cycle of early marriage and its devastating consequences.

“It also sets a pathway forward for other African nations, such as Tanzania and Zambia, to revoke laws that permit child marriage,” she added.

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