Sierra Leone Celebrates Landmark Ban on Child Marriage

Sierra Leone Celebrates Landmark Ban on Child Marriage
Khadijatu Barrie Khadijatu Barrie ran away from home aged 10 because her father wanted her to get married

A historic law banning child marriage has been passed in Sierra Leone.
Celebrated with much jubilation at a ceremony in Freetown, the capital, First Lady Fatima Bio announced that Sierra Leone has passed a landmark law outlawing child marriage. With President Julius Maada Bio’s signature, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act became law. Notable visitors in attendance were the first ladies of Cape Verde and Namibia.

Child Marriage Carry Strict Sanctions
Marriages between minors (defined as girls under the age of 18) are now punishable under harsh law. Now, criminals can expect to spend at least fifteen years behind bars, pay a fine of almost four thousand dollars (£3,200), or pay both. To end the widespread practice of forced marriages among Sierra Leonean girls, this law has been passed.

Community Members’ Perspectives
A university student named Khadijatu Barrie, whose sister got married when she was just fourteen years old, spoke out in favor of the ban but was disappointed that it was not enforced sooner. It should have happened sooner, in my opinion. At the very least, the 26-year-old gender studies major might have spared her sister, friends, and other neighbors, she said.


The patriarchal culture of Sierra Leone frequently compels

Sierra Leone Celebrates Landmark Ban on Child Marriage
Sierra Leone presidency
President Julius Maada Bio’s daughter was at the signing ceremony

dads to wed their daughters. Ms. Barrie, who was confronted with this possibility when she was ten years old, rebelled and ran away from home when her father rejected her. She persisted in her studies with the backing of encouraging professors and an employee of the United Nations children’s Organization. To be effective, she said, the new law must reach rural areas, but that can’t happen unless they hear about it. According to Ms. Barrie, “I’m sure this country will be a better one” if everyone knows what’s waiting for them if they do it.

Combating Mother Deaths
The country has one of the world’s highest rates of maternal death, and according to the Ministry of Health, one-third of the girls get married before they reach the age of 18. Everyone involved in a wedding, including the groom, the bride’s parents or guardians, and any witnesses, are now legally liable under the new law.

Official Campaign of the First Lady
Since her husband became president six years ago, First Lady Fatima Bio has led efforts against sexual assault. The signing of the measure was an important milestone for her. She called the bill a “personal battle” because she came dangerously close to being a child bride herself during an interview with the BBC World Service Newshour. The impact of the civil war, which disrupted her scheduled marriage, was long-lasting. Child marriage, she said, is “taking away a child’s dream and destroying them even before they know who they are.”

State of the Union Address
Using examples from his own life, President Bio reaffirmed his dedication to ending gender inequality at the occasion. After his father passed away, he was raised by his mother and older sister. He felt that his success was due to their encouragement. Our shared goal is to create a Sierra Leone where women have equal opportunity to thrive and achieve their greatest potential. President Bio made it clear that he has always held the belief that Sierra Leone’s future lies with women.

Sierra Leone presidency
First Lady Fatima Bio (R), watching her husband holding the signed legislation, backs Sierra Leone’s We Are Equal Campaign

A More Systematic Effect and Response
There has been scant local coverage of the bill since its passage. But it’s a huge win for Sierra Leonean women’s rights. Proponents of civil rights saw the bill as a turning point in history. A “significant milestone” that safeguards girls and promotes robust human rights protections, the bill was also lauded on the X page of the US Bureau of African Affairs.

To end the generation of children who grow up without the resources to help build their country, First Lady Bio said she hopes the new law would do just that. After her six-year effort across Sierra Leone, she stressed that no traditional or religious authorities could say they were unaware of the legislation.

An important step toward a better and more equal future for Sierra Leonean girls has been taken with the passage of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.


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