By: Ing. Yayah A. B. Conteh
The incidents of rape, sexual and gender-based violence in Sierra Leone seem to have increased exponentially, despite the laws enacted and the various measures adopted against perpetrators, not to even mention the abundant literature that has been written by many concerned citizens in respect of curbing down and discouraging this inhuman and heinous practice in our society.
To the perpetrators and their followers, it looks as if the more the noise made about this ungodly act, the more they are ever determined to tighten the screws in ensuring total dominance and victory in this all-important national concern.
The cases involving the sexual assault and brutal penetration of children in our country of ages ranging from between five (5) months to eleven (11) years old has indeed become the order of the day. This has provoked a major cause of alarm not only amongst parents and guardians of these children but amongst institutions and prominent stakeholders wishing to see the practice reduced to a minimum or eliminated altogether.
It is an indisputable fact that the rape of underage girls in our country is not a new phenomenon. Like in many other African countries and even beyond, the act has blossomed and bore fruits at a bewildering speed, hitherto defying all manners of proposed solutions.
An incident that readily springs to memory involved that of a five-year-old girl who died after she was brutally deflowered multiple times and her innocent body cruelly violated on 21st June, 2020.
This singular act ignited a massive demonstration by citizens in our country from various walks of life who would not want the concept of tempering justice with mercy to be administered in favour of the perpetrator.
Never before has our country experienced such a massive demonstration by citizens from both the capital Freetown and the provincial cities and towns seeking justice for the deceased, Khadija. They took to the streets en masse on that day and attracted not only diplomatic attention but the international press as well.
The unprecedented massive demonstration by Sierra Leoneans on the 21st of June, 2020, in honour of the fallen Khadija, to me, signaled the break of a new dawn in the history of our country, for it heralded one, and only one thing: that time is now overdue for government to hasten its efforts in seeking justice for victims of the rape menace in the country.
Rape perpetrators in our country have always gone unpunished despite the huge and unpardonable crimes they commit resulting in the untimely deaths of innocent children who ought to have been at home reading and writing, and gaining in the process an honest livelihood that would go to make all the difference tomorrow between starvation and plenty.
What makes the situation all the more pathetic is the loss of innocent lives involved in this rather inhuman and ungodly act.
President Dr. Julius Maada Bio officially declared a National Emergency on rape in February, 2019, with the hope of addressing this issue once and for all. This has not seemed to bear the impact and desired effect on the rape menace in the country at all, for the cases have continued to grow and skyrocket the more since that declaration.
I harbour not the slightest iota of doubt that the awareness level of people on the rape menace in our country has increased the more, meaning it is high time more decisive efforts be made in addressing the issue with all the seriousness it deserves.
Several solutions have been put forward by way of curbing down this threat in our country. Suggestions too in respect of appropriate penalties to be meted out to those found culpable of this horrible act have been equally discussed at different quarters.
The need for parents to be more responsible for the security and protection of their children should henceforth stand prominent in their minds. Community stakeholders too should embark upon the arduous task of monitoring rape cases and not continue to sweep them under the carpet as has been commonly observed. They should help in augmenting the efforts of government by unearthing these cases for justice to be administered accordingly.
Some parents and guardians have expressed their fear of disappointment by the police and other implementing partners in the criminal justice system who ought to have championed their causes and bring perpetrators to book.
A woman in Makeni recently lamented her ordeal when a victim that penetrated her seven-year-old daughter was handed over to the Makeni Police Force for Good. The victim only spent three days in their custody and was surreptitiously released on the grounds that they hadn’t sufficient means to continue to cater for his welfare. What an irony indeed! And unbelievably, this was all done without the knowledge of the poor woman! Her efforts to have her case championed by authorities of the District Social Welfare Division proved futile too as she hadn’t the financial muscle to pave her way through.
It has been argued at times that the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) is grossly understaffed and, to a large extent, manned and controlled by poorly trained and ill-motivated personnel. This is a unit that is charged with the responsibility of safeguarding and helping rape victims seek justice.
Lamentably though, their reactions in addressing issues forwarded to them by parents and guardians of rape victims have not received the adequate attention that they deserve.
Have we ever paused to know how many girls in our country are dying unannounced as a result of rape cases that go unreported for fear of family or other stigma?
There are indeed a proportionately greater number of rape cases that are simply swept under the carpet and never see the light of day.
Reading an article in the Nightwatch newspaper of 29th June, 2020, by a writer in “Assessing school reopening preparedness,” I seem to equally oscillate on the same wavelength with him when he stated that ”The SLPP government has demonstrated unwavering political will in the fight against educational malpractices. To the point of publicly displaying teachers accused of malpractice at the iconic cotton tree in the centre of Freetown”.
If government can openly display teachers accused of exam malpractices at the historic cotton tree right in the heart of Freetown, what difference does it make in equally displaying rape perpetrators that have been proven culpable of the crime in a similar fashion for all citizens in the city and provincial headquarters to see and learn useful lessons from? Afterwards, the gravity of the crime committed by a rapist is incomparable to that of a teacher; a teacher’s crime does not result in instant death of a child in comparison to that of a rapist where there is a high likelihood of the raped victim losing an innocent and precious life.
Opinions have circulated far and wide that by merely dumping a rapist in prison who has been found culpable beyond all reasonable doubts of a rape crime is not enough. He must first of all be subjected to some form of physical torture after a disrespectful naming and shaming of his individual self over our local airwaves.
A national registration process must be adopted henceforth wherein the names, full-length photographs and other requisite essentials of all those who indulge in this heinous and reprehensible act are recorded and kept in a national museum sort of for the attention of the entire populace and, above all, for historical purposes.
Human rights defenders will undoubtedly tend to raise eyebrows and readily jump at various conclusions for these suggestions. But that is yet another story altogether!
The establishment of stop centres in all referral hospitals in order to provide psychological support, help the Family Support Unit to timely provide crime reports as well, provide forensic medical treatment and introduce DNA testing schemes for children and women in general who suffer the consequences of rape are all very brilliant and magnificent proposals which will go a long way to reduce to the barest minimum the numerous challenges posed by the rape menace in our country.
Most of the aforesaid proposals are yet to be achieved and not having accomplished them continues to pose a mammoth challenge in addressing the issue of rape in Sierra Leone.
There is indeed the dire need for more campaigners, advocacy groups and civil society stakeholders to continue to draw the attention of government for more positive action in addressing the rape menace that continues to disrupt the peace and quiet of our country from time to time.
Ing. Yayah A. B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department (MSD) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA).
Tel. nos: 076640364 / 077718805.