By Allieu S. Tunkara
Recording over 3,000 sexual offences every year indicates that the social menace is still a recurrent phenomenon in Sierra Leone. The Rainbo Statistics in 2020 puts sexual crimes at 3,339 while those in 2019 is also above 3, 000.
The violence has caused successive government to scratch their heads for solution to end the menace. The New Direction government in 2019 controversially declared a state of public emergency to cut down on the incidents.
The declaration was closely accompanied by the amendment of the sexual offences law to hold accountable the perpetrators. By virtue of the amendment, the maximum punishment for sexual penetration goes for life imprisonment. Proof of aggravating factors at any stage during prosecution makes the worst case for the perpetrator.
The objective is to deter would-be offenders and create safe place for girls. It is needless to state that girls would realise their full potentials in a society free from sexual violence.
High profile personalities including leader of the Alliance Democratic Party have been arrested and prosecuted. The public Education scheme popularly known as the’ Hands Off Our Girls’ campaign was also launched by Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Fatima Bio to bolster the campaign.
It was a campaign to tell the people of Sierra Leone that society abhors sexual violence in all its forms. The First Lady’s awareness raising campaign adds to the ad hoc education campaign carried out by the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police.
The foundation for the campaign against sexual violence was laid by President Tejan Kabba when he passed into law the three gender laws (The Domestic Violence Act, the Devolution of Estate Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act) in 2007.
Many Sierra Leoneans have been arrested and prosecuted under such laws. Most of those prosecuted have been convicted and now languish behind bars. The enactment of a child rights protection law, the Child Rights Act, 2007 was a move to create solace for the Children of Sierra Leone.
The Act contains 23 basic rights to which children are entitled. They include the rights to life, leisure and play, opinion, refuse early marriage among others. The law prescribes either pecuniary or custodial punishment for breaches.
Despite the disparity, the Child Rights law share similar features with the Geneva Convention, 1989 to which Sierra Leone is a signatory.
The well-known 50-50 campaigner, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Zainab Hawa Bangura was recently appointed UN Under Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Between 2014 and 2018, Sierra Leone under former President Koroma put in place the ‘Juvenile Justice Strategy’ to contribute to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. The policy document was developed by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs prior to its deamalgamation.
Her appointment raised new hope in the campaign against sexual violence in Sierra Leone. Several non-governmental and civil society organisations have also intervened into the sexual violence situation to make a difference.
Don Bosco Fambul, Defence For Children International, Street Child and others stand out.
The legal and policy framework for the campaign against sexual violence is still under threat evidenced by the rolling statistics in sexual crimes. Since offenders have not been restrained by laws, it is worthwhile to Africanise the campaign against sexual violence.
In pre-historic and historic societies, a virgin occupied a special and proud place in society. Among the Limba in the centuries, a virgin who was called the ‘BASARAKA’ would sit near the ‘GBAKU’ (paramount) Chief when sacrifices and other traditional rites were offered.
The Virgin, among the Limba was the only girl permitted to fetch water for the Paramount chief from whom she received all comfort and luxury. Among other native tribes especially the Mandingo and Fula, a virgin brought pride to the family while a non-virgin brought shame.
The marriage ceremony of a virgin in the centuries was definitely a period of ecstasy and merriment for the bride’s family. The rapid modernisation and deculturation cost the virgin’s place in society. Sierra Leone and other African countries lost their long-standing and cherished values, customs and traditions to western values and philosophies.
The White Man has succeeded in creating a permanent impression that any African is wrong and anything European or American is right.
But, Sierra Leone can still get out of the notion through reculturation scheme (Bring back the age-old customs and traditions) that are not inimical to the safety, social and mental well-being of the girl.
Government can demonstrate the political will by creating the enabling environment for girls to compete for the status of virgins.
It is about placing values on the virginity of girls and convincing society that it is the way to go. Government can achieve this by supporting parents of virgins so that their actions could be emulated by their peers.
The move to introduce parent-support programmes was announced by the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs in late 2020.
Madam Manti Tarawallie made the announcement during an occasion that marked the commissioning of the Dr Kadie Sesay School for Girls in the north-western headquaters of PortLoko.
Cash prizes and other beautiful rewards should be given to parents who successfully produce virgins in society. Homes must be encouraged to mime the Nazarene home where children grows and flourishes in strong moral character to resist sexual temptations.
The Nazarene home is based on the maxim that successful parents are those who raise successful children. Successful children are not those with flamboyant and lavish lifestyles, but productive and resourceful children who can serve the country with love and patriotism.
For many years, organisations in Sierra Leone have spent much of their resources in awarding beautiful prizes to girls who win a dancing competition. Prizes have also been awarded to women who emerged victorious on TV reality shows where most times scenes of immorality are exhibited.
Houses, cars and money have also been offered to girls who act the best on stage, but Sierra Leone has failed miserably to award girls who preserved their virgins to make them proud.
Thus, the fight against sexual violence will never hold tight when girls continue to stay in brothels in the name of respecting their rights in a western perspective. Society must go back to the basics of the African culture.