From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone War: Twenty-five years later

27 March 2016 at 01:04 | 2187 views

By Mariama Kandeh, Guest Writer, London, UK.

Twenty-Five years ago on March 23rd 1991, Sierra Leone’s conflict started. The war lasted for eleven years and was declared over in 2002.

The war caused tremendous damage to the fabric of Sierra Leone’s society and immense physical and psychological trauma to women and girls. Since the end of the conflict, there has been a lot of social actions to halt some of the causes of the war. Yet there are still questions over what has actually changed for women and girls.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, around 215,000 to 257,000 women and girls were sexually abused. Although the main targets of the violence were male, around 31% of women and 44% of female children suffered significantly from the violence perpetrated during that sad period of the country’s history.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) set up after the war recommends the following for women and girls:

- Apology to women for abuses sustained during the war,

- Repealing of discriminatory laws against women,

- Enactment of legislation to address domestic violence, ratification of Protocol of the African Charter on the Rights of Women,

- 30% quota for women for all national elections and compulsory education for girls up to senior secondary level.

In 2010, president Ernest Bai Koroma apologized to women for the abuses they endured during the conflict. The Domestic Violence Act, Child Rights Act and the Anti- trafficking Act have been passed.

However, ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Women’s Rights, amendment of discriminatory legal provisions and 30% quota for women in public elections are yet to be implemented.

Compulsory secondary education for girls has not been fully implemented and there are still cases of hidden fees in schools.

There are still challenges related to the sensitization of people on the laws protecting the rights of women and girls. Teenage pregnancy, rape and forced marriage which were rampant during the war are still common today and are perpetuated by widespread poverty.

Young girls still rely on older men to take care of their basic needs. The result is unwanted pregnancy. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are still at a very high scale.

In 2014, Humanist Watch Salone reported a rise in sexual assaults from 1,485 in 2013 to 2,201 in 2014. The Ebola outbreak also escalated the rates of sexual assaults and teenage pregnancy in the country.

A bill passed in 2012 criminalizes non-consensual sexual intercourse including that involving women and especially under-18 girls with a conviction between 5 to 15 years for perpetrators. Yet, inefficiency in the court system has led to an increase in compromise arrangements and the perpetration of non-consensual or forced sexual intercourse.

There are still aspects of the laws that need to be fashioned to protect women and girls. For instance the Safe Abortion Act that gives women the right to abortion is yet to be approved by President Koroma (it has in fact been handed over to the Constitutional Review Committee to deal with).

The bill calls for a voluntary abortion of up to six weeks pregnancy and abortion of up to 12 weeks pregnancy in the case of an emergency to save lives.

Implementation of laws in Sierra Leone is a big issue. Despite being signatory to many international instruments that protect the rights of women, most times women who suffer abuse are victimised, stigmatised and abandoned by the very people that should protect them.Therefore, what needs addressing if the status of women in Sierra Leone is to be changed for good is implementation of policies and laws protecting the rights of women and girls.

Moreover, we have to sit back and reflect on what has been done, what needs bettering and what needs to be implemented to save the future of our country.

Reminiscing and reflecting on Sierra Leone, I think a lot needs to be done in that country to remove the scars and consequences of the war on women and girls.