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Sierra Leone Outlaws Child Marriage, Imposing Stiff Penalties

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — In a historic move to protect the rights of young girls, Sierra Leone has officially outlawed child marriage.

On Thursday, July 4, 2024, President Julius Bio signed a bill into law that criminalises the practice, marking a significant victory for children’s rights in the West African nation.

The newly enacted law, celebrated by activists and citizens alike, mandates a 15-year prison sentence or a fine of approximately $4,000 for those found guilty of facilitating child marriages.

Additionally, individuals who witness such marriages without reporting them are also subject to penalties under the new legislation.

child marriage, sierra leone
File Photo of a child with her baby

“This and future generations of girls must thrive in a Sierra Leone in which they’re protected, equal, and empowered,” President Bio declared during the signing ceremony. “I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone is female.”

The law represents a crucial step forward for Sierra Leone, where around one-third of girls are married before reaching adulthood.

According to the United Nations Children’s Agency, UNICEF, the country is home to 800,000 child brides, with half of them married before the age of 15.

First Lady Fatima Bio played a pivotal role in advocating for the bill.

As a fervent campaigner against child marriage, she has been at the forefront of efforts to end the practice in Sierra Leone.

The law was passed by parliament as a bipartisan bill in June, showcasing widespread political support for the initiative.

In addition to criminalising child marriage, the law also enhances access to education and support services for children affected by such unions.

These measures aim to provide a safer and more promising future for girls across the nation.

The legislation’s passage marks a landmark moment in the fight for gender equality and child protection in Sierra Leone.

Advocates hope it will serve as a model for other countries like Nigeria grappling with similar issues, reinforcing the global movement to end child marriage and empower young girls everywhere.

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