By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
WIMSAL (Women in the Media Sierra Leone) has called on Parliament to hurry the review of the Offences Against the Persons Act of 1861 to save women and girls that are dying from unsafe abortion.
WIMSAL President, Asmaa James Kamara, describes sections 58 and 59 of the Act, which deals with Abortion, as ‘prohibitive and restrictive’.
“These sections do nothing more than undermine the health and safety of many young women and girls in the country,” said Asmaa at a one-day symposium in commemoration of International Women’s Day on the Theme: ‘Make it happen: enforce Sexual offences Act, review 1861 Abortion law and stop early marriage and rape’ at the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Secretariat, Freetown, on Thursday 12th March 2015.
She urged the government of Sierra Leone to back up its commitment to reducing unsafe abortions and maternal deaths by prioritizing reproductive and sexual health in the country’s development agenda.
The symposium was organized by WIMSAL with support from IPAS-Sierra Leone, an organization at the fore front in the campaign to review abortion laws in Sierra Leone.
IPAS Country Director and Senior Policy Adviser, Valerie Tucker, said no woman should die while expressing her reproductive health choices.
“IPAS is now synonymous with abortion, and that’s deliberate,” said Valerie. “Nobody seems to want to talk about abortion, but we will not stop talking about it as long as our children continue to die of unsafe abortion.”
In 2011, a study by IPAS in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation found out that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being spent annually to treat cases of unsafe abortion. The study also revealed that 1 in 3 women would have done one or two abortions by the time she is 40 years of age.
“No matter what you do, women will try to exercise their reproductive rights,” said Valerie.
WIMSAL is also concerned that despite the enactment of the Child Rights Act of 2007 and the Sexual Offences Act of 2012, incidences of domestic violence, rape and early marriage are on the increase.
“In 2013 WIMSAL wrote a petition urging key state and non-state actors to do more in curtailing the disturbing increase in violence against women in the country, but sadly the situation has not improved a bit,” said Asmaa, who also doubles as Station Manager of Radio Democracy 98.1 FM.
According to statistics released by the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police, a total of 11, 358 sexual and domestic violence (and 77 rape cases) were reported nationwide in 2014. Of that number 2, 124 were related to child sexual abuses. In retrospect, 522 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2011; 4,452 in 2012 and 7,391 in 2013.
“At a time like this when we have all the legislations in place, this statistics is unacceptably high,” lamented Asmaa, adding that more needs to be done to ensure the law works.
Expanding on the 2014 statistics, Head of FSU, Supt. of Police Mira Y. Koroma said of the 1,147 cases of sexual penetration against children that were charged to court only 193 convictions were secured.
According to Supt. Mira, before most of those cases were reported the affected families/parents would have being at an advanced stage of compromise with the alleged suspects.
On allegations of police officers themselves involving in such compromise, Supt. Mira revealed that two of her personnel were sacked in 2014 in that regard.
Furthermore, out of 28 rape cases charged to court in 2014, there was no conviction, and out of 969 cases of domestic violence only 62 received convictions.
WIMSAL therefore called on the government and stakeholders to remain committed to the cause of women and girls in Sierra Leone and to provide the enabling environment for their safety, dignity and welfare.
“As we continue to celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to note that education is crucial to transform view points and attitudes on sexual offences, abortion, teenage pregnancy and rape,” said Asmaa.
Meanwhile, there were suggestions by participants for a national register of offenders against women and girls and their names published in the traditional and social media in a naming and shaming fashion, and the need for more safe homes and DNA facilities in the country’s main hospitals.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).