By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has launched the first ever sexual offences Model Court to fight sexual and Gender based violence (SGBV) in the country at the Law Court Building in Freetown.
The launch of the special sexual offences court by the government of Sierra Leone, is to fight the increasing number of SGBV cases in the country despite the President’s declaration of a state of emergency in February 2019.
According to Rainbow Initiative , one of the leading institutions providing services to victims of sexual assault and rape in the country it said in 2019, they recorded 3,701 sexual assault cases with 598 pregnancies, 4 HIV positives , and 255 successful prosecution adding that between January and May 2020, they recorded a total of 1,272 sexual assault in five districts with a total of 217 pregnancies and 932 STI that can be directly related to sexual assault.
In his statement President Bio said , this year is a year of deliverables and that today’s launch of the sexual offences Model court is an indicator of his government’s deliverables to the people of Sierra Leone.
“We deliver yesterday and today we are about to start a journey with female, and girls in Sierra Leone . This is truly going to be a long and arduous journey, but it is one that we should embark on together .With the determination that we are going to free the girls , the children who constitute mothers , 60% of our population . so, I want to start my remarks by saluting the great courage of sexual and gender-based violence.,’’ President Bio said.
President Bio assured women and girls that the country, and friends of the country that as a government they will continue to show care and stand by them to get justice whilst thanking the first lady for her commitment in the fight against violence on women in the country.
In 2018 , First lady of Sierra Leone , Fatima Bio, launched the Hands Off our Girls Campaign for the first time in history in order to eliminate rape and culture of rape in the country. The Office of the First Lady as part of the Hands Off Our Girls initiative has mobilized all 16 districts of the country to promote and protect the rights of all girls against sexual violence and other harmful cultural practices.
In her statement during the launching of the court, Fatima Jabbie Maada Bio said violence against women and girls in the country is a persistent problem that is affecting women and girls not to contribute to national development adding that as the country walk this path today, “let us go home knowing that violence against women and girls is become common place in Sierra Leone with no regards to their pride , dignity on their future” .“I am honoured to be part of this historic moment in the fight against sexual and Gender Based Violence. As we gathered here this moment , may I asked us to reflect on the cultural and traditional issues entrenched for the future we want for our women and girls in the society where they are confronted against violence and discrimination on a daily basis ,’’she said.
She added that the time to act is now stating that in fact, it is well recorded that several of the perpetrators of rape victims are close relatives or intimate partners who conceal of rape acceptable in our society thus saying Such practices need to be changed.
“ In December 2018 , other African first ladies and the public join me in the streets of Freetown on a peaceful protest to express their frustrations over rape of our women and girls in the country . A situation that is undermining social change and developmnmnt in the country,’’ First lady Fatima explained.
UN women Rep, Dr. Mary Okumu said she was happy with the strides the Bio led administration is doing in the fight against and Sexual Gender based Violence adding that Sexual and all forms of violence against women and girls remained and outstanding crime and an obstacle to achieving true independent of women and girls .
“These are the important indicators of the political commitment of the government of the republic of Sierra Leone in creating access to justice and safe guarding the rights of women and girls in particular the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence . Is a big , big political commitment,’’ she said.
Chief Justice of Sierra Leone , Justice Babatunde Edwards, said the launched of the sexual offences is a milestone and history in the annals of the development of the judiciary in the country stating that the judiciary will ensure the dispensation of justice to women and girls.
“ Your 116 hotline and the SGBV one stop supports send referral centres are most welcome . I will ask that support be given in the centre for video recording to capture witness statement that are admissible in evidence and that more doctors be enlisted to work at or with the centres as only three doctors available for the whole of Freetown let alone the provinces ,’’he said, thus urging the government to employ more doctors to help them in their work.
He added that doctors are relevant to their work stating that their non-availability must invariably slow the adjudication of sexual offences in the court thus saying they need a good number of doctors across the country.