By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Deputy Executive Director of Rainbow Initiative in Sierra Leone , Gibril Kargbo has called on the government and its development partners to invest in forensic lab in order to increase conviction on sexual assault cases in the country.
Gibril Kargbo made the statement today during the People’s Alliance for Reproductive Health Advocacy (PARHA) Press briefing on the need towards law reform for the protection and promotion of sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in Sierra Leone at the Civil Service Training College , on Tower Hill in Freetown.
“However, we want to encourage government to increase its support to the institutions that are in the middle of the fight against SGBV’s in Sierra Leone , specifically we want to encourage government and its development partners to invest in the forensic lab that can provide stronger evidence to support conviction,’’ he said.
He added that there has been an increasing effort of both past and present government in the empowerment women and girls in the country stating that this is evident in the enactment of couple of laws like the child Rights Act 2007, the sexual Offences Act 2012 among others.
“Today we stand with our friends and colleagues to explore and fight a common enemy that is slowly destroying our country. Rape is not only a health problem for women and girls , it has psychological effect on them. In 2019, we recorded 3,701 sexual assault cases with 598 pregnancies, 4 HIV positives , and 255 successful prosecution. Between January and May 2020, Rainbow Initiatives have recorded a total of 1,272 sexual assault cases in just five districts with a total of 217 pregnancies and 932 STI that can be directly related ,’’Kargbo lamented.
Kargbo revealed that in May this year , they treated a three-month old baby stating that as he is speaking they are also treating , a 9-year-old baby in their clinic after a brutal rape.
“We have started reporting cases of boys that are been rape. Ladies and gentlemen its high time we set up a forensic lab so as to increase conviction and expose perpetrators . Let us all step up our efforts to support the survivors and re- integrate them into our communities,’’ the Rainbow deputy boss said.
The Rainbow deputy Director called on everyone to break the silence an speak out and report cases thus called on religious leaders to join them in the fight by including prevention and awareness raising messages in their sermons in churches and mosques.
“Please let me say that women and girls are at the centre to the country’s development and they deserved to be protected from all forms of violence . Rainbow Initiatives therefore remains committed to this fight,’’ the Rainbow deputy director emphasized.
Speaking on the Legal challenges of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights , including justice for survivor of sexual assault in Sierra Leone, President of Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and social justice (LAWYERS ), Lawyer Fatmata Sorie said Sierra Leone is a signatory to many international treaties and conventions notably the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) including the Maputo protocols thus the need for the country to uphold its obligation in making sexual and Reproductive Health a rights in Sierra Leone.
“Despite its obligations under international law, as a country , we have failed to put the structures in place to domesticate the Maputo Protocol and other treaties. Regardless of our signing of these treaties , we currently maintained very , very , restrictive and I will also add punitive measures as well as laws that is limiting every women’s right to choose on sexual and Reproductive Health ,’’she revealed.
She added that, over the years efforts have been made to change the status quo thus referencing in 2015 , that there was a mere miss of achieving law reform of sexual reproductive rights in the country with the safe Abortion Bill.
“Why did we miss this opportunity ? this was a result of the massive opposition which appeared from all sects predominantly the religious sector. There was insufficient engagement of the relevance of the bill . The name of the bill itself was a problem . I will not want to proffer those things today but that I will tell you there is obligation on the state to pass that bill,’’ Lawyer Sorie said , adding that with the alarming rate of SGBV’s and sexual Assault cases in the country there is need for a safe motherhood bill.
Executive Director CARL, Ibrahim Tommy , speaking on the PARHA /CARL -SL Amplify Change grant said the one of key things as part of the project is make sure that they advocate for the backward and outdated laws like the 1861 Offences Against the Persons’ Act that criminalises abortion and sexual reproductive rights for women and girls in the country.
“We believe that in this day and age ,that it shouldn’t be the case , so , this grant will make sure that, it will create a safe and secure space for women and girls in the country to have rights on their sexual reproductive health as there are many players in the coalition including Marie Stopes Sierra Leone,’’ he said
He said the coalition has a nation- wide membership of over 50 CSO’s inclusive of grassroots advocacy groups , professional bodies, Faith based Organisation , Trade unions , and Individuals in the country.