Sierra Leone: Enactment of Important Sexual Offenses Bill
The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law – Sierra Leone (CARL-SL) welcomed the Sierra Leone Parliament’s enactment of the Sexual Offences Act 2012. In March this year, CARL-SL called on the Sierra Leone Government to step up efforts at enacting both the Sexual Offences Bill and the Legal Aid Bill. The fact that both bills have now been passed into law is significant, and CARL-SL would like to commend the Parliament of Sierra Leone for its timely enactment of the Sexual Offences Act.
CARL-SL also commends the efforts of the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, particularly Minister Steve Gaojia, for demonstrating a firm commitment to combating sexual based crimes in Sierra Leone. Sexual crimes against vulnerable persons are a chronic concern in a country where the rape of young girls, teenage pregnancy, botched abortions, and wife battering are regrettably commonplace. In this area, far too many complaints are either delayed inexcusably, or worse, left uninvestigated.
CARL-SL observed in the past that a particular impediment to fostering accountability for sexual crimes is the practice of out-of-court settlements. Laudably, the Sexual Offences Act now imposes sanctions on persons, regardless of their status, who enable such settlements. Family members or Government authorities found engaging in such practices stand to face terms of imprisonment of not less than two years and not less than five years, respectively, under the new Act. This represents an important step forward in ending impunity in the area of sexual based crimes.
The Act outlines additional general provisions related to offences involving mental defectives and children; sexual harassment; incest; human trafficking; pornography; and prostitution, among others. Notably, Section 25 of the Act outlines that no person below the age of 18 years can give consent to sexual intercourse, and subsequently, this will not be regarded as a defense in cases of alleged offences against under age persons.
Broadly speaking, the act makes provisions for stiffer penalties against sexual offenders. The passing of the Sexual Offences Act is a major step in a long, continuous struggle for combating crimes of a sexual nature. In its advocacy efforts, CARL-SL worked in partnership with coalitions such as the National Committee on Gender Based Violence (NaCGBV) to promote gender equality and respect for human rights in Sierra Leone through national legislative reform. Thus, the enactment of this bill must be viewed as product of the continuous efforts of civil society groups in this area.
As with many good laws in Sierra Leone, the challenge now will be the effective implementation of this Act. CARL-SL and civil society partners will continue to push for and monitor the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act to ensure that Sierra Leoneans benefit from the protections guaranteed therein.
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