President of Sierra Leone declares national emergency over increasing, more violent rapes of minors

Julius Maada
President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio attends the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 at FNB Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100)

Sexual crimes in the African nation of Sierra Leone have increased and in addition to being violent the victims tend to be minors, prompting the president to declare a national emergency, multiple news organizations are reporting.

“With immediate effect, sexual penetration of minors is punishable by life imprisonment,” Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio said Thursday at the State House in Freetown, the Capitol, according to the BBC.

Bio was prompted to make the statement after hearing gut-wrenching testimony from an Ebola survivor who testified that she’d been raped. The numbers of sexual assaults of minors in Sierra Leone, which sits on Africa’s west coast, almost doubled from about 4,500 in 2017 to 8,500 last year, the BBC reported.

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Bio also said a new police division and a special magistrate’s court would be formed to address and speed up such cases.

Seventy percent of sexual assault survivors in the country are under 15,  per The New York Times.

“Each month, hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assaults are being reported in this country,” the president said. “Some of our families practice a culture of silence and indifference toward sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatized.”

Cases reported recently have grown more and more extreme.

In one, a 5-year-old girl was left paralyzed from the waist down after a suspected attack by her 28-year-old uncle, and her spine was crushed during the incident, the Times reported. That case was never prosecuted, according to the Times.

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In another case, a 56-year-old man who raped a 6-year-old girl and was sentenced to a year in prison, according to the BBC.

The head of an all-female lawyer’s organization said the president’s moves were positive.

“We want the numbers to come down; we want a situation where the data is nationwide data, chiefdom-based data,” Fatmata Sorie told the BBC.