Sierra Leone declares emergency over sexual assault

Sierra Leone president declares rape a 'national emergency'

Now a person convicted of rape in Sierra Leone spends between five and 15 years in prison.

After persistent protests and campaigns by activists and civil society groups in Sierra Leone to attract government's attention to the increasing number of rape cases in the country, it appears the odds have fallen in their favor as the number one citizen of the country, President Julius Maada Bio has weighed into the matter and declared the prevalence of rape and sexual violence a national emergency.

According to police statistics, over 8,500 cases were recorded last year, which is a rise of almost 4,000 on the figure from the previous year.

The young victim's case is among many others that have been left unpunished in Sierra Leone.

Nearly half of Sierra Leone's women face sexual or physical violence during their lifetime, and 90 percent of women ages 15 to 49 have been victims of genital cutting, according to United Nations data. "We as a nation must stand up and address this scourge".

But on Thursday, Bio upped the maximum sentence to life in prison for the rape of a minor.

Bio also announced the formation of a new police division dedicated to investigating sexual violence, a special magistrate court that would handle fast track cases and a public hotline specifically for reporting sexual violence.

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A third of those involved a minor.

"With immediate effect, sexual penetration of minors is punishable by life imprisonment", he said, fighting back tears after hearing the testimony of an Ebola survivor who was repeatedly raped.

He further called upon all government hospitals to provide free medical treatment and certificates to all victims of sexual violence.

Many victims contract sexual transmitted diseases after attacks, including in some cases HIV.

Mr Bio's declaration comes after months of campaigning by activists.

The girl was paralysed from the waist down after her spine was crushed when she was raped, Reuters reported, and her 28-year-old uncle was suspected of the assault.

In December, the first lady led a demonstration in the capital to raise awareness of the issue, and has since launched her "Hands Off Our Girls" campaign to increase awareness of violence against girls across West Africa. He said some fatalities included three-month-olds and that 70 per cent of survivors are under 15. These despicable crimes of sexual violence are being committed against our women, children and even babies.

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