The brutal rape of a young girl by her uncle in Sierra Leone was the last push needed by the government to declare a national emergency over sexual and gender-based violence.
The five-year-old girl, whose identity has been kept secret for her own safety, has been paralyzed from the waist down since a 28-year-old male relative raped her a year ago, crushing her spine.“She may never walk again, and I want vengeance for what has happened. The man who did this ruined her life and deserves to spend his life in prison,” her grandmother told Reuters, sitting next to the girl in her wheelchair in a Freetown medical clinic.
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio announced the emergency on Thursday amid a public outcry over the issue, triggered by a series of high-profile attacks. President Bio said attacks on minors – which account for a third of all cases – would be punished with a life sentence.
According to police statistics, more than 8,500 cases were recorded last year – a rise of nearly 4,000 on the figure from the previous year – in a country of 7.5 million people.
Bio announced at the State House, those found guilty of raping minors could face life imprisonment and directed all public hospitals to provide free medical services for victims of sexual assault. The announcement comes amid calls by activists and Sierra Leone’s First Lady Fatima Bio for stricter punishment for perpetrators of sexual violence, CNN Reports.
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.
Some of our families practice a culture of silence and indifference towards sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatized.
We as a nation must stand up and address this scourge. Bio said on Thursday while speaking at the State House in the capital, Freetown.