Sierra Leone declares a rape national emergency after hundreds of attacks

  • Sierra Leone declares a rape national emergency after hundreds of attacks

Sierra Leone declares a rape national emergency after hundreds of attacks

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio addresses the audience during an event in which he declared national emergency on rape and sexual violence, in Freetown, Sierra Leone February 7, 2019.

"Some of our families practise a culture of silence and indifference towards sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatised", he told a crowd at the State House.

More than 8,500 assault cases were recorded last year - a rise of almost 4,000 on the figure from the previous year - in a country of 7.5 million people, the BBC reported.

Civil society groups have called on the government to act in the wake of reports that cases of sexual and gender-based violence have increased by almost 10 percent each year since 2015.

He declared that those convicted of sexual offences against minors would face life in prison after months of campaigning by activists.

"We want the numbers to come down, [and] we want a situation where the data is nationwide data, chiefdom-based data", she said.

Mr Bio said attacks on minors - which account for a third of all cases - would be punished with a life sentence.

All government hospitals have been ordered to provide free medical services and certificate to victims of rape and sexual violence.

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.

The assault was one of many that have gone unpunished in Sierra Leone, where until now sexually-motivated crimes carried a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and few cases were successfully prosecuted.

Many victims contract sexual diseases, including HIV, from being raped and hundreds also become pregnant.

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.

The decree was made by President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday, several weeks after the First Lady led a demonstration through the streets of Freetown to raise awareness on the issue. Mrs Bio has been championing the latest wave of campaign against sexual violence through her "Hands Off Our Girls" campaign.

During a 10-year civil war (1991-2002), thousands of women and girls were subjected to widespread and systematic sexual violence and rape, a 2003 Human Rights Watch report found.