Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio has declared a national emergency over rape and sexual violence in a keynote address.
The president declared that those who sexually assault minors will face life in prison. He added that 70 per cent of victims are under 15.
The current law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years, and very few cases have been prosecuted.
Bio said hundreds of cases of rape and sexual assault are reported in the west African nation each month against women, girls and babies as young as three months old.
‘With this declaration, I have also directed the following: that all government hospitals must provide free medical treatment and certificate to every victim of rape and sexual abuse,’ he said.
Mr Bio’s declaration comes after months of campaigning by activists.
Thousands of cases are unreported because of a culture of silence or indifference, leaving victims traumatised, he said, adding that he wants to increase awareness.
The government will engage communities and civil society in dialogue to end the scourge that is slowly wrecking the nation, the president said.
That will involve addressing gaps in the Sexual Offences Act of 2012, he said.
He also ordered the creation of a special police division for rape and sexual violence against minors.
Olabisi Claudius Cole, head of the Rainbo Initiative that provides free medical and psycho-social services for survivors of gender-based violence, called the president’s declaration a landmark in tackling such violence in Sierra Leone.
It had been made possible by the tireless voices of survivors and activists, she said.
First lady, Fatima Bio said all forms of sexual violence are unacceptable and a menace to society.