Recently, Sierra Leone signed a law to ban marriage for children ages 18 years and younger.

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  • Sierra Leone officially banned child marriage on 2nd July with President Julius Maada Bio signing into law a bill to end the practice that remains widespread in the small West African country.
  • The new legislation, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2024, will penalise people who enable marriage — like the parents, the officiant and even the wedding guests — in addition to the husband.
  • Under the law, those married as children can file a petition for annulment of the marriage and can seek financial compensation.
  • A parent, guardian, or person having charge of a child shall not consent for a child to enter into marriage.
  • The law also prohibits cohabitation in which adults live and have a sexual relationship with children.
  • Under the law, people who marry children can be imprisoned for 15 years or over $5,000. Anyone who “aids or abets” the marriage can face a 10-year sentence or a fine of about $2,500, or both.
  • As per the UNICEF report, about 800,000 girls younger than 18 married in Sierra Leone in 2020 which is about 1/3rd of the girls in the country.

Significance of the Act

  • This ban aligns with a broad initiative to promote the rights of girls by keeping them in school and protecting them from genital cutting.
  • It helps in reducing the cases where pregnancies at a young age can cause long-term injuries and trauma.

Shortcomings of the law

  • The law falls short by missing the vital component in enacting the urgent reform needed to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM), viewed by many as a precursor to marriage, regardless of age.

Status of Child marriage in Sierra Leone

  • More than 12 million girls younger than 18 marry every year as per the United Nations.
  • The practice of child marriage has become slightly less common in the country over the past 25 years, with 30% of all girls being married in childhood today compared with 37% 25 years ago.
  • Among women aged 18–49, just 1.3% are ‘only’ child brides, while 33.7% of all women in this age group have been subjected to both child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
    About 61% of girls in Sierra Leone ages 15 to 19 have undergone female genital cutting, which can cause serious difficulties in childbirth. 
  • Of the total of more than 650 million child brides globally, South Asia has the largest number of child brides, about 290 million people (45% of the global total). Sub-Saharan Africa follows with about 127 million people (20% of the global total). 

Female Genital Mutilation

  • As per the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, over 200 million girls alive today have suffered FGM in over 30 countries.
  • Every year, February 6 is observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

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