Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has decreed life sentence for perpetrators of sexual offences against minors.
The decision, announced on Thursday, was in response to the alarming rate of violence against women and girls in the West African country.
It was made at a symbolic ceremony attended by women’s and other rights campaign groups, as well as the First Lady, Mrs Fatima Bio.
The move is expected to pave the way for the government to deploy resources to tackle the sexual violence menace.
Mrs Bio has been championing the latest campaign against sexual violence, believed to have worsened both in severity and the age of the victims in recent years.
According to the Rainbow Centre, the only private facility that provides medical and psychosocial care to rape victims, last year over 3,000 cases of sexual violence were reported across its operational areas. And the youngest victim was a 12-month old baby.
Other agencies have recorded cases with victims as young as three months.
It is believed that thousands more cases in remote parts of the country went unreported.
“As a nation, this should not be allowed to happen,” declared President Bio, who warned against a culture of silence that has been blamed on socio-cultural and religious factors.
The president then announced a six-point action to be immediately implemented by various government agencies, including the setting up of special divisions within both the police and the judiciary to tackle cases involving minors.
All government hospitals have been ordered to provide free medical services to victims of rape and sexual violence.
The Inspector General of Police was ordered to create a special division to investigate cases of rape against minors.
But the declaration of life sentence has attracted concerns, especially among the men, who fear that the wrong people might be jailed.
Some have questioned the legality of it, coming from the president.