The enactment of the three Gender Bills in 2007/8 was an effort by government to address the problems affecting women and children in Sierra Leone. The issue of early marriage is one of the greatest challenges affecting rural women and girls.
A survey conducted by this reporter discovered that Tambakha, Gbanti Kamaranka, Bombali Sheborah, Biriwa, and Wara Wara Yagala Chiefdoms are common places where parents give their girl children in marriage at an early age. Among the sources that have corroborated this assertion include the Section Chief of Fintonia Town, the chiefdom headquarter of Tambakha. According to the Section Chief Pa Alimamy Bockarie Kamara, early marriages have been his chiefdom’s greatest challenge as most of the girls are given to men by their parents because of poverty. The chief said parents give their children in marriages when they suspect that they have been raped adding that after an in-house settlement, they would decide to give the girl in marriage to the alleged rapist.
“A lot of girls who suffer this are school going girls and this has contributed greatly in the backwardness of my chiefdom as most of the perpetrators go scott- free,’ he explained. He said his chiefdom has laws against rape and other forms of violent behaviors but because of the absence of a police post in his chiefdom to help him enforce such laws perpetrators normally go unpunished.
One of the teenage wives who identified herself as Finto, 18, said she got married at the age of 14 and has two kids with a husband that she did not choose for herself. According to the village girl, her father and stepmother forcefully gave her to this man four months after she lost her biological mother. “I was in class 4 when my parents gave me to a man of their age in marriage, I cried for over three months after the incident but as a small girl at the time, I have no option but to go with the stranger,” she burst into tears.
“Most of my classmates are in secondary schools and each time I see school girls I become frustrated, as I want to go to school,” she concluded.
The Director of Women Center for Good Governance and Human Rights, Mary Y. Conteh, said her organization has been sensitizing locals in Biriwa, and Bombali Sheborah on the three Gender Acts and the early marriages and based on their outcome, they noticed that fathers arranged most of this marriages.
The Director said when such cases are charged to court parents normally prevent their children from attending court by hiding them and often threaten to kill human rights activists. This, according to her, has made their job very tedious.
“At present we are giving micro-credit to some of the teenage wives as a way of motivating and engaging them on trade,” she stated.
During a survey conducted in 30 villages including Gbonkorfoll, Rowalla, Royana, Makaprr, Masukarie and Higbogbo in the Gbanti Kamaranka Chiefdom, it was observed that the number of children far outweigh that of the elderly. This, according to a school teacher in Gbonkorfoll, Abdulai F. Kamara, is as a result of poverty and illiteracy in that part of the country. Kamara noted that most parents withdraw their children from school and send them in marriages.
Youth Leader for Higbogbo Village, Ibrahim Turay, said their children have to walk on feet for 17 miles to access the nearest secondary school in Kamaranka Town.
“Because of poverty and distance, most of these girls become pregnant leading to drop-out,” he disclosed.
According to the Regional Gender Desk Officer North in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affair, Ibrahim Kamara, it is unlawful to marry a girl under 18 years as it is clearly stated in the Child Rights Act and the Customary and Divorce Act.
Mr. Ibrahim Kamara said marriages are accepted only when both spouses are 18 and above, and that they both consented to get marriage but without which, such marriages are invalid.
The Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) in Makeni city said they have been engaging locals and stakeholders on several sensitizations to discourage them from sending their children on early marriages.
An elderly man, Pa Shaka Sesay, who has a teenage wife said they marry teenage girls because their old wives cannot take full care of them, noting that some of them start paying bride prices even before the girls were born. Concerned locals in those parts of the country are calling on government to put stringent measures in place to deal with rapists and parents who send their teenage girls on early marriages.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.