The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) with funding from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) on Wednesday 9th August, 2017 began a three days nation wide community engagements on the Gender Justice Laws.
These community engagements are been undertaken simultaneously in Njabwema Fiama, Fiama Chiefdom, Tonbondu, Kamara Chiefdom, Kangama Gorama Chiefdom in Kono District; Kychom, Mambolo and Madina in Kambia District for the Northern Region; Waterloo, Newton and Tombo in the Western Rural District and Bandajuma Sowa, Massam Kpaka and Futta Peje Pujehun District for the Southern District.
In Njabwema Fiama, the Paramount Chief Kontanday Fengai Briwa agreed that the concept of human rights was not to destroy traditions but to rather protect and promote the rights of individuals. The Paramount Chief further said human rights emphasized the importance of public education on the Gender Justice laws in various traditional communities.
Giving an over view on the rights of women and children, the Executive Secretary of HRCSL, Joseph Benmanking Kamara said government had enacted the Domestic Violence Act 2007, Devolution of Estate Act 2007, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2007, and the Sexual Offences Act 2012.
He said these laws were passed to protect the rights of women and girls in particular.
The Executive Secretary noted that the HRCSL observed that inspite of these laws, SGBV continues to be prevalent particularly in rural communities.
“Violence, especially sexual violence against women and girls remains a very serious issue in the country. Children as young as 5, young girls and women have experienced and are still experiencing several forms of domestic violence which includes sexual assault, rape and harboring amongst others” The Executive Secretary said.
The widespread occurrence of SGBV across the country has presented a very serious challenge to women’s rights. This has been attributed to communities compromising SGBV due to traditional practices and also the perception that the justice system was not doing much to tackle this phenomenon in the country.
As a result, victims of SGBV have most times been left emotionally and physically traumatized.
In March and May 2017, HRCSL conducted monitoring on the status of implementation of the sexual offences Act 2012 and community engagements on strategies for the elimination of SGBV. Also on the 28th July and the 3rd August, the Commission held a round table discussion with Magistrates, Registrars, and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of Saturday court on SGBV cases.
During these engagements, the HRCSL Executive Secretary stated it emerged that communities have limited knowledge on the provisions of the Gender Justice Laws which is partly responsible for compromising SGBV cases in their communities. That entrenched traditional norms and values were at variance with the provisions in the gender justice laws.
Strategies advanced by community people during the education for the elimination of SGBV are that; the community people should frown at compromising cases, that government should provide mobility to the Feima Police station to enable officers execute their duties in arresting suspects in villages that are miles away from the chiefdom headquarter town. Also that both the police and medical staff should not be asking for fee from victims, and that the judiciary should treat such matters expeditiously.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.