Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
New England Freetown
Sierra Leone, West Africa
Dear Honorable Minister Bah:
With all due respect Sir, your April 2015 education policy, which excludes pregnant girls from continuing their education is like putting plaster on a jigger toe. Your policy puts the blame of girls’ pregnancy solely on the girls and shields the men who impregnate them.
But we all know that the root cause of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone is the appetite of older men for young girls. So by punishing only the girls, you are leaving the jigger in our national toe. Your policy is a first aid band-aid covering a jigger, which needs to be removed.
Many of the worldwide reactions decry your policy, pointing to its adverse effects on girls’ education and the further depletion of women’s socioeconomic status in Sierra Leone. As women who grew up in Sierra Leone, we have always known that pregnancy ended a girl’s schooling in our country, due to stigma and shaming of the girl. No pregnant girl wants to sit beside her peers with her projected stomach. We have always hoped for a solution.
We are surprised that a government that is legally and morally obligated to protect their rights as children, has formally implemented a policy that further erodes girls’ basic and human rights, which are protected by national and international laws.
We posit here that pregnant adolescent girls, in majority of the cases in Sierra Leone, are victims of rape, in violation of the laws of Sierra Leone. A policy that makes them the only “culprits,” while shielding the adult men who impregnate them, will not only fail, it will make girls even more vulnerable.
OLDER men WHO IMPREGNATE GIRLS must be prosecuted as a fundamental remedY FOR a national crisis.
SOME Relevant laws
Child Rights Act of 2007
Being an Act to provide for the promotion of the rights of the child compatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20th November, 1989, and its Optional Protocols of 8th September, 2000; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and for other related matters.
§34 (1) Under this Act, “child” is defined as: a person below the age of 18
(3) The minimum age of marriage of whatever kind shall be eighteen years.
§46 Customary practices prohibited for child
(1) Subject to sub-section (1) of section 34, no person or association shall
subject a child to any of the following customary practices:–
(a) Early marriage; (b) Child betrothal.
The Sexual Offences Act of 2012
Being an Act to consolidate with amendments the law relating to sexual offences.
§1 In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires–“child” means a person under the age of 18
§2 Meaning of consent
(1) For the purposes of this Act, consent means agreement by choice and with the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
§3 Belief in consent not a defence
It is not a defence to a charge under this Act that the defendant believed the person consented to the activity that forms the subject matter of the charge.
§4 Person under 18 cannot consent
Subject to section 24, a person below the age of 18 is not capable of giving consent for the purpose of this Act, and, accordingly, it shall not be a defence to an offence under this Act to show that the child has consented to the act that forms the subject matter of the charge.
§5 Marriage not defence to offence
Subject to sub-section (4) of section 9, the marriage of a defendant and the victim shall not be a defence to an offence under this Act.
A person who intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with another person without the consent of that other person commits the offence of rape and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not less than five years and not exceeding fifteen years.
Pregnant ADOLESCENT Girls ARE Victims of Rape
We propose that pregnant schoolgirls who are under the age of 18 are victims of rape, according to the laws of Sierra Leone. Regardless of whether the sexual encounter that led to the pregnancy was consensual or not. The laws of Sierra Leone, as cited above, say that a girl under the age of 18 is a “child” and the law also clearly says that a person under the age of 18, a “child,” cannot give consent in a sexual encounter.
Adolescent girls in Sierra Leone as young as below the age of 15 are subjected to marriage and betrothal every day in high numbers. According to a UNICEF study involving women between the ages of 20 and 24,
- 18% of them were married before the age of 15
- 44% of them were married before the age of 18 and
- 38% of them had given birth by the age of 18 (data.unicef.org)
- The United Nations Girls Education Initiative also reports that 56% of girls in Sierra Leone get married below the age of 18 (www.ungei.org).
In essence, a huge number of girls are subjected to rape every day in the name of marriage. To add to this plight, girls are also victims of older sexual predators who engage them in transactional sex by enticing them with money and other material gains; including men from the diaspora who visit with their dollars/euros to lure “juvies,” as they call the under-aged girls they prey on.
With your new policy, which bans them from learning and taking exams, pregnant adolescent schoolgirls are doubly victimized, while the men perpetrators suffer no consequences. It was disappointing to hear a government minister say in a radio interview, that, “During the Ebola outbreak children were given clear instructions: Do not touch…These girls could not even comply with basic rules and there must be consequences for their actions” (npr.org).
Well last we checked, girls do not get pregnant by their own “touch” alone.The Honorable Minister’s statement seems to imply that the girls were getting pregnant by touching men who were not touching the girls back. We all know that pregnancy is a biological function that requires two people. So why are the real culprits painted as innocent bystanders?
The “consequences” heaped only on the pregnant girls and these comments by government officials are clear indications of how the Sierra Leone society views crimes perpetrated by men against women. As a people, we seem to be keen on blaming the victimized woman. We see this double jeopardy against women in Sierra Leone every time a man’s crime against a woman becomes public; there is often an outpouring of public support for the criminal man and the victimized woman is assaulted with verbal abuses and harassment. The university student’s accusation of rape against a deputy minister a couple of years ago is an example.
Prosecute the Rapists
We are sure you would agree with us Sir, that getting to the root of a problem is the most effective and sustainable solution. Your policy, which aims to punish only the pregnant school girls, who are clearly victims of rape, according to the laws of Sierra Leone, is a very thin cover on a cancerous sore in our society.
Your policy turns a blind eye to the fact that much older men are impregnating many of the schoolgirls. A Sierra Leone government demographic and health survey shows that “8% of teenage mothers report that their first partner was of the same age or younger, 35% indicate that the partner was more than 10 year older” (SLDHS, 2013). By our calculation, 100-8=92. In other words, the government report hesitate to say that 92% of teen mothers report being in sexual relations with men who are much older.
This means that prosecuting perpetrators of rape against girls in Sierra Leone will effectively cut this problem down to a negligible size. Conversely, failing to prosecute their rapers is a grave injustice not only to the pregnant girls of today, but also to those girls who will be victimized tomorrow by men in our society who know they will not suffer any consequences for their crimes.
We hope that your Honorable will consider discarding your April 2015 policy and seek a much more equitable and effective remedy. As a legacy of your tenure, we hope that you will emphasize on educating our girls and saving them from further rape; not necessarily with new policies, but by enforcing the laws that have already been legislated to educate girls and protect their basic rights in our Beloved Mama Salone.
ADOLESCENT PREGNANCY IN SIERRA LEONE IS A SYMPTOM OF UNCHECKED RAPING OF OUR GIRLS!!
Thank you for your attention to this national crisis!
Mama Salone Blog