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Sierra Leone bans child marriage, a landmark move for children's rights

The law unequivocally sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, imposing stringent penalties on those who contravene it.

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, on September 20, 2023. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/File

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act was signed into law by President Julius Maada Bio in a ceremony attended by distinguished guests, including first ladies from Cape Verde and Namibia, and various dignitaries.

The law unequivocally sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, imposing stringent penalties on those who contravene it. Under the new legislation, individuals found guilty of facilitating or participating in the marriage of a girl under 18 will face a minimum of 15 years imprisonment or a fine of approximately $4,000 (£3,200), or both.

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The ceremony, orchestrated by First Lady Fatima Bio, marked a significant victory in the fight against child marriage. The First Lady has been a vocal advocate for women's and children's rights, and her efforts culminated in this landmark legislation. Speaking at the event, she emphasised the law's importance in protecting young girls from the detrimental impacts of early marriage.

"Today, we are making history," Fatima Bio declared. "This law is not just a piece of legislation; it is a statement that Sierra Leone values its girls and is committed to ensuring their rights and future."

The signing of the law was met with widespread acclaim from various sectors of society. Khadijatu Barrie, a university student whose sister was married off at the age of 14, expressed her relief and optimism about the future. "I welcome the ban and wish it had come earlier to save my younger sibling," she told the BBC. "This law will ensure that other girls do not suffer the same fate."

International organisations and human rights advocates have also praised Sierra Leone's move. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the law as a critical step in improving the lives of young girls across the nation.

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While the new law represents significant progress, its implementation will be crucial in realising its full potential. The government has pledged to work closely with community leaders, religious figures, and civil society organisations to ensure widespread awareness and adherence to the law.

Education will play a vital role in this process. Efforts are underway to enhance educational opportunities for girls, aiming to keep them in school and out of early marriages. Programs focusing on community education and empowerment are being rolled out, targeting both urban and rural areas.

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Sierra Leone's move is part of a broader trend across Africa to end child marriage. Countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, and South Africa have also taken legislative steps to curb the practice. The global community continues to push for more countries to adopt similar laws, recognising the profound impact child marriage has on health, education, and economic outcomes for girls.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act marks a pivotal moment in Sierra Leone's journey towards gender equality and children's rights. As the nation celebrates this victory, the focus now shifts to effective implementation and community engagement to ensure that every girl can enjoy her childhood free from the threat of early marriage.

This content was created with the help of an AI model and verified by the writer.

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