Sierra Leone Enacts Law Banning Child Marriage, Celebrated as a Victory for Girls’ Rights

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In a landmark move to protect the rights of young girls, Sierra Leone has officially banned child marriage. President Julius Maada Bio signed the bill into law late Tuesday, marking a significant step forward for the West African nation, where approximately one-third of girls are married before reaching adulthood.

The new law, which has been widely celebrated, criminalizes the marriage of any girl under 18 years old. Offenders face severe penalties, including up to 15 years in prison, a fine of around $4,000, or both. Additionally, witnesses to such marriages will also face legal consequences, including imprisonment or fines.

“I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone is female,” President Bio stated on social media platform X. “This and future generations of girls must thrive in Sierra Leone in which they’re protected, equal, and empowered.”

Sierra Leone has a significant number of child brides, with the U.N. Children’s Agency reporting that 800,000 girls are married as children, and half of them before the age of 15. This new legislation aims to address this deeply rooted issue by not only prohibiting child marriage but also enhancing access to education and support services for children affected by such practices.

First Lady Fatima Bio, a key advocate for the law, emphasized the importance of this legal reform in protecting the rights of future generations. “When it was passed by parliament as a bipartisan bill in June, she called it ‘a significant step forward in protecting the rights of our next generation.'”

The enactment of this law represents a critical victory in the fight against child marriage in Sierra Leone, promising a future where girls can grow up in a safe, supportive, and equitable environment.

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