Sierra Leone Outlaws Child Marriage
Sierra Leone First Lady Fatima Bio

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio signed into law the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act last week, introducing a penalty of at least 15 years and a fine of around $4,000 for any man who marries a girl under 18.

The law also prohibits cohabiting with a child, and fines for anyone arranging, aiding or attending such marriage ceremonies.

First Lady Fatima Bio’s “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign has been instrumental in advocating against child marriage in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of child marriages in Africa, alongside Niger and Nigeria. According to the 2019 Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Surveys, 30% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before their 18th birthday.

In 2020, there were 800,000 child brides, half of whom were married before they turned 15, according to UNICEF. The country of slightly over eight million people also has a high rate of female genital mutilation.

“Child marriages fuel the high adolescent pregnancy rate in Sierra Leone where, tragically, pregnancy complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In 2021, the country introduced a policy of “radical inclusion” in schools, targeting and marginalised groups including girls, particularly pregnant girls and parent learners. 

Last year, Sierra Leone passed an education law that guarantees children free education, including one year of pre-primary. 

“The legislation is a milestone in Sierra Leone’s journey towards gender equality and child protection. It also sets a pathway forward for other African nations, such as Tanzania and Zambia, to revoke laws that permit child marriage, and ensure girls can complete primary and secondary education,” said HRW.


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