Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – Development partners have called on the Government of Sierra Leone to review and expand the free healthcare package for survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). The appeal includes the provision of a supplementary package to address gaps in the current healthcare offering.
This call was made during the discussion of a policy brief at the Sierra Palms Hotel in Aberdeen, Freetown, on Thursday, 14th December 2023. The policy brief focused on the implementation of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act, 2019 in Sierra Leone, addressing emerging issues, challenges, achievements, and recommendations.
The Irish Ambassador, Aidan Fitzpatrick, revealed that the report was commissioned by the Irish Gender-based Working Group. Expressing concern over the alarming trend of SGBV in Sierra Leone, where 60% of women and girls have experienced such violence, Ambassador Fitzpatrick expressed hope for positive changes in the coming years.
Laura Lalor, the Country Representative for TROCAIRE Sierra Leone, emphasized the timeliness of the policy brief release. She acknowledged the gains made in addressing GBV in the country, citing the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) Act, which provides for a 30% quota for women. Lalor pledged TROCAIRE’s commitment to supporting organizations working on GBV in Sierra Leone.
One significant emerging issue highlighted in the policy brief is the imprisonment of minors serving sentences alongside adults due to inadequacies in Approved Schools. Despite provisions for publicizing sexual offenders’ registers, the brief noted challengesin accessing data on convicted persons due to the sensitive nature of the cases.
Another concern raised was the lack of psychosocial support for professionals dealing with SGBV, who often face mental health challenges. The brief also highlighted the digital/online sexual exploitation and abuse of both girls and boys, fueled by the widespread use of digital gadgets.
Challenges outlined in the brief included conflicts in the age of criminal liability, inconsistent submission of annual reports on the implementation of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act to parliament, and a lack of forensic machines and medico-legal services in investigating survivor cases.
Despite these challenges, the policy brief outlined achievements in the fight against SGBV, such as increased public awareness and education, and providing a protective environment for women and girls, among others.
The policy recommendations include conducting a comprehensive countrywide assessment of the implementation of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 2019, coordinating the development of an overall implementation plan, establishing a robust monitoring and reporting system, and supporting interventions for mental health and psychosocial support.
Furthermore, the recommendations call for a review and expansion of the free healthcare package, the development of regulations for compulsory sentencing guidelines, and amendments to provisions for authorized persons to sign indictments.
The Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Dr. Isata Mahoi, assured strong government commitment to addressing these recommendations and taking necessary actions.