Parliament last Thursday unanimously passed the three gender bills that came before it barely a week before that day.
These bills: The Domestic Violence Act, 2007; The Devolution of Estates Act, 2007 and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, 2007 came to parliament with a Certificate of Urgency signed by President Tejan Kabbah.
The three bills are to domesticate the CEDAW Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
The Domestic Violence act is to suppress domestic violence and to provide protection for victims of domestic violence, particularly women and children, and to provide for other related matters.
The bill introduces the crime of domestic violence, that is to say violence occurring in a domestic relationship which is defined as the relationship between couples, parents and children and other family members.
Also noteworthy about this bill is the section that deals with ‘harassment” which means sexual contact without the consent of the person with whom the contact is made; repeatedly making unwanted sexual advances, repeatedly following, pursuing or accosting a person or making persistent, unwelcome communication with a person and includes.
The devolution of Estates Act, 2007 is to provide for surviving spouses, children, parents, relatives and other dependents of testate and intestate persons.
The general law previously on inheritance was regulated by the Administration of estates Act, Cap 45 which provides, among others, that on the death of a man his wife is entitled to one third of his estates while his children are entitled to two-thirds.
But on the death of a woman, her husband is entitled to the whole of her estate.
Section 9 of the Muslim Marriage Act provides that “if any party to a Muslim marriage dies, his or her estates shall be distributed in accordance with Muslim law”.
The Act further provides that only the eldest son, the eldest brother or the Administrator and Registrar-General is entitled to take out letters of administration in respect of the estate. The wives and daughters cannot do it.
The result of the application of these laws is the deprivation of widows from continuing to use the property on which they relied during the marriage, even when the wife had contributed directly or indirectly to the acquisition of the property.
This new Act therefore provides a uniform succession and inheritance law that will regulate the distribution of a deceased person’s property.
It also seeks to give rights to men and women to administer and inherit the property of their spouses.
The registration and customary marriage and divorce Act makes for the registration of customary marriages and divorces
This Act came in the face of the prevalence of marriages in Sierra Leone being contracted under customary law and are potentially polygamous and most divorces are also under customary law and as such may differ from community to community.
The law now provides for a certainty in respect of the marital status of persons who contract marriage or are divorced under customary law.
The new law also legalizes cohabiting couples who are below eighteen years and have lived together as husband and wife for a continuous period of not less than five years.
The law stipulates that “they shall be deemed to be married under customary law notwithstanding that they may not have performed any customary rites of marriage”
This new Act also seeks to empower wives under customary law to acquire and dispose of property and to enter into contracts on their own behalf.
These bills were pushed by the Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs Mrs Shirley Gbujama