The country report on “Human Rights Practices-2006” released by the U.S Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour has revealed that women’s rights in Sierra Leone have not been protected.
The report states that the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence and the government rarely enforces the provisions contained in the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act for violent acts against women, including assault, wounding and rape.
The report goes on that domestic violence against women, especially wife beating and forced sexual intercourse, is common. And that the police are unlikely to intervene in domestic disputes except in cases involving severe injury or death. In rural areas, polygamy is widespread.
Women suspected of marital infidelity often are subjected to physical abuse; frequently, women are beaten until they divulged the names of their partners. Because husbands could claim monetary indemnities from their wives’ partners, beatings often continue until a woman names several men, even if there are no such relationships. There also are reports that women suspected of infidelity are required to undergo animistic rituals to prove their innocence, the report reveals.
The report relates that in 2000 the government established the Family Support Unit (FSU) to deal with gender-based violence. The SLP has FSU offices at 18 police stations around the country.
Although some international human rights workers complain that the FSU lack basic infrastructure and communications support, the UN reported that the FSU was increasingly playing a leading role in investigating cases of violence against women and children. It is also engaged in community education and sensitization through radio and television programmes.
The report stresses that though the law prohibits rape, which is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment; rape is viewed as a societal problem and that rape cases are frequently settled out of court, and rape victims are sometimes ordered to marry their attackers.