Celebrating Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s Defiance Against Early Child Marriage Culture

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By Foday Moriba Conteh

Sierra Leone faces a significant challenge as it ranks 19th highest globally in child marriage prevalence, a practice that severely impacts health, education, and psychological well-being. Despite Government efforts, including providing free quality education, the practice remains a barrier to the nation’s human capital development.

Child marriage adversely affects young girls, increasing risks of health complications during pregnancy and childbirth, heightened susceptibility to HIV and other infections, early school dropouts and mental health issues like low self-esteem and depression.

First Lady, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, has emerged as a beacon of hope in combating this issue. She presented the ‘Prohibition of Early Child Marriage Bill’ to Parliament, aiming to protect children’s rights and ensure their access to education and opportunities. That move was part of her ongoing advocacy, which began with the launch of the “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign in 2018.

Dr. Bio’s initiative included engaging stakeholders from Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), local authorities, Members of Parliament, Government and Non-Government officials, international partners, religious leaders, parents and children. These consultations, conducted over the last three years, helped shape the Bill and garnered diverse perspectives, enriching its content and increasing its chances of successful implementation.

A notable step in her advocacy was engaging the female caucus in Parliament, presenting a private member bill. This demonstrated her commitment to prioritizing the voices of women and girls in the legislative process. The Bill garnered bipartisan support, reflecting the importance of the issue and the effectiveness of Dr. Bio’s strategies.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill has now passed Parliament and awaits the President’s signature to become law. This legislation sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 and includes stringent enforcement measures, focusing on education and empowerment for young girls.

Dr. Bio’s relentless advocacy involved public speeches, community meetings, and media campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of child marriage. She engaged various stakeholders, including traditional and religious leaders, parents and young people, to garner widespread support. Her efforts aim not only at legislative change but also at transforming societal norms and attitudes towards child marriage.

The Bill’s passage in Parliament was celebrated by both ruling and opposition members. The Deputy Speaker called for a dedicated budget for the First Lady’s office, acknowledging the significant impact of her initiatives. Majority Leader, Hon. Mathew S. Nyuma, highlighted the Bill’s roots in the “Hands Off Our Girls Campaign” and praised Dr. Bio’s resilience and unwavering commitment.

This legislative victory is a monumental achievement in Sierra Leone’s efforts to protect children’s rights and well-being. As the nation moves forward with implementing the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, it does so with the support and guidance of Dr. Fatima Maada Bio. Her dedication has laid the foundation for a future where every girl in Sierra Leone can grow up free from early marriage threats and pursue her dreams. This passage underscores the power of dedicated leadership and collective will to effect positive change, serving as a beacon of hope for future generations.



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