Parliament Ratifies Historic Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill, 2024

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By Amin Kef (Ranger)

The Parliament of Sierra Leone on Thursday June 20, 2024 passed “The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2024” with amendments following extensive debate. This pivotal legislation aims to outlaw child marriage, provide protection for its victims and address related issues comprehensively.

The Act is divided into seven key parts: interpretation, prohibition of child marriage, prohibition of cohabitation with a child, annulment of child marriage, compensation, protection for victims and miscellaneous provisions. It criminalizes marrying or entering into a union with anyone under 18, enforces penalties on offenders and ensures rights and support services for young girls affected by early marriages.

The Parliamentary session attracted significant attention, including school pupils, civil society organizations, campaigners, and notable personalities such as First Lady, Dr. Fatima Jabbe Maada Bio, and various Government Ministers.

Dr. Fatima Maada Bio expressed her gratitude to the Parliamentarians, emphasizing the collective responsibility to protect children from early marriage. “This Bill represents a significant step forward in protecting the rights of our next generation and is a testament to the power of collaboration and shared purpose,” she stated. She also thanked Civil Society Organizations, the Police Wives Association, Save the Children, the Ministry of Education and the He-For-She Movement for their advocacy efforts.

Presenting the Bill, Hon. Marie Zombo highlighted Sierra Leone’s high prevalence of early child marriage, ranking 19th globally. She underscored the urgent need for legal intervention to protect young girls from the severe consequences of early marriage, such as early pregnancies, childbirth complications and disrupted education.

The Bill closes legal loopholes by strictly prohibiting marriage before age 18 for both boys and girls, establishing penalties for violations and encouraging community leaders to support its implementation. By enhancing enforcement, the Bill aims to create a safer environment for children, particularly girls.

The debate was characterized by a strong sense of unity and purpose. Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Sengepoh Thomas and other MPs, including Hon. Catherine Tarawally and Hon. Mathew Nyuma, delivered passionate speeches supporting the Bill and lauding Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign for its significant contributions to legal and institutional reforms.
Opposition leader, Hon. Abdul Kargbo, urged Parliamentarians to fully embrace the Bill and work tirelessly to ensure its effective implementation and community awareness.

The proposed legislation promises to empower girls through education and equal opportunities, reduce adolescent pregnancies and improve health outcomes, representing a step towards gender equality and a safe environment for all children.

First Lady, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio, called for collective efforts to ensure the law’s effective implementation and public education on its provisions. “Together, we can create a brighter future for all,” she concluded.

Throughout the debate, numerous MPs, including Hon. Mariama Munia Zombo, Hon. Zainab Catherine Tarawally and Hon. Amie Moriba, emphasized the Bill’s importance and the detrimental effects of child marriage. They called for robust implementation and awareness-raising efforts to ensure widespread understanding and compliance.

The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Segepoh Solomon Thomas, stressed the importance of media involvement in popularizing the Bill. “We are making this law for the protection of our children and laws,” he stated.

The passage of “The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2024” marks a historic moment for Sierra Leone, reflecting a unified commitment to safeguarding the nation’s children and ensuring their right to a safe and prosperous future.


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