The president of Sierra Leone has declared a national state of emergency for rape and sexual violence, declaring that the perpetrators are getting younger and their actions are becoming more violent.
"Sexual penetration of minors will be punished with life imprisonment," said President Julius Maada Bio said in a keynote speech Thursday, visibly moved by the testimony of asurvivor who had been raped the BBC.
Bio said that hundreds of cases of rape and sexual violence against women, girls and babies aged three months were reported each month in the West African nation. He said that about 70 percent of victims are under 1
The current law provides for a maximum sentence of 15 years and only a few cases have been prosecuted.
"With this statement, I also ordered that all state hospitals offer every victim of rape and sexual abuse free medical treatment and testimony," he said.
The Bio statement comes after months of campaigning by activists.
Thousands of cases are not reported due to a culture of silence or indifference, which traumatizes the victims, he said, adding that he wants to raise awareness.
Last year, more than 8,500 cases of abuses were recorded – an increase of nearly 4,000 over the previous year – in a country of 7.5 million, the BBC reported.
The government will engage communities and civil society in a dialogue to end the scourge that has slowly ruined the nation, the president. He will fill gaps in the Sexual Offenses Act of 2012, he said.
Bio also ordered the establishment of a special police division for rape and sexual violence against minors.
Dr. Olabisi Claudius Cole, head of the Rainbo Initiative, which provides free medical and psychosocial services to survivors of gender-based violence, described the President's statement as a milestone in the fight against such violence in Sierra Leone.
This was made possible by the tireless voices survivors and activists she said.
First Lady Fatima Bio said that all forms of sexual violence were unacceptable and threatened society.