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Child marriage is illegal in Salone- a promising first step

On Tuesday of last week, President Bio of Sierra Leone signed into law a ban on marriage for children age 18 and younger.



The new legislation goes further than many similar laws acorss the continent, by penalizing people who enable the marriage — like the parents, the officiate and even the wedding guests — in addition to the husband.

Betty Kabari, at Human Rights Watch, agrees with the approach of penalizing those who abet the marriage, saying, “The strongest aspect, to me, is noting that a child does not get married in isolation.”

Additionally, those who were married as children can now seek financial compensation and they can petition for an annulment.


How widespread is child marriage?

Currently, there are about 800,000 girls under the age of 18 who are married in Sierra Leone, which is a third of the girls in the country. Of that 800,000 - half were married by the time they turned 15. [Only approximately 4 percent of boys are married by 18.]


Every year, 12 million girls under the age of 18 marry. Globally, more than 650 million girls and women were married as children. South Asia has the largest number of child brides, about 290 million people, or 45 percent of the global total. Sub-Saharan Africa follows with about 127 million people or 20 percent of all child brides.

According to Girls not Brides, map of child marriages, 16 of the 20 countries with the highest rates are in Africa.


What problems can come from marrying so young?

Child marriage often leads to girls leaving school. Pregnancies at a young age can lead to death, long-term injuries and trauma.

Sierra Leone is already one of the deadliest places to give birth and its even more dangerous for teenagers.

Girls who marry are more likely to live in severe poverty.


How will the ban in Sierra Leone work?

Under the new legislation, people who marry children can be imprisoned for 15 years or fined over $5,000. Parents are also not allowed to consent to a child’s marriage. Officiates cannot preside over one and guests cannot attend a ceremony. In fact, anyone who “aids or abets” the marriage can face a 10-year sentence or a fine of about $2,500, or both. The law does not just apply to marriage. It also prohibits cohabitation in which adults live with and have a sexual relationship with children.

“I have always believed that the future of Sierra Leone is female,” Mr. Bio posted after signing the law with his wife and daughter at his side.


What are the obstacles to making the ban a reality?

For the law to have any real impact, Sierra Leone’s officials will have to build sustained relationships with rural communities — where child marriage is much more common.

That would mean addressing poverty, which leads families to marry their daughters off as children. It also means expanding efforts to educate communities about sexual and reproductive health- like the work of SGUW.

Many women and girls would still have to go against their neighbors, their husbands and even their families to refuse a marriage, petition to end one or seek compensation. But, now at least they have the law on their side.

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