The House of Parliament has on Friday 24th August 2012 enacted into law, a bill titled “The Sexual Offences Act 2012” but not without some comments that have left eyebrows raised. Hon. Emmanuel Tommy, Minority Leader of Sierra Leone’s main opposition SLPP in Parliament has said the country’s newly enacted laws on sexual offences provided penalties which he considered to be “too harsh”.
According to him, whilst the Bill is important, the prescribed penalties for sexual offenders were “too harsh”. Hon Tommy also said the Bill has the tendency to undermine “certain cultural values”, adding that this should be properly looked into. The new law has dramatically increased jail-time for offenders and predators whilst also imposing penalties for forceful marriages of girls under the age of consent.
Whilst Tommy was speaking thus about clashing with cultural values, the Hon. Paramount Chief Kanagbaro Sanka III of Tonkolili district was speaking against those cultural practices which forces young girls into early marriages. He also said it was essential for stakeholders and the government to also address the girl child education as when women were educated, they would increase their self confidence.
Also raising eyebrows were the comments by Hon. Suffian Kargbo of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) whilst tabling the motion to discuss the Bill. Hon. Kargbo told the House that the almost half naked manner in which young female teenagers dress is a recipe for enticing men sexually and so such dressing by Sierra Leone young ladies must be curtailed and criminalised in order to stop them luring men sexually.
Hon. Suffian Kargbo said that it is high time Sierra Leone focused on addressing the dress codes of such ladies as well as musicians.
Earlier, presenting the Bill to Members of Parliament, the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs Mr. Steven Gaojia told the House that passing the Bill into law will earn Sierra Leone international recognition and pride. The Minister maintained that Sierra Leone was becoming notable for sexual violence.He assured MPs that should the Bill be passed into law, it will salvage the situation especially for women who are vulnerable to sexual offences.
The Minister also disclosed to the House that display of offensive pornographic materials, indecent dress codes and other issues will be addressed by the Bill when enacted.
During the debates, Hon. Nenneh Lebbie of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) also revealed that sexual offences are high in the provinces especially in mining communities. She informed the House that most miners are in the habit of sexually assaulting teenage girls with impunity. She recommended that social workers be used to sensitize the people of the Sexual Offences Act nationwide.
Hon. Sheku B.B. Dumbuya of the APC who doubles as Majority leader of Parliament said the Bill has some controversy with the traditions and laws of Sierra Leone. He advised that some portions of the Bill be amended. The Bill was however eventually enacted into law after going through the required parliamentary stages.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.