๐’๐ข๐ž๐ซ๐ซ๐š ๐‹๐ž๐จ๐ง๐ž ๐๐š๐ซ๐ฅ๐ข๐š๐ฆ๐ž๐ง๐ญ ๐”๐ง๐š๐ง๐ข๐ฆ๐จ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ฅ๐ฒ ๐๐š๐ฌ๐ฌ๐ž๐ฌ ๐‹๐š๐ง๐๐ฆ๐š๐ซ๐ค ๐๐ข๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐๐ซ๐จ๐ก๐ข๐›๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐‚๐ก๐ข๐ฅ๐ ๐Œ๐š๐ซ๐ซ๐ข๐š๐ ๐ž ๐Ÿ๐ŸŽ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ’

๐…๐ซ๐ž๐ž๐ญ๐จ๐ฐ๐ง, ๐‰๐ฎ๐ง๐ž ๐Ÿ๐ŸŽ, ๐Ÿ๐ŸŽ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ’.

Sierra Leone’s Parliament today unanimously passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024, a crucial piece of legislation championed by First Lady Dr. Fatima Maada Bio. This private member’s bill outlaws child marriage, a harmful practice that has long plagued the nation.

This bill seeks to criminalize the act of marrying or entering into a union with a child under the age of 18 years. It includes provisions for enforcing penalties on offenders, protecting victimsโ€™ rights, and ensuring access to education and support services for young girls affected by early child marriage.

“We have the responsibility to protect our children from early marriage,” declared Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Maada Bio as she expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the parliamentarians. “Your dedication to this cause, despite the inevitable political differences that arise, is a testament to your shared belief in the importance of the early child marriage bill. This bill represents a significant step forward in protecting the rights of our next generation and a testament to the power of collaboration and shared purpose.”

Dr. Fatima Maada Bio extended her sincere appreciation to civil society organizations, the Police Wives Association, Armed Forces Wives Association, Save the Children, the Ministry of Education, and the He-For-She movement for their vital role in advocating for this legislation. She also acknowledged the support of her husband, President Julius Maada Bio, whose commitment to gender equality and support for this bill has been instrumental in driving this important initiative forward.

Honourable Marie Zombo, presenting the bill, emphasized that Sierra Leone ranks as the 19th highest country in the world for early child marriage prevalence. This statistic highlights the urgent need for interventions to protect young girls from the negative consequences of early marriage, including early pregnancies, complications during childbirth, and curtailed education and opportunities.

The bill also aims to fill legal loopholes by prohibiting marriage before age 18 for both boys and girls without exceptions. It addresses enforcement challenges by establishing penalties for violations and calling upon community leaders to actively support its implementation. By strengthening existing laws and enhancing their enforcement, the bill seeks to create a more protective environment for children, particularly girls.

The debate was marked by a strong sense of unity and purpose. Hon. Sengepoh Thomas, the Speaker of Parliament, pledged his full support, highlighting the billโ€™s importance in safeguarding girls’ rights and ensuring their access to education, healthcare, and a brighter future. Hon. Catherine Tarawally, Hon. Mathew Nyuma, and others delivered passionate speeches, celebrating Dr. Fatima Maada Bio’s tireless efforts and her “Hands Off Our Girls” campaign, which has significantly contributed to legal and institutional reforms.

Hon. Abdul Kargbo, the opposition leader in Parliament, urged his fellow parliamentarians to embrace the bill wholeheartedly and work tirelessly to popularize it among the wider community. He emphasized the need for a collective effort to ensure the billโ€™s effective implementation and the protection of girls’ rights at all levels of society.

The debate showcased the collective will of parliamentarians to prioritize the well-being of girls and create a society where they can thrive and reach their full potential. The proposed legislation promises to empower girls through education and equal opportunities, reduce adolescent pregnancies, and contribute to better health outcomes. Ultimately, this bill represents a step towards gender equality and ensuring a safe environment for all children.

In closing, Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Maada Bio called on all parliamentarians to work together to ensure the effective implementation of the law and to educate their constituents about its provisions. “Together, we can create a brighter future for all,” she concluded.

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Strategic Communications Division,

Office of the First Lady,

Republic of Sierra Leone.

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