Sierra Leone’s parliament has passed a historic bill that finally outlaws child marriage in the country. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024 establishes 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage, removing any previous ambiguities in the law.

A Persistent Problem

Child marriage has been a persistent issue in Sierra Leone, with 30% of girls married before 18 and 9% married before 15. This new legislation aims to address this problem directly, protecting young girls from the physical and emotional harm associated with child marriage.

Previously, Sierra Leone’s legal framework around child marriage was contradictory. The Child Rights Act of 2007 set 18 as the minimum age, but the Customary Marriage and Divorce Act of 2009 allowed marriages with parental consent regardless of age. This new bill removes this ambiguity and ensures consistency across all legal codes.

Beyond Legislation: Supporting Girls

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill goes beyond simply outlawing the practice. It also includes provisions for:

  • Penalties for offenders: Those who violate the law will face consequences.
  • Victim protection: The bill seeks to ensure the rights of girls who have already been subjected to child marriage are protected.
  • Education and support services: Access to education and support services are crucial for young girls affected by child marriage.

A Crucial Step, But More Needed

Fatou Gueye Ndir, a representative from Girls Not Brides, an organization working to end child marriage globally, applauds the legislation as a “vital step forward.” However, she emphasizes the importance of providing support services and access to education for girls affected by child marriage.

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