Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2011

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Children's rights

Children faced serious violations of their rights in many domains. The government failed to uphold and enforce its domestic legislation and to respect its international treaty obligations to protect children and guarantee their rights.

Thousands of children endured the worst forms of child labour in diamond mines and other ultra-hazardous sectors. Sierra Leone's thousands of child miners experienced gross violations of their basic rights. Denied education, health care and basic protections, they endured gruelling and dangerous work. Some died in collapsing pits or mining accidents. Others were scarred for life from the back-breaking work and from exposure to disease.

Few government programmes adequately addressed the continuing special needs of war-affected children and young people - orphans, unaccompanied internally displaced people and former child soldiers. Street children were vulnerable to a wide range of abuses, with little or no protection.

Violence against women and girls

Domestic violence remained widespread. Few cases were reported to the authorities and these were overwhelmingly characterized by inadequate investigation, few prosecutions, out-of-court settlements and interference by traditional leaders. By the end of 2010, only one case had been prosecuted under the Domestic Violence Act 2007. Women's lack of access to the police, exorbitant fees charged by medical officers and pressure to make out-of-court settlements all contributed to impunity and state inaction.

Discriminatory customs continued, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced or early marriage. NGOs made some gains in campaigns to stop FGM among girls but the prevalence was still estimated at around 90 per cent. Laws passed in 2007 - the Child Rights Act and the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act - prohibited marriage before the age of 18 but were widely ignored. Girls as young as 10 were often married.

Rape of girls by close relatives, schoolteachers and security personnel continued, as did teenage pregnancies, child trafficking, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination in education.

Maternal mortality

President Ernest Koroma launched on 27 April a "Free Health Care Service" for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five. The new programme to abolish health care user fees reportedly cost US$90m and was expected to cover 230,000 pregnant women and around one million children under five in 2010 alone. Mothers and children were supposed to access a package of medical care that included all treatment and medicines at no cost, ensuring minimal essential care for all. This constituted a leap forward for a country with some of the worst maternal and child mortality rates in the world.

However, the launch of free care was rushed and ill-prepared. Requisition and distribution systems were inadequate, monitoring and accountability mechanisms were largely absent, so many women and children still had to pay for some or all medicines.

Many factors that contribute to maternal mortality remained unaddressed, such as unsafe abortions, female genital mutilation, early marriage and the lack of sexual and reproductive education.

International justice

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague continued in 2010.

Since 2002 the Court had sentenced eight men to prison terms: Moinina Fofana; Allieu Kondewa; Issa Sesay; Morris Kallon; Augustine Gbao; Alex Brima; Ibrahim Kamara; and Santigie Kanu. Sam Hinga Norman died of natural causes in 2007 as did Foday Sankoh in 2003. Sam Bockarie was killed in Liberia in 2003 and Johnny Paul Koroma remained at large.

The few trials before the Court contributed to partial disclosure of the truth about the serious crimes committed in Sierra Leone's armed conflict since 1996. The convictions of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leaders Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao were the first for attacks on UN peacekeepers as a violation of international humanitarian law and for forced marriage as an inhumane act constituting a crime against humanity.