Girls in Sierra Leone © Plan International
Several brutal rape cases had sparked unrest in Sierra Leone in recent weeks. A national state of emergency is now in effect in the West African country because of the sharp rise in sexual violence.
President Julius Maada Bio announced in the capital Freetown the establishment of a special police unit and a special tribunal to more quickly prosecute cases of sexual violence, the British broadcaster BBC reported Friday night.
Reported rapes almost doubled
Several brutal rape cases had sparked unrest in the West African country in recent weeks. State of emergency allows government to make changes to laws and budget spending more quickly and without parliamentary approval.
According to the BBC report, the number of reported rapes rose by nearly 4 last year.500 cases to a total of 8.500. Sierra Leone has a population of about 7.5 million and was rocked by a bloody civil war in the 1990s in which sexual violence was widespread.
The case of a five-year-old girl who is paralyzed from the waist down after being allegedly raped by her uncle has made headlines in recent weeks. President Bio announced a change in the law, making rape of minors punishable by life imprisonment with immediate effect. Previously, the maximum sentence for rape was 15 years.
Teen pregnancies rose to 65 percent
Sierra Leone was one of the hardest hit countries in an Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015, with more than 4.000 people lost their lives. The epidemic led to a breakdown in public life, apparently associated with a sharp rise in domestic and sexual violence.
According to a study by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the number of teenage pregnancies increased by as much as 65 percent in some regions of Sierra Leone after the 2014 Ebola outbreak, because children, for example, had lost their parents and were therefore at greater risk of abuse.
Sexual assaults on Ebola survivors are still commonplace today, according to media reports. Sierra Leone, once a British colony, is among the poorest nations in the world. During the civil war from 1991 to 2002, it is estimated that more than 120.000 people killed.