President Ernest Koroma gives assent to ‘Women’s Liberation ‘ Act (Sierra Leone)

President Ernest Bai Koroma last month appended his signature to, thereby formally giving his assent and making into law, the Customary Marriage and Diviorce Act 2007, which commentators have described as a “women’s liberation” Act. Before appending his signature, President Koroma said he had found himself in a very unique situation because he participated in the debate to pass this law as an Opposition leader and now giving his asent to it as Head of State.

He said the APC gave its support to the bill from the very beginning because it covers the lives of a majority of the citizenry. “A good number of marriages, about 80%, are affected by this law. And because they were not registerd and not regulated, so many abuses have been going on, especially against the underdogs, who in this case are the women… But we know that women are the true heroines of our nation,” while detailing that the women often do the hard work to care for their families.

President Koroma expressed happiness that most of the concerned groups are present and publicly asserted government’s commitment to the “effective implementation” of the law. He said he had decided to make the signing public so that it would be given the widest publicity and for those responsible for its implementation to be held accountable. “Let me now take this opportuinity to give my assent to this bill,” he ended.

Chairperson of the occasion, Yasmine Jusu-Sheriff, earlier gave special importance to the ceremony by relating its significance to the inauguration of Barrack Obama as the first African-American to become President of the United States of America in the same week. She paid special tribute to President Koroma for being the first President in the history of Sierra Leone to “open the inner workings of our state for public involvement and scrutiny” even as the tradition had been for presidential assents to be given in bureaucratic secrecy.

The new law, among other things, places customary marriages on the same pedastal as all other legal marriages (Christian, Muslim, and Civil), invalidates all marriages in which the spouses are under 18 years of age, and validates any co-habitation that has spanned 5 years and above. People can register their customary marriages and divorces with the District Council and be issued with certificates, while at the same time the law debars people from entering into more than one type of marraige. Forced marriages, where girls’ consents are not sought, are from now on illegal.

Notwithstanding, there are other amendments to make, to which various stakeholders who made statements of commitment, pledged to work towards. Among the speakers were Attorney General Abdul Serry Kamal, who looked forward to giving more teeth to the law; Speaker of Parliament Abel Stronge who, on behalf of the Legislature, promised to expeditously attend to the necessary amendments; Justice Fofanah, representing the Chief Justice, said this law was strongly founded on international standards reflecting the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the Judiciary would put all necessary mechanisms in place by making an “audacious use of the courts throughout the country”; Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Ibrahim Kalokoh pledged his Ministry’s total commitment to the effective implementation of the Act and its sister Acts for the development of the nation; while a civil society representative lauded President Koroma’s political will, admonishing him to ensure that the Ministry of Gender Affairs “will stop being the most under resourced Ministry…”

Gracing the occasion were cabinet minsters, parliamentarians from across the political divide, development partners, and civil society groups.

Gender Affairs Minister Musu Kandeh introduced the new Act before the presidential assent, while her deputy Jenneh Kandeh gave the vote of thanks.


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