The Maputo Protocol does little to curb FGM and child marriage in Sierra Leone

The Maputo Protocol is designed to hold African states to account on women’s rights, including FGM and child marriage. We spoke to Diaka Koroma about whether Maputo is making a difference in Sierra Leone.

Diaka Salena Koroma is 24 years old, and the co-founder and country director of About Girls Empowerment (AGE). She’s also a Sierra Leone Member of Patriotic Advocacy Network (PAN), and a final year student at Fouray Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, studying Bsc Peace and Conflict studies.

As an activist against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child and early forced marriage (CEFM), Diaka learned that about 90% of the girls living in the provinces of Sierra Leone - and even in the capital city - have little or no idea of the existence of the Maputo Protocol and how it protects their right against the practice of FGM and child marriage.

What is the Maputo Protocol ? 

The Maputo protocol - officially titled The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa - was adopted by the assembly of the African Union” in Maputo, Mozambique on July 11, 2003.

Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health, and an end to female genital mutilation - but the provisions of all these instruments continue to be widely violated.

Why is it Important in Africa and Siera Leone ?

The Maputo Protocol it is important to Africa and Sierra Leone because 53 countries have Signed and about 36 have recently ratified. This is a model Protocol to call on governments to end ‘‘the elimination of harmful traditional practices which includes FGM to be performed on a girl 18 years and above and only with her consent.’’

Article 6 of the Protocol also includes the right to marriage, and states that parties are to abide to the minimum age of marriage for women as 18. 

What do you think should be done to hold Governments of  Sierra Leone to act on the Maputo Protocol  ?

FGM sensitisation message in Sierra Leone [Credit: Plan]

FGM sensitisation message in Sierra Leone [Credit: Plan]

I urge the Sierra Leone government to increase actions towards implementation of the law and educating the public on the prevalence of the law.  After 12 years since the protocol was signed, Sierra Leone ratified it on July 2nd 2015 which was a great step forward - but it really doesn’t do much good if the public has low awareness on it. There’s a need for punishable actions to those who will go against it, so we can hold the public accountable and ensure everyone is on board on to implement.

Law enforcement in Sierra Leone do have enough resources to gather evidence or pursue cases of the violation of women’s right through FGM and child marriage - this needs to change!

What are some of the factors behind FGM prevalence in Sierra Leone?

There are many causes which contributes to the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone, which include:

  • Lack of education on the harmful effects of FGM to a girl or woman’s life .
  • Inadequate resources to deal with FGM cases that are reported to the police.
  • Politicians support the initiation of girls in order to gain votes in practicing communities.
  • Mothers conforming to the traditional trend so their daughters will have husbands and belong to a society.
  • Girls being pushed into Bondo society (traditional shrine where FGM is performed) through peer pressure and to have the feeling of being respected and empowered in society.
  • The persistence of FGM as a source of income and means of survival for the Soweis (traditional leaders of Bondo society).

What is your Key message for action to Sierra Leone Community?  

FGM and CEFM can only be eradicated in Sierra Leone by raising public awareness and putting the law into practice and actually punishing parties involved.,

Education and poverty are the umbrella social issues in Sierra Leone leading to the occurrence of Female Genital Mutilation and Child Early Forced Marriage. We have to tackle these issues head on if we want to see a world where women can be free from these practices.