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Sierra Leone declares rape a national emergency

SIERRA LEONE President Julius Maada Bio has declared a national emergency over levels of rape and sexual violence in the west African country.

The president said a “culture of silence and indifference” surrounded epidemic levels of sexual assault. Though hundreds of cases are reported each month, Mr Bio said “thousands” went unreported. 

A majority of victims are underage — with 70 per cent of rape survivors under 15. Even babies had been assaulted with a three-month-old dying after being raped.

The national emergency follows a months-long campaign called Hands Off Our Girls launched by First Lady Fatima Bio. 

Sentencing has been toughened, with sexual penetration of minors now punishable by life imprisonment compared to a previous maximum of 15 years. The harsher law followed an outcry late last year over the anal rape of a five-year-old by an adult male relative, an assault that permanently damaged her spine leaving her unable to walk.

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