Activists hail Sierra Leone child marriage ban, urge action on FGM

Sierra Leone this week adopted a landmark law banning child marriage, a move heralded by rights groups and foreign partners but leaving some activists demanding more action to end pervasive female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country.

Hundreds of thousands of girls are married before turning 18 in the West African nation, where a persistently patriarchal society puts women at risk of multiple forms of gender-based violence.

Sierra Leone has some of the highest rates of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality in the world.

In a major step forward, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act criminalises marrying girls below 18 with jail terms of at least 15 years or a fine of more than €2,000.

It also bans men from living with underage girls and sets out a compensation package for those who are married or fall pregnant before turning 18.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said that it "welcomed the historic law" but called on Sierra Leonean authorities to "now take the necessary measures to ensure its full implementation."

But the law, championed by Sierra Leone's First Lady Fatima Maada Bio -- remains silent on the harmful practice of FGM, which many see as deeply intertwined with the marrying of young girls.

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, and can lead to serious health problems including infections, bleeding, infertility and complications in childbirth.

(With newswires)

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