Protesters call for end to impunity for rapists in country where sexual violence is widespread
By Emma Batha
June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The rape and killing of a five-year-old girl in Sierra Leone sparked protests for a third day on Wednesday as demonstrators demanded justice for victims of pervasive sexual violence.
Rights groups said Kadijah Saccoh died on June 17 after she was raped multiple times. A death certificate emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation said she had also been strangled.
Protesters said police had detained a family member.
Kadijah's death has acted as a touchstone in the West African country where women's rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns that rapists are rarely punished.
"This case has created a huge momentum. We hope it will bring about change," protester Yayah Janneh said by phone from the demonstration in the capital Freetown.
Sierra Leone's First Lady Fatima Bio, who campaigns against sexual and gender-based violence, said on social media that her husband President Julius Maada Bio was "very angry" and taking a personal interest in the case.
"We will not stop until we get justice for Princess Khadija," added Bio, who leads a campaign called "Hands Off Our Girls" focused on ending rape and child marriage.
More than 8,500 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported to police in Sierra Leone in 2018, a third involving a minor, but campaigners say most rapes go unreported, partly because of stigma faced by victims.
Global rights group Equality Now said police investigations were poor, meaning many cases were thrown out of court.
"The government must wake up on this issue," said Jean Paul Murunga, the organisation's programme officer on ending sexual violence.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murungu said the culture of impunity could be traced back to Sierra Leone's civil conflict in the 1990s when rape was widely used as a weapon of war.
Protests over Kadijah's death erupted on Monday as details circulated on social media.
Demonstrator Josephine Davies said they would protest outside parliament on Thursday.
"We're not only protesting for Kadijah, but for all girls and women. We need an end to impunity for rape," she said.
"The police do not investigate. They don't even care. They don't want to know."
President Bio declared a national emergency over sexual violence in February 2019 after hearing testimony from another five-year-old girl who was left paralysed after being raped.
Child rapists face life imprisonment under legislation introduced in September, which raised penalties for sexual violence.
(Reporting by Emma Batha in London @emmabatha; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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