Tue | Jun 18, 2019

5-year-old girl paralysed by rape shocks Sierra Leone

Published:Tuesday | June 11, 2019 | 9:32 AM
In this Thursday, September 27, 2018 file photo, Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — At first no one knew why the 5-year-old girl could no longer move her legs or control her urine.

For months she lay on the ground, unable to walk or play.

Some in the community blamed witchcraft but the real reason was more horrific: The child had been brutally raped and left paralysed as a result of her injuries.

The case has brought the issue of sexual violence against children to the forefront in Sierra Leone, where such crimes are often dealt with between families in private.

In February, President Julius Maada Bio declared sexual violence a national emergency and he has vowed to help the 5-year-old get medical treatment abroad.

But months later the girl’s case has shown just how difficult combating sexual violence can be: Her father objected to the rape being tried in court, requiring police to issue a restraining order so she could continue receiving medical treatment.

No court date has been set, not even a prosecutor chosen.

Little has changed, too, for the child whose life was so cruelly affected.

“She doesn’t understand about bail or no bail. But she’s concerned that he’s walking, he’s mobile and she’s not,” said Fatmata Sorie, the lawyer representing the child, about the man who assaulted the girl, whose name is being withheld by The Associated Press because she is a minor.

Fatima Maada Bio, the wife of Sierra Leone’s president, has been vocal in promoting the rights of girls and initially heard about the child’s case.

She and her husband later travelled to the Aberdeen Women’s Center where the 5-year-old has been receiving medical care free of charge.

The president’s proclamation in February has not been without controversy despite the widespread support for sexual violence victims: Opposition party legislators objected to the president’s unilateral declaration.

The parliament must still approve the measure, though Sierra Leone’s attorney general has ordered judges to start applying it already.

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