Sierra Leonean girls mark a ‘historic moment’ as Parliament outlaws child marriage

Sierra Leone’s Parliament has passed a historic bill criminalizing child marriage. The Probibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024 seeks to criminalize the act of marrying or entering into a union with a child under the age of 18. This bill aims to fill legal loopholes by prohibiting marriage before the age of 18 for kids without exceptions.

The law not only prohibits child marriage but also makes provision for its enforcement, including severe penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment for offenders. Additionally, it prioritizes the protection and support of victims, ensuring access to education, services, and justice. To address historical enforcement challenges, the law imposes penalties for non-compliance and actively engages community leaders in its implementation, fostering a culture of accountability and change.

Image via Jodi Bieber

Why was the Child Marriage Prohibition Bill necessary?

Often, due to poverty, many girls in Sierra Leone fail to stay in school. They are then married off by their families in an attempt to improve their financial situations or pay off debts. In a report shared by UNICEF, Sierra Leone is home to over 800,000 child brides, of which 400,000 were married before the age of 15.

According to Save the Children, 39% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before their 18th birthday, with 13% married before they turn 15. They shared the story of Kpemeh* (not her real name), who was only 12 when a man expressed interest in marrying her. Her parents, whose farming just covers the family’s immediate needs, felt financial pressure and agreed to the marriage. But Kpemeh* was adamantly opposed to such a union. She knew she was not ready, and her education was too important to her.  She resisted the marriage for three years, after which her parents stopped paying her school fees, and she had to drop out.

To save herself, she reported the case to the village chief, who fined Kpemeh’s parents and prevented the marriage. While Kpemeh escaped early marriage, many girls in Sierra Leone are not so fortunate. By strengthening existing laws and enhancing their enforcement, the bill seeks to create a more protective environment for all children in Sierra Leone.

What the First Lady had to say about the new legislation

Shortly after the legislation passed, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Maada Bio, who championed the bill, expressed her excitement at the passing of the Bill.

In her words,

“Sierra Leone’s Parliament today unanimously passed the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024, a crucial piece of legislation that I championed. This private member’s bill outlaws child marriage, a harmful practice that has long plagued the nation.”

She also expressed appreciation to the Child Rights Coalition, the Police Wives Association, The Military Wives Association, Save the Children, the Ministry of Education, the school-going children and teachers present in parliament and the He-For-She movement, who were all instrumental in advocating for the legislation.

Reactions to the Bill

Since the announcement of the passing of the bill into law, people have expressed their support for the bill and their appreciation to the first lady for championing it.


Women were also seen in a video celebrating the passing of the bill. We look forward to more countries embracing legislation that promotes the safety and humanity of all girl children across the globe.


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