By Fortune Abang
The wife of Sierra Leone President, Fatima Maada-Bio, has reaffirmed her commitment toward campaign against rape and early marriages of girls, to curb abuse of the girl child.
Mrs Maada-Bio currently in Nigeria for the 9th Summit of the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) made this known while briefing newsmen ahead of the meeting on Monday in Abuja.
She expressed her commitment to fight for rights of the girl child to be a cause she had championed, even before becoming the First Lady of Sierra Leone.
According to her, the rate at which the girl child has become sexual predators and most times used by parents for selfish gains posed serious concern towards attainment of quality education.
“It just happens when you become the First Lady you have platform and then, you create your own platform and that had been Hands of Our Girls Campaign.
“A campaign to find a way to stop abuse of our girl; it is campaign that focuses on rape, on ending early marriages, which i believe is legalise way of raping girls.
“Because, if you force a child at the age of 11, 12. 13, even, up to 17 years of age to be married that is an abuse.
“It is just an African tradition of legalising rape; when i started the campaign, i started by launching it with about seven other First Ladies, who came and have all gone back.
“They have put-up their own projects and we have all put our project in Hands of Our Girls; they have changed the name and we have continued to campaign against same thing.”
She stressed that there was the need to end rape and early marriages of the girl child, in order to promote girl child education across the continent of Africa.
She added that, although other First Ladies could not be forced to champion the cause, issues that border on the girl child abuse was an African problem.
“Unless we start accepting that issue is a big issue in Africa, we will not be able to deal with it and that has been my campaign from day one.
“On becoming the First Lady, I refused to focus on the normal things that other First Ladies do, campaigning on HIV/AIDS, which are campaigns that have been around for over 20 years.
“Which God knows for how many years and i do not think is the problem in our country. The problem in our country is rape and early marriage.
“It is why i chose to do that and focus on that; it has enabled the girls to know their rights and has empowered the girl to say no.
“To know when to say no that is the right thing to say, it has enlightened our men to know that there is a time not to touch a girl.” she said.
The First Lady said that such drastic measure had helped to mark deviation from previous practice by revamping justice system and bringing rapist to book in the country.
She said, “Before when you are rape you get away with it, today you are taken to court if you are found guilty, you are jailed for 15years.
“It has changed the justice system for us to have special court; this is the first time this is happening. We now have a special court dealing with rape issues.
“So, it fast tracks that, it has enabled government to see things differently and to focus on the girl child agenda.
“We have the president, who sits as Chairperson of Committee that deals with that, it has also helped range of different institutions to campaign on the issue, before i became First Lady”.
She, however, disclosed that the campaign against rape and early marriages had become holistic with coalition of doctors, security personnel and traditional rulers have taken up the fight to end such abuse.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports the 9th Summit of the AFLPM is aimed at promoting peace and conflict resolution across Africa. (NAN)