Sierra Leone passes law to end child marriage

Sierra Leone passes law to end child marriage

Written by NADJA editors

Photo by Rosa Stone under creative license

  • Sierra Leone’s new bill prohibits marriage before the age of 18
  • Pregnancy complications are currently the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19
  • Sierra Leone joins Zambia, the DRC, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe in banning marriage for under-18s

Sierra Leone has passed a landmark bill to end child marriage. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill 2024 prohibits marriage before the age of 18, and includes provisions to enforce penalties on anyone breaking the law.

It also provides educational and support services for young girls who have been victims of child marriage, and guarantees that children will have 13 years of free education.

Child marriage predominantly impacts girls, who are often married young to improve their families’ financial circumstances. Around 30% of girls in Sierra Leone are married before the age of 18, and 9% marry before the age of 15. These figures are higher in rural areas.

It is hoped that the change in law will decrease the high pregnancy rate among teenage girls, as pregnancy complications are currently the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19.

By passing this law, Sierra Leone joins Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Zimbabwe, which all have laws stating that the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both boys and girls, with no exceptions.

“While the passing of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill is a monumental step forward, it is just the beginning,” said Esther Elliot-Nyuma, advocacy, campaigns, communications and media director for Sierra Leone at Save the Children International. “Ensuring that the law is enforced and that communities are educated about the harmful effects of child marriage is crucial.

“We must work closely with local leaders, educators, and families to change mindsets and create an environment where girls can thrive.”

Child marriage around the world

More than 100 countries around the world still have laws that allow children to be married, including the US, France, Ireland and Argentina, where there is no minimum legal age for marriage.
According to the international NGO Girls Not Brides, it will take 300 years to end child marriage globally at the current rates of progress.

The practice is particularly widespread in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings: 7 of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence are in West and Central Africa, where ongoing crises are putting more girls at risk.

While South Asia has seen the greatest decline in child marriage, nearly half (45%) of all girls and women married before age 18 live in the region, with a third in India alone.

According to Girls Not Brides, girls who marry before 18 have limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, and economic and political participation. It also limits control over their own bodies, putting them at greater risk of gender-based violence.


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