In the district of Moyamba, three hours from the capital Freetown, lives 22-year-old Foday, a member of Plan’s International Sierra Leone’s Youth Advisory Panel. As a young man, he has chosen to take action against the violence that girls and women in Sierra Leone face every day.
“The worst part of the Ebola epidemic is that sexual violence against girls has increased dramatically during this last year,” Foday said. “It torments me to see and hear all the things that happen to girls in this area. It gives me no peace.”
Foday believes that it is easier for him, as a young man, to communicate with other young men and make them change their behavior.
The older generation cannot talk about these questions in a way that my friends would understand. It is about time that young men like me stand up and say 'no' to gender-based violence. In order to change attitudes in society, we need to bring the younger boys along.
Through Plan, Foday has learned about children’s and women’s rights, and he also works as a volunteer for the organization Defence for Children International, where he handles reports from girls who have been subjected to crimes of violence. He then helps the girls report their cases to the police and further through the legal system.
“What has been increasing substantially here is the number of men who rape children under the age of 18,” he said. “Many girls are very young. Last week I supervised a case in a local court hearing, where a 50-year-old man had raped a 9-year-old girl. It is terrible, and I pray to God that he will receive a long prison sentence.”
Foday explains that it is hard for those who have suffered sexual assault to obtain redress through judicial authorities. The government in Sierra Leone has passed a new national law to protect children’s rights, as well as three national laws to reinforce women’s rights (regarding sexual assault, physical abuse, and marriage). But there are shortcomings in the implementation, due to the lack of economic resources that would enable authorities involved to fulfil their duties. Also, the legal system is weak and sometimes corrupt.
“In my area, it takes a long time until cases get treated by higher courts and the perpetrators receive their sentences. It is very frustrating,” Foday said.
Foday has hopes to continue his studies in the future but the Ebola epidemic halted his plans.
“I grow vegetables and was not able to sell them when the market was closed,” he said. “So yes, I have been affected economically. I have not had enough food and have not been able to study. But I hope that I will be able to finish my education and that I will be able to continue being an advocate for the rights of children and adolescents."
“My hope is that Ebola and sexual violence against girls will be eradicated in Sierra Leone,” he said.