Sierra Leone: Disowned by her family at 13 for falling pregnant

At eight months pregnant, 13-year-old Aisatu* sits in silence listening to music playing from a badly tuned FM radio. As dusk falls, Aisatu from Sierra Leone is another day closer to becoming a child mother – something that she did not plan for, nor wants.

During her short life, she has experienced so much pain that she has become emotionally detached, desperately avoiding direct eye contact with the adults around her. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she was brought up by her elderly grandparents and had to take care of them and do all the chores around the house.

Her auntie and uncle were regular visitors to her grandparents' house as she grew up. "One day I went to the river to fetch water, my uncle, followed me. I was seven years old at the time. He pushed me into the bush and raped me," she says quietly.

At such a young and with no proper guidance, she was unaware of the gravity of the violation she had suffered and did not report it to anyone. This allowed her abuser to continue to attack her throughout her early childhood.

As she grew older, she became aware that what her uncle was doing was wrong. When the attacks increased, Aisatu confided in her neighbour who told her to keep quiet.

"She said my auntie would kill me for sharing a husband with her," she explains. "My uncle did not stop. Then one day, I started feeling sick, and I was taken to the hospital where they tested me and found out that I was pregnant. I was shocked."

Her grandmother and the nurses tried to make sense of what had happened, and she finally told them the truth. But when her aunt heard, she refused to believe Aisatu and branded her a liar. Meanwhile her uncle had disappeared and despite an extensive police search, has still not been found. It is believed that has fled to a neighbouring country.

After hearing Aisatu's story, the health centre contacted Plan International for assistance as her relatives blamed her and refused to allow her to return home, fearing for their family's reputation. Plan International's child protection team supports girls like Aisatu who have suffered from gender-based violence.

Our work focusses on teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and female genital mutilation and ensures children in Sierra Leone are protected from abuse, exploitation, neglect, and violence.

"Norms and practices perpetuating violence in communities are addressed through community engagement activities. Awareness raising on teenage pregnancy is conducted in various communities. We also tackle harmful masculinity that perpetuates child marriage and teenage pregnancy," explains Country Director, Evariste Sindayigaya.

"This increases the understanding of the power imbalance and helps boys and men become agents of change, supporting girls that have been violated and campaign against gender-based violence and child marriage in their communities."

Aisatu is now being cared for by our implementing partners Defence for Children International who provide legal assistance, psychosocial and economic support for children who have suffered abuse and violence.

With our help, she is now more hopeful for her future. Once her baby is born, she wants to return to school to study domestic science and home management.

She also hopes to one day being reunited with her family and speaks fondly of her grandmother. "She loves me, but she is old and could not protect me from the man who raped me. She was so angry with my uncle," Aisatu says.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

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