Sierra Leone: Legal Aid Board and Police Launch Campaign Against Domestic Violence in COVID-19 Pandemic

President Julius Maada Bio.

The Inspector General of Police (IG), Ambrose Michael Sovula was honored with the launch of the Campaign against domestic violence in the COVID-19 pandemic. The launch took place during the Executive Management Board (EMB) meeting of the Police on 8 April 2020 at the Senior Police Officers Mess at Kingtom in Freetown.

The campaign is an initiative of the Board which focuses particularly on domestic violence because it has been on the increase as the country grapples with the COVID-19.

The IG, Ambrose Michael Sovula while launching the campaign said he is no stranger to the Board having worked with its staff on many issues bordering on the provision of legal assistance to suspects and tapping their expertise in explaining the laws.

He recalled the hardship women have to endure in bringing up their children. He added that he learned lessons from what his mother had to endure in taking care of the family and educating her children. He said this has taught him to take care of his siblings and also ensure other women do not have to endure hardship and abuses as they carry the burden of taking care of their children.

The IG expressed optimism at the partnership noting that efforts will go towards ensuring that domestic violence and sexual offences including sexual penetration of children will be brought to the barest minimum during this difficult period when the country is grappling with the COVID-19.

As part of measures at mitigating the spread of the COVID-19, the IG urged the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police, Mohamed Braima Jah who also doubles as the Director of Crimes Service to reduce the number of suspects particularly those detained for minor offences in Police Stations and Posts.

The Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles expressed delight at the relationship between the Board and the Police, particularly with the new Inspector General (IG), Ambrose Michael Sovula. She reaffirmed that the relationship between the Board and the new IG has been good even before his appointment. He added that the Board had worked with him in upholding the rights of suspects.

She said, so far, the Board is satisfied with the performance of the police in enforcing law and order coupled with the fight against COVID-19 especially on issues related to domestic violence and sexual offences. She emphasized the seriousness of these abuses.

She added that the project is both important and timely because domestic violence normally increases during crisis as evidenced in the Ebola scourge in 2014 - 16. She said during that period the country witnessed an increase in teenage pregnancy and domestic violence.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles spoke on how sex has been used as an instrument of domestic violence. She noted that this is particularly serious during lockdowns when husbands spend more time at home. She added that these abuses have become a concern not only in Sierra Leone but globally.

She stressed that instead of waiting for complaints, the campaign by the Board is a proactive approach to put a stop to these abuses or bring them to the barest minimum at the very least. Ms. Carlton-Hanciles recalled how domestic violence allegedly resulted in the stabbing of a man to death by his wife.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles also joined the IGP to called on the police to cut down on the number of people detain in their cells. She added that she will also be making the same request to the Chief Justice to ensure Magistrates and Judges grant bail to accused persons especially for minor offences.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles thanked the SLP for compiling a telephone directory of Regional Commanders, Local Units Commanders (LUCs), Line Managers for Family Support Units (FSUs) and Crime Officers. According to Ms. Carlton-Hanciles the directory will make it easy for victims of domestic abuse to know where to seek help. She added that the Directory will improve communication and by extension relationship between the police and the people. She assured the IG that the telephone directory will be distributed to partners including Council of Paramount Chiefs, Legal Aid Providers, Civil Society Organizations, Media and Paralegals so that they will know Police Officers to contact during this pandemic. The Directory was earlier on presented to Ms. Carlton-Hanciles by Mr. Mohamed Braima Jah the Director of Crime Services.

The launch was climaxed with a performance by the WANPOT comedians which depicts sexual harassment, rape and other abuses women are subjected to for denying their partners sex. It also depicts how the women sought and received help from the police.

The launch was graced by partners including the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

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