Sierra Leone lawmakers on Friday passed a sexual offences law introducing stiff minimum sentences for offenders that has been hailed as a victory in a nation where sexual abuse is rife.
Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs Stephen Gaojia said the new bill was "a victory for Sierra Leoneans as it protects women, children and the disabled against sexual abuse".
"It protects school children especially the girl child from abuse by teachers, pastors, imams, traditional healers and others and prohibits forced sex in marital relationships," the minister told a radio station.
The new law raises minimum jail sentences from two years to between five and fifteen years.
"The bill signals a big day in the lives of Sierra Leoneans as it took parliament two years to pass it into law as it had to go through various committee stages," said Gaojia.
He said government would embark on a mass awareness programme.
Rape and sexual abuse were systematic in the nation during its decade-long civil war which officially ended in 2002. Levels remain high although statistics are unreliable.