12 February 2016: AdvocAid have today released a briefing paper urging the President of Sierra Leone to sign the Safe Abortion Act 2015 and thereby enhance the human rights of women and prevent needless deaths.

The paper comes just one week after they released an open letter to President Ernest Bai Koroma – alongside Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and four other local NGOs – to sign into law the Safe Abortion Act 2015. The Act was passed by Parliament in December 2015, but is yet to be signed into law by the President, due to concerns raised by Sierra Leone’s religious leaders.

Currently, it is a criminal offence for a woman in Sierra Leone to have an abortion, or for someone to provide her with such a service, unless the mother’s life is at risk. Such restrictions contravene numerous international and regional commitments the country has made, on the Rights of Women in Africa.

In the decade in which they have operated in Sierra Leone, AdvocAid have represented a number of women that have been arrested due to illegal abortions, including the case of Joan (name changed to protect her identity), a nurse convicted in July 2009 of the manslaughter of a young schoolgirl, who allegedly came to her for abortion services, but later died.

Joan was sentenced to 6-years imprisonment. She denies the allegation and the autopsy report was inconclusive to show that Joan’s actions led to the death of the schoolgirl. AdvocAid attempted to lodge an appeal for Joan, but her High Court file was missing, and by the time the matter was ready for hearing, she had served her full sentence.

AdvocAid have been operating in Sierra Leone since 2006, providing critical free legal aid and education to girls and women. Their Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, comments that: “AdvocAid firmly supports women’s right to have access to legal and safe abortion services – this is a critical component of women’s fundamental human rights. In Sierra Leone, women are gagged by the Offences against the Person Act that was passed in 1861, criminalizing abortions in almost all scenarios. Women’s lives are being put at risk, due a law that bears no relevance to today’s needs, as they resort to unsafe and unsanitary means to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This cannot continue, and AdvocAid will stand side-by-side with Sierra Leone’s women, until they are granted the right to determine their future, and that of their child.”

Restrictions on access to abortion information and services, violate the rights to equality and non-discrimination, as well as multiple other human rights, including the rights to physical integrity, health and the ability to determine the number and spacing of one’s children.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 2015 data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showing maternal mortality in Sierra Leone at an alarming 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births. Unsafe abortions – often resulting from restrictive laws and poor access to sexual and reproductive health services – is one of the main factors contributing to maternal deaths.

In January 2016, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights launched a continent wide campaign for the de-criminlisation of abortion.

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For further case studies, information on the Safe Abortion Act, contact:

  • Ms Simitie Lavaly: Executive Director AdvocAid
  • AdvocAid, 1st Floor, 39 Brook Street, Freetown
  • Email: advocaid@gmail.com
  • Tel: +232 (0)78 563165 / 099 902046

Download a copy of the briefing paper and Download a hard copy of this press release