Day of the African Child: AdvocAid calls for better child protection in the justice sector

In partnership with:    CHILDREN AND JUVENILES BEHIND BARS – In Sierra Leone’s justice system, children and youth are usually not treated any differently than adults. They often spend excessive time behind bars without charge – considered guilty until proved innocent. Detention is often the first resort for offences committed by children. In late May 2016, AdvocAid’s Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, visited the remand home for juveniles in Bo on an unannounced monitoring visit. Here she met 21 children under the age of 18 – including one 10-year old boy charged with murder – held in a dark, unmaintained detention facility with poor sanitation facilities and too few mattresses. Two young girls were also detained at the remand home, but there is no gate separating the girls’ and boy’s dormitories and no female member of staff. The remand home is massively under-funded, and staff members stated that they lack the resources to refurbish the facility. The conditions in the Bo Remand Home clearly violate the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules), the United Nation Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) as well as procedures for child protection outlined in Sierra Leone’s 2007 Child Rights Act and the Children and Young Persons Act 1945. HELP US IMPROVE CHILD JUSTICE – On the Day of the African Child 2016, AdvocAid joins forces with Save the Children to upgrade detention facilities in the Bo Remand Home. We are mobilising our resources and connections to repaint the walls...

AdvocAid Celebrates Independence and 10 Years of Access to Justice

26 April 2016: AdvocAid is celebrating Sierra Leone’s 55th Independence Day with girls, women and staff in the country’s Correctional Centres and Remand Homes, highlighting the continued need since Independence to improve detention conditions for women and girls. AdvocAid staff, alongside representatives from human rights organisations and government institutions, will be visiting Correctional Centres and Remand Homes in Freetown, Makeni, Kono, Kenema, Bo and Port Loko. AdvocAid provides legal aid, legal rights awareness and welfare support to women and girls in conflict with the law in all six towns. The visits will involve the distribution of Ebola prevention materials, celebratory food and recreational games; additionally, at Bo Correctional Centre, AdvocAid will be supporting the rehabilitation of a water well, due to a critical lack of access to water. Although Sierra Leone received the all clear from Ebola on 17 March, there continue to be cases in neighbouring countries, and the Correctional Service must continue to safeguard its inmates and staff from an outbreak. The Ebola prevention materials have been generously funded by a grant from GlobalGiving. As well as celebrating 55 years of independence, these events will commence AdvocAid’s 10 Year Anniversary celebrations. AdvocAid’s Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, comments: AdvocAid started working with women in prison 10 years ago, so we see today as a day for joint celebration in Sierra Leone – 55 years of Independence, and a decade of working with the Correctional Service to support women and girls in conflict with the law. We are delighted to be sharing this day with the women and girls that we support, as well as our colleagues across the Correctional...

Imprisoned for Debt? AdvocAid Says it is Time to Reform the Larceny Act 1916

30 March 2016: AdvocAid are today calling for reform to Sierra Leone’s Larceny Act – an act that leads to many Sierra Leonean women being illegally imprisoned for debt. Women owing as little as Le 250,000 (around $60) have been imprisoned for up to three years. This call comes one week after AdvocAid and the British Council Sierra Leone held a policy debate on the topic, titled Decongesting Correctional Centres: lifting the criminalising of owing a debt under the Larceny Act 1916, as part of their co-delivered EU funded Justice Matters Programme. Over the two-year programme, it has become increasingly evident that women in Sierra Leone still suffer disproportionately from the lack of actions taken to decriminalise debt. AdvocAid – a Civil Society Organisation providing free legal aid to women in Sierra Leone – highlight that ‘fraudulent conversion’ is an offence contained in section 20(1)(iv)(b) of the Larceny Act 1916. It is, intended to criminalise the use of property for purposes other than that for which it was given and/or intended. It is AdvocAid’s experience that interpretations of fraudulent conversion in Sierra Leone have now evolved far beyond this original definition, distinctly disadvantaging women. Charges are increasingly applied to situations where a debtor is unable to repay a sum of money they had initially agreed to pay the complainant. It is not the first time that AdvocAid have raised this issue, releasing the ‘Women, Debt and Detention’ report in 2012. One of AdvocAid’s clients is Saptieu (28), a trader. She owed her supplier Le 2,400,000 ($600) for goods taken on credit. As she was unable to pay the full amount on...

AdvocAid Urges the President to Sign the Safe Abortion Act

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...

Launch of Educational TV Drama Police Case II

AdvocAid to Launch Second Series of Educational TV Drama Police Case 2  26 October 2015: Today, AdvocAid have unveiled plans for the launch of Police Case II on both TV and Radio, the follow-up to their highly successful four part 2012 legal educational drama. Due on air in October 2015, Police Case II consists of eight episodes that each aim to not only entertain their audience, but also provide them with vital information about their legal rights within the criminal justice system, and ensure girls and women are linked with organisations that can offer legal support and assistance. The series, set in Freetown, deals with practical legal issues that mainly impact on the lives of vulnerable women and girls. Each of the eight episodes focusses on a specific legal issue ranging from Ebola regulations and sexual and gender-based violence, to loitering, traffic Laws, Infanticide, child trafficking larceny and debt. The story lines have been carefully scripted to be accessible to viewers and listeners, with the intention that through creating familiar scenarios, the audience will recognise how to act in the future with their new found legal understanding. AdvocAid has worked in partnership with the UNDP, EU and the British Council Sierra Leone to bring this project to fruition, using focus groups to establish the most common legal issues to educate on, and the best story lines to ensure the series remains gripping and entertaining, as well as educational. As Sonia Williams, Acting Director of AdvocAid points out: “We hope that our audience will recognise the situations as common occurrences, especially for women and girls. It is our hope that by dramatizing scenarios,...

AdvocAid Launch ‘Pay No Bribe For Bail’ campaign

“Pay No Bribe for Bail” is the message from AdvocAid as they launch new campaign in Sierra Leone 23 October: AdvocAid have today launched their “Pay No Bribe for Bail” campaign, aimed at educating people across Sierra Leone that they should not pay bribes to courts or police stations to secure bail. AdvocAid have partnered with the Anti-Corruption Commission to deliver this campaign, with the Commissioner providing the key-note speech at today’s launch event. This campaign will be communicated via: Radio and Television infomercials broadcast nationwide; posters displayed at police stations, courts and public venues; a social media campaign; distribution of wristbands; and a launch and stakeholder discussion. There is widespread belief that a sum of money must officially be paid to secure bail in Sierra Leone; inability to pay these bribes results in prolonged pre-trial detention, overcrowding in police and prison cells, and human rights abuses. One case that AdvocAid heard of was from Elizabeth (name changed to protect identity), who stated: “I’ve learnt today that bail is free. My Aunty had a case at Congo Cross Police Station and had to pay Le 200,000 to bail her child.” Surprisingly, even educated law students were unaware that bail should be free. During interviews for legal externships at AdvocAid in 2011, several law students at Fourah Bay College thought that there was a standard “fee” charged by the police to access police bail. Alongside the public campaign, AdvocAid have today released a briefing paper highlighting the severity of corruption not only within the bail system in Sierra Leone, but countrywide. The briefing paper positions corruption as an endemic and widespread problem in Sierra Leone. In 2013, it had the highest...