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Sierra Leone[1] [print]

Last edited: May 2005

 

Summary and Analysis

 

Sierra Leone ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in June of 1990 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in May of 2002.  It is unclear what force in the law, if any, these treaties carry.

 

There are two ways in which a child in Sierra Leone can be placed within the system of child protection.  First, under the Children's Ordinance of 1926, the court may order removal and place the child with a relative or some “other fit person named by the court” when 1) the parent or other guardian is convicted of a criminal offense involving jail, or one of the list of named offenses in the ordinance (abandoning/neglecting a child, prostitution, etc.), 2) the court is convinced by the testimony of any person who “is acting in the interests of a child” that the child is in danger or is being cause unnecessary suffering, or 3) the court hears testimony by a duly qualified medical practitioner that the child is in serious danger to his or her “life or health.”  There is no indication in the statutes of Sierra Leone that there is a duty on the part of any actor – medical professional, police officer, probation officer – to report abuse or neglect when it is suspected.  Rather, it is at the discretion of these individuals.

 

Second, under the Children and Young Persons Ordinance of 1945, a child may be taken into custody and brought before the court if they are found begging, wandering without a home, or destitute, or if the child is living with a criminal, prostitute, or drunk.  Again, there is no affirmative duty to remove such children, but rather it appears to be at the discretion of the officers involved whether or not to take a child into custody.  Similar to the 1926 Ordinance, when a child is brought before the court, the judge may order the child placed in the custody of a “relative or some other fit person” determined by the court. 

 

Though not required by statute, customary law gives children the opportunity to air their views in legal proceedings in which, though not parties in the action, they will be directly affected by the judgment or order, especially where custody is the issue. In cases where their rights are affected and they become parties in an action, children are represented by a guardian ad litem appointed by the court.[2]  Children are a “party” when they have property that is at stake in a matter.  In custody cases, or abuse cases, the child is not considered a “party.” 

 

Sources of Law (In Order of Authority)

 

Statutes

 

An Ordinance to Prevent Cruelty to Children (Children's Ordinance), Act No. 42 of 1926[3]

 

19. (1) Where a person having the custody, charge or care of a child has been –

 

(a) convicted of committing in respect of such child an offence under this Ordinance, or any of the offences mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, or

(b) committed for trial for any such offense, or

(c)  bound over to keep the peace towards such child, by any court,

 

that court either at the time when the person is so convicted, committed for trial or bound over, and without requiring any new proceedings to be instituted for the purpose, or at any other time, may, if satisfied on inquiry that it is expedient so to deal with the child, order that the child be taken out of the custody, charge or care of the person so convicted, committed for trial, or bound over, and be committed to the care of a relative of the child or some other fit person named by the court (such relative or other person being willing to undertake such care) until he attains the age of sixteen years, or for any shorter period, and that court or any court of like jurisdiction may of its own motion, or on the application of any person, from time to time by order renew, vary and revoke any such order.

 

(2) If the child has a parent or legal guardian, no order shall be made under this section unless the parent or legal guardian has been convicted of or committed for trial for the offense or is under committal for trial for having been, or has been proved to the satisfaction of the court making the order to have been, party, or privy to the offense, or has been bound over to keep the peace towards the child or cannot be found.

 

20. (1) Any person to whose care a child is committed under this Ordinance shall, whilst the order is in force, have the like control over the child as if he were his parent, and shall be responsible for his maintenance, and the child shall continue in the care of such person, notwithstanding that he is claimed by his parent or any other person, and if any person –

 

(a) knowingly assists or induces, directly or indirectly, a child to escape from the person to whose care he is so committed; or

(b) knowingly harbours, conceals, or prevents from returning to such person, a child who has so escaped, or knowingly assists in so doing;

 

he shall be guilty of an offence, and shall on summary conviction be liable for a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or to be imprisoned, with or without hard labour, for any period not exceeding two months.

 

22. (1) If it appears to a magistrate or Justice of the Peace on information on oath laid by any person who, in the opinion of the magistrate or Justice of the Peace, is acting in the interest of a child that there is reasonable cause to suspect –

 

(a) that the child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, or neglected in any place within the jurisdiction in a manner likely to cause the child unnecessary suffering, or to be injurious to his health; or

(b) that an offence under this Ordinance, or any offence mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, has been or is being committed in respect of a child, the magistrate or Justice of the peace may issue a warrant

(i) authorizing any constable named therein to search for such child and, if it is found that he has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, or neglected in manner aforesaid, or that any such offence as aforesaid has been or is being committed in respect of the child, to take him to and detain him in a place of safety until he can be brought before the court, or

(ii) authorizing any constable to remove the child with or without search to a place of safety and detain him there until he can be brought before the court;

 

and the court before whom the child is brought may commit him to the care of a relative or other fit person in like manner as if the person in whose care he was had been committed for trial or an offence under this Ordinance. 

 

(2) The magistrate or Justice of the Peace issuing a warrant under this section may by the same warrant cause any person accused of any offence in respect of the child to be apprehended an brought before the court and proceedings to be taken against such person according to law.

 

23. (1) Where a magistrate or Justice of the Peace is satisfied by the evidence of a duly qualified medical practitioner that the attendance before a court of any child in respect of whom an offence under this Ordinance, or any of the offences mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, is alleged to have been committed, would involve serious danger to the life or health of the child, the magistrate or Justice of the Peace may take in writing the deposition of the child on oath, and shall thereupon subscribe the deposition and add thereto a statement of the reason for taking the deposition was taken, and of the names of the persons (if any) present at the taking thereof.

 

24. Where on the trial of any person for an offence under this Ordinance, or any of the offences mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, if the court is satisfied by the evidence of a duly qualified medical practitioner that the attendance before the court of any child in respect of whom the offence is alleged to have been committed would involve serious danger to the life or health of the child, any deposition of the child, duly taken, shall be admissible in evidence either for or against the accused person without further proof thereof-

 

(a)   if it purports to be signed by the magistrate or Justice of the Peace by or before whom it purports to be taken; and

(b)  if it is proved that reasonable notice of the intention to take the deposition has been served upon the person against whom it is proposed to use it as evidence, and that that person or his counsel or solicitor had, or might have had if he had chosen to be present, an opportunity of cross-examining the child making the deposition.

 

25. Where, in any proceeding against any person for an offence under this Ordinance, or for any of the offences mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, the child in respect of whom the offence is charged to have been committed, or any other child of tender years who is tendered as a witness, does not in the opinion of the court understand the nature of an oath, the evidence of that child may be received, though not given upon oath, if, in the opinion of the court the child is possessed of sufficient intelligence to justify the reception of the evidence, and understands the duty of speaking the truth; and the evidence of the child, though not given on oath, but otherwise duly taken and reduced into writing, shall be deemed to be a deposition within the meaning of this Ordinance: Provided that-

 

(a) a person shall not be liable to be convicted of any offence unless the testimony admitted by virtue of this section, and given on behalf of the prosecution, is corroborated by some other material evidence in support thereof implicating the accused; and

(b) any child, whose evidence is received as aforesaid and who wilfully gives false evidence under such circumstances that, if the evidence had been given on oath, he would have been guilty of perjury, shall be liable on summary conviction to be adjudged such punishment as might have been awarded had he been charged with perjury, and the case dealt with summarily under the Perjury Ordinance.

 

26. Where in any proceedings with relation to an offence under this Ordinance, or any of the offences mentioned in the schedule to this Ordinance, the court is satisfied that the attendance before the court of any child in respect of whom the offence is alleged to have been committed is not essential to the just hearing of the case, the case may be proceeded with and determined in the absence of the child.

 

An Ordinance Relating to Young Persons and Children, No. 35 of 1945

 

13. If the accused does not employ counsel, the court shall, at the close of the examination of each witness for the prosecution, ask the accused whether he wishes to put any questions to that witness.

 

Part IV. Children and Young Persons in Need of care and Protection

 

26. (1) Any administrative officer or police office above the rank of sub-inspector may bring before a juvenile court any child or young person who –

 

(a) is found begging or receiving alms (whether or not there is any pretence of singing, playing, performing, offering anything for sale or otherwise), or being in any street, premises or place for the purpose of so begging or receiving alms; or

(b) is found wandering and not having any home or settled place of abode, or visible means of subsistence, or is found wandering and having no parent or guardian or a parent or guardian who does not exercise proper guardianship; or

(c) is found destitute, not being an orphan; and having both parents or his surviving parent, or in the case of an illegitimate child or young person his mother, undergoing imprisonment; or

(d) is under the care of a parent or guardian of criminal or drunken habits; or

(e) frequents the company of any reputed thief, or common or reputed prostitute; or

(f) is being persistently ill-treated or neglected by his parent or guardian; or

(g) is lodging or residing in a house or the part of a house used by any prostitute for the purpose of prostitution, or is otherwise living in circumstances calculated to cause, encourage or favour the seduction or prostitution of the child or young person,

 

and the court before which a person is brought as coming within one of those descriptions, if satisfied on enquiry of that fact, may order the child or young person to be taken out of the custody, charge or care of any person, and to be committed to the care of a relative or some other fit person or institution named by the court (such relative, other person or institution being willing to undertake such care), until the child or young person attains the age of eighteen years, or for any shorter period and the court may of its own motion, or on the application of any person, from time to time, by order renew, vary or revoke any such order:

 

Provided that the court may at any time on the application of the person or institution to whose care any female child or young person is committed under this section, and with the consent of such child or young person, extend the period for which she was so committed until she attains the age of twenty-one years.

 

Local Contact Information

 

Ms. Mariatu Bangua

Probation Officer, Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs

(232) 22-240-852 (landline)

(232) 76-621-161 (mobile)

 

Mr. Abdul-Manaff Kemokai

National Programme Coordinator, Defense for Children International – Sierra Leone

(232) 22-221-826 (landline)

(232) 76-624-060 (mobile)

manaffkemokai@yahoo.co.uk

 



Endnotes

[1] This page is also available as a .pdf Document, and Word Document.

[2] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention (Addendum, Sierra Leone), CRC/C/3/add.43, 3 June 1996, available at http://www.hri.ca/fortherecord1997/documentation/tbodies/crc-c-3-add43.htm.

[3] Children's Ordinance (1926), available here, and also as .pdf Document, and also as Word Document.

 

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