By Sultan Kargbo
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs has completely dissociated Government from the headline of New Citizen newspaper of Thursday 18th May 2017 entitled as “Religious Leaders schooled on FGM strategy”. Speaking to journalists yesterday, the Director of Gender Mr. Charles Vandy condemned the words of one Dr. Owolabi Bjalkandra who spoke of a so-called National Strategy on FGM which the government says “does not even exist”. The fact is that a draft strategy sponsored by UNICEF has been long ago discarded by Government.
However Dr. Bjalkandra had been quoted in yesterday New Citizen as saying that Government of Sierra Leone has such a Strategy which recognized that Bondo Society abused rights of women and girls during Bondo initiation.
Whilst reacting, Mr. Vandy said the statement made by Dr. Bjalkandra was very unfortunate and did not represent official policy. He said, the position of Government is to implore traditional Bondo women leaders to “totally avoid” the initiation of girls below the age of 18 years into the Bondo society but the Government “does not stop adult women from choosing to be initiated”. Therefore, he said the statement of Dr. Bjalkandra referencing women alongside children was completely unfortunate.
Mr. Vandy said government has not banned Bondo, but rather they are imploring Bondo women to practice the positive aspects of it. He said, the positive aspect of the Bondo practice include, not to initiate girls under the age of 18 years and also not to forcefully initiate women above the age of 18.
Mr. Vandy added that at the National level “Government has made tremendous effort in ensuring the advancement and promotion of women and girls rights” and this includes the rights of women to willingly be initiated into Bondo Society.
Director of Gender also further added that the Child Rights Act of Sierra Leone defines the age of child as 18 and therefore it is not permissible to initiate girls into secret society who are under18 years. He therefore stated that the Government of Sierra Leone respects Bondo Society as one of the traditional institutions that contributes to the development of the country, and that it wants the Bondo Society to respect a girl’s right to first reach the age of 18 years and make a choice.
He however said whilst women aged 18 years and above can be freely initiated into the Bondo Society if she so desires, no woman should be forced into Bondo.