Sierra Leone’s human rights campaigner-Umar S.Sheriff is still in the wilderness after being chased for his popular anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaign across the country.
Sheriff who hailed from Bo town, Southern Sierra Leone got enticed with his anti FGM or Bondo society campaign when he lost his niece at age 10 after being forcefully initiated into the Bondo Society. After this sad incident, family sources say, he became involved in advocating for laws that will protect and promote the general wellbeing of children in Sierra Leone. He advocated for the implementation of the Child’s Right Act of 2007 and the right of consent to be given to those who have attained the age of 18 years before being initiated.
The Bondo Society in Sierra Leone is an all-female secret society.The purpose of this age long initiation is to help young women earn the cultural rites of passage into adulthood but over the years many criticisms have been levied against its practice. Even the country’s former Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs-Dr. Sylvia Blyden has challenged those Civil Society groups and other proponents to ban the initiation of children.
Because of his consistent demands for the practice to be banned, Sheriff was chased out of Freetown and relocated to Gbinti, Northern Sierra Leone, where he met stiff resistance as well.
“Being a school teacher, Umar S.Sheriff lobbied some Members of Parliament for a Bill banning the FGM and further institute punitive action against those engaged in the practice,” said Mohamed Conteh, Publicity Secretary for Defenders of Human Rights. He said, “our organization is engaged in advocacy for the past nine years and noticed that FGM has been a spoken taboo but Sheriff has never wavered in his advocacy.”
A close relative to Sheriff’s family stated that immediately after the commemoration of the African Children’s Day on the 16th June 2017, Umar S.Sheriff devised a new strategy by engaging school children and engendering a radio debate which caught the attention of the players involved.
With a huge success in his anti FGM campaign, the relative who prefer anonymity said, “Sheriff started receiving anonymous phone calls and text messages threatening to kill him.”
After being relocated to Gbenti, Sheriff organized a public lecture with a megaphone. He was chased by angry youth who reportedly got authorization from the Chiefdom authorities. Asked whether he was an eye witness, he said he was briefed accordingly when he raised some money to give Sheriff who escaped to Pamlap, Sierra Leone –Guinea borders.
He explained that Sheriff arrived at the border crossing point on 8th of October 2017 and later detained for hours for not having the appropriate travelling documents.
“After being released by the Guinean border police, Sheriff left for Conakry on 8th October 2017. We later called him informing him that his house had been vandalized.”
Efforts to hear from the Sierra Leone police and the Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs proved futile. Our investigation continues.
By Veronica Aisha Musa