At first no one knew why the 5-year-old girl could no longer move her legs or control her urine. For months she lay on the ground, unable to walk or play. Some blamed witchcraft but the real reason was more horrific: The child had been brutally raped and left paralyzed as a result of her injuries, the AP reports. The case has brought the issue of sexual violence against children to the forefront in Sierra Leone, where such crimes are often dealt with between families in private. In February, President Julius Maada Bio declared sexual violence a national emergency and he has vowed to help the 5-year-old get medical treatment abroad. But months later the girl's case has shown just how difficult combating sexual violence can be: Her father objected to the rape being tried in court, requiring police to issue a restraining order so she could continue receiving medical treatment.
No court date has been set, not even a prosecutor chosen. Little has changed, too, for the child whose life was so cruelly affected. The president's proclamation in February has not been without controversy despite the widespread support for sexual violence victims. The declaration calls for a special police division to handle sexual assault cases involving minors. Most significantly, it calls for life imprisonment for those convicted of raping children. The law in the West African nation had carried a maximum penalty of 15 years, with no minimum sentencing requirement, but advocates say one man convicted of raping a 13-year-old served only 24 hours last year. The man accused in the 5-year-old's case—who is her uncle—remains jailed without bail while his case is before the country's high court. A defense lawyer has yet to be assigned. (Judges who reversed a cadet's rape conviction said the victim was too quiet.)