Family members couldn't understand at first why a five-year-old girl was no longer able to move her legs or control her bladder. She lay on the ground for months, not able to play or even walk.
Those in the community looking for easy answers blamed witchcraft for her condition. However, the real reason was even worse. They later learned she had been brutally raped and was paralyzed from her injuries, Daily Mail reports.
The heart-wrenching case has brought forth the menace of sexual violence in Sierra Leone, where crimes of this nature are mostly dealt with in private and kept hush between the families involved. President Julius Maada Bio has vowed to help the five-year-old get the best medical treatment abroad after he recently declared sexual violence a national emergency.
Nonetheless, the months-old case has now shown just how difficult it is to combat sexual violence in the country. The victim's father objected to the rape being tried in court, forcing police to issue a restraining order against him so she could continue being treated. As of now, no court date has been set, nor a prosecutor chosen for the trial.
The president's wife Fatima Maada Bio has been a fervent promoter of the rights of girls. After hearing about the child's case, she and her husband rushed to the Aberdeen Women's Center to see the five-year-old, who is receiving free medical care at the hospital.
While there is widespread support across Sierra Leone for sexual violence victims, the president's proclamation in February is mired in controversy. The parliament is yet to approve the measure, and opposition party legislators have already objected to the president's unilateral declaration. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's attorney general has ordered judges to start applying the latest measures already.
A special police division has been assigned to handle sexual assault cases involving minors. Those convicted of raping children will be imprisoned for life, per the declaration.
As of now, the nation's laws carry a maximum penalty of 15 years with no minimum sentencing requirement. Shockingly, one man convicted of raping a 13-year-old last year served only 24 hours in prison, advocates say.
In this particular case involving the five-year-old, the man accused is her own uncle. He is currently remanded in custody without bail before he appears at the country's high court.
According to health workers at the Aberdeen Women's Center, the victim was only four when she was raped. They, too, are desperately waiting for the law to be fully implemented as a deterrent.
Ivy Kalama with the Freedom from Fistula Foundation, which runs the clinic, said: "It's OK for us to declare such an emergency and to say that we're going to give life imprisonment. But until it happens to one person, two people - that's when we start to see the law taking effect."
That said, the five-year-old is still unable to walk a year after the assault. She has had no choice but to use a hand-crank wheelchair to move around the health center's grounds, and has been undergoing treatment for bed sores that developed on her back due to immobility.
Furthermore, one of her leg bones is broken and needs to be kept in traction as she lies in her hospital bed. Health workers believe it is a complication of her paralysis.