Role of Traditions: Rights to make contracts in Sierra Leone

Submitted by gOwino on Mon, 2014-05-19 19:08
Revised by dmkelner on Wed, 2014-05-28 16:58

As discussed above, Article 27 (4)(c) of the Constitution bans discrimination on the basis of sex. However, neither Islamic law nor customary law is subject to this provision.1

1. Islamic Law

Technically Islamic law only applies to marriage, divorce, and succession in Sierra Leone and therefore according to the written law, a women’s right to form a contract is not affected by Islamic law.2. However, in rural societies Islamic law often plays a larger role than is allowed by the letter of the law.3 Islamic law in rural societies is often mixed with customary or traditional law, in some areas these two types of law are so tightly intertwined that they cannot be separated.4 Unfortunately, there is very little information on the effects of Islamic Laws on women in these settings where Islamic and customary law are mixed. Further research on this is needed.

2. Customary Law

Section 170(3) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone defines customary law as “rules of law which by custom are applicable to particular communities in Sierra Leone.” General Constitutional prohibitions against discrimination do not apply to customary law.

Because customary law is generally unwritten and different groups follow and apply different forms of customary law, determining women’s rights to enter into contracts under customary law is difficult. While the World Bank’s survey of legal protections for women found no restrictions on single women’s abilities to enter into contracts differently than men, customary law is often undocumented, and therefore it is difficult to determine a set standard by which to gauge women’s ability to enter into contracts.5

The Local Courts Act of 1963 gives local courts authority to adjudicate customary law in Sierra Leone, but section 13(2) permits the court to apply general law when there is no customary law provision. There is limited information, however, about local courts applying women’s rights in contracts under customary law.