Monrovia – Having lingered from one shelf to the other at the Capitol, the Domestic Violence Bill sees no light at the end of the tunnel as the 53rd Legislature nears its end.
The bill, titled “An Act to Amend Title 26, Chapter 16 of The Penal Law. LCLR Offenses Against The Family To Add Subchapter A. Domestic Violence”, was introduced to the Legislature about 14 months, but its passage has remained a controversial debate with some legislators shying away from the Act for fear of reprisal from traditional leaders.
The bill seeks to address many vital issues affecting domestic and gender-based violence, but the most contentious issue stalling its passage is the legislation of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as illegal and offenders punishable by law.
Among vital issues the Act seeks to address are Domestic (physical abuse, emotional verbal and psychological abuse, economic abuse) dowry-related violence, offenses against the family, female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, and harassment.
According to the senate chairman on health and Gender Senator, Peter Coleman, sessions have been postponed due to the senators’ discomfort about the passage of the Act due to issues surrounding FGM.
“The House of Representative passed a version of the bill that completely removed the issue of FGM which was different from the original bill."
"The Liberian Senate conducted two public hearings where the issue of FGM was discussed with the traditional women and zoes."
"Following this hearing, a consensus was reached to tackle the issue of FGM, because almost all of the senators were not comfortable with an Act that would interfere with our cultural traditions.”
“Since then, we have been lobbying with colleagues of the senate to accept that compromise while at the same time consulting with members of the House of Representative (HOR) to accept the same compromise."
"Many legislators are apprehensive about being perceived by our traditional people as a group of people that are rejecting our cultural values,” Sen. Coleman told FrontPageAfrica.
Senator Coleman disclosed that the committee has not submitted the bill to the plenary for fear that it will not get the required number of votes for passage.
“We continue to lobby with the colleagues and I am optimistic that in next few weeks, we will get the numbers for passage, after which we’ll work with the House of Representatives through a joint conference committee to overcome the other hurdle,” he said.
On Tuesday, women and men dressed in black attire gathered with placards with inscriptions “Love is life free of violence”, “Domestic violence is a long-term harm to the victims”, “Children our future, please protect them from domestic violence.”
The Gender Coordinator at the Gender Ministry, Deddeh Kwekwe, said the protest was intended to draw the attention of the lawmakers to the importance of passing the bill.
“We want the bill passed; we have gone above FGM. Every time we come, they say FGM, but that is not the issue here, we have persistent non-support, unwanted pregnancy, early marriage; they must look at the bill in its totality and not just FGM.”
She continued: “At first it was beating on wife but now is an acid attack, the law is calling for support for victims, and those who compromising, those who covering up and so it’s the issue of domestic violence and we have come over and over but they are not listening to us.”
Ms. Kwekwe at the same time appealed to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, calling on her to ensure that the bill is passed.
“All we need is the consciousness of the lawmakers to pass the bill."
"Some of the lawmakers keep saying that they are busy; we are surprised that the people abandon deformed people because of their status,” she said.
Some of the protestors said it was disheartening that men will use their strength and abuse women.
“I am feeling bad because I saw the face of the acid victim and it is so bad because if that was her body, the clothes will cover it, but the face it is so bad. The lawmakers should pass the law,” Mary Paegar, one of the protestors said.
Rebecca Morgan, a resident of Old road states who was also at the Capitol to protest for the passage of the bill said: “The way they men treat us is so bad."
"Some women are rude, but it does not support the man to beat on his woman.”
Senators Jewel Howard Taylor and Steve Zargo met the protestors on the ground of the Capitol upon which they pledged support for placing the bill on the floor to discuss for speedy passage.
Senator Taylor said there are some customs that are in direct contravention of the bill that needs attention.
She referred the protestors to Senator Coleman to ascertain the delay on the passage of the bill.
But Senator Coleman told FPA that he was astonished as the referral done by Senator Taylor and Zargo was unfortunate, noting that there are sticky issues surrounding the delay of the passage of the bill.
He assured the women that the bill would be passed within weeks but failed to attach a time frame to the passage.
“I can assure the women of Liberia, that this bill will be passed within few weeks,” Senator Dr. Coleman.
Recently FPA wrote a letter to President Sirleaf reminding her that she is the only one alive today who can take the issue of violence against women in Liberia, by the horn and set in motion a phenomenon that could save the lives of scores of young Liberian girls – and in some instances boys, who are fallen prey to a rising wave of violence by men in position of power, some serving in your own government.
In a related development, a women group, the Liberia Women Forum (LWF) expressed regret over the news of the alleged rape of a 13-year old girl by a lawmaker from Grand Gedeh County, Representative Moriah Waylee.
The LWF described the act by the lawmaker as total wickedness and ungodly intended to damage future of the child. The President of the LWF, Madam Gurley Gibson said her organization is not taking lightly the information linking the lawmaker to the raping of the child.
She said the Liberia Women Forum being established to seek the welfare of women and advocate for the rights of all women in the republic of Liberia, will take legal action against the lawmaker for his alleged act against the child.
According to an LWF statement issued in Monrovia, Madam Gibson is also calling on the House of Representatives to investigate their colleague from Grand Gedeh County for his inhumane act against a Liberian female child.
Madam Gibson believes that lawmakers should be making laws that will protect its citizens and to be damaging the future of Liberian kids like in the case of Representative Moriah Waylee and the minor.
“How can a sitting lawmaker be that wicked to rape such a little girl that can be his grandchild?
What sort of examples are these lawmakers setting for the next generation?
It frustrates me to know that the lawmaker who did the act is still going for session among his colleagues and not a single lawmaker has risen up to condemn the act carried out by their colleague from Grand Gedeh,” the statement quotes Ms. Gibson as saying.