Physically-Challenged in Nimba County Face Persistent Non-Support
Ganta, Nimba County – Gabriel Soh, 57, single father of 11 children sits on a bench with his chest stuck in the air and a mortar pestle in his hand as a crutch.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo, [email protected]
He is a midget and probably one and half feet, dressed in a dark maroon trouser, black and white shirt.
Soh came from Cape Palmas, where he had completed his secondary school. He currently resides in Nimba County.
Though he has 11 children, he faces the challenge of his partners not continuing their relationships with him due to his appearance.
He is the official spokesperson for people living with disabilities in Nimba County.
He disclosed that among challenges, they faced sexual and gender-based violence including persistent non-support.
Soh came to the position when he became encouraging persons with disability, who were ashamed of themselves, to begin accepting their physical appearances at all times.
He is a victim of persistent non-support; his three wives left him with 11 children separately after their families didn’t like his appearance with their daughters.
He recalled his recent relationship, where his wife pretended to be attending a fast and prayer service at a church in Ganta, she did not return home and has since remarried.
“She was looking at my condition and she pretended that she was on fast and prayer and didn’t return.”
“The consequence of that is that 2 of the 3 children we got have refused to attend school because their mother was the one chastising them.”
“Another girl I used to love left me because of my condition, her parents told her not to continue with me.”
“When she was pregnant, her parents refused to accept the pregnancy so she got frustrated and ate rat poison, the child today was born but he’s deformed.”
“And she’s no more around me because she bowed to family pressure,” Soh said.
He stated that sometimes his wives’ behavior almost became an attempt for him to blame God.
“But that has givien me more resolve. God didn’t make me like this because my parents were hateful. God wanted to show to the world that His creation is of different types.”
“I’m resolved despite my condition. Today I have a house; I am the only college graduate of 6 siblings and the only disabled one as well.”
As a single father of 11 children, Gabriel has to sacrifice to take care of his children; he is proud of two of his eleven children as high school graduates.
He is an inspiration to many people living with disabilities in Nimba and its surroundings.
Soh works at the Ganta United Methodist Church Hospital as chief statistician.
He says chastising his children remains a major challenge and he sometimes gets angry because of his human nature and because of his height, some of his children disrespect him.
“People ask why so many women, but when I fall in love with someone, initially she will love me but her parents and family members will influence her and she will leave me all because of my disabilities.”
“I remembered the other woman, we went for the marriage counselling, days before the wedding she left, so in total 3 women frustrated me and left me with all the children but today I still have joy because some women still kiss me despite my height,” Soh said.
Like Soh, Princess 22, a lame mother of two, had her first baby at 15 years and her second at 19. Her kids’ fathers left because their mothers did not consent to the relationship.
“My first daughter when I was pregnant my mother in law said she don’t want me because I am a handicap and I wouldn’t born the child on my own. I had my baby and someone took her and she’s in Monrovia attending school.”
The second time Princess got pregnant she was afraid to tell her boyfriend because of previous scenario she had with her first child.
Princess sitting on the dusty floor in Ganta with her one year old daughter on her lap narrated, “I met this child’s father on the road when I was selling boiled peanuts, and I never knew he had his girlfriend because we spent a year together.”
“So when I got pregnant his mother did not accept the pregnancy, the women here took him to the Police station and he was imprisoned for almost one week and he continuously denied that the pregnancy was for him.”
“His mother also confirmed that she hasn’t seen me with her son and she started to describe how I crippled I’m and not the type for her son to have relationship with.”
Since she gave birth she’s not selling but sits home playing Ludo with her neighbours and rarely received money from the National Commission on Disabilities in Monrovia.
She hopes to go back to some form of vocational school as she is a 9th grade drop-out student in formal education.
When she was 13, she lived in Monrovia with two foster aunties at different times. According to her, she had to flee from both homes, because her aunties’ husbands attempted to rape her.
She has no knowledge of her father and siblings after her mother died in 2004 in Monrovia.
“When I was living with my aunt, she was good to me but her husband always used to sexually harass me, at night he will leave his wife room and come into my room trying to rape me.”
“So, I resisted and he told his wife he was sending me back to my family so I left one night when he tried to rape me when she went to work.”
Alexander Franklin is the Deputy Commander for Women and Children at the Women and Children Section of the Liberia National Police (LNP) detachment in Nimba County.
Franklin said the LNP received regular complaints on persistent non-support but not from disabled persons.
The Ministry of Gender through its Nimba County Coordinator Yaah Belleh Suah disclosed that persistent non- support is a major issue that must be tackled in reducing the risk of children being societal problems.
Ms Suah said 38 cases were reported between September and October.
The Regional Coordinator for Bong, Lofa and Nimba, Wilkins Nah said he has received several cases on persistent non- support from people living with disabilities but are regularly resolved with Alternative Dispute Resolution.
According to him, the current rate of people living with disabilities and are faced with the issue of persistent non- support is very high.
He added, “Even though the law is there, but in law, there is something we called the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), so we resolved some of those cases when necessary,” he said.
He wants people living with disabilities to make use of the court system and believe that they should be protected by the law and there shouldn’t be any form of discrimination among them.
The SGBV prosecutor mentioned that disable women and girls who have had relationships and had children with able-bodied men are abandoned by them because they fear responsibilities and feel ashamed of the state of these disable mothers.
Persistent non-support, a sexual and gender based-violence, remains a major issue affecting most 3rd world countries, including Liberia.
The laws on persistent non-support can be found in Domestic Relations Law of 1973, the penal law of 1976 section 16.5 and several Supreme Court’s opinions.
Persistent non-support is when “a person commits a misdemeanour of the first degree if he persistently fails to provide support which he can provide and which he knows he is legally obliged to provide to a spouse, child or other dependent, as specified in section 5.4 of the Domestic Relations Law”
The UN Convention on the rights of people living with disabilities on SGBV is captured particularly in Article 16, which stresses prevention of violence and exploitation against people with disabilities in general, and women and girls with disabilities in particular.