MONROVIA – The National Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia, Mr. Abraham Fumbah Sherif, has condemned the marriage of a 12-year-old girl to a 57-year-old man two weeks ago in Logan town.
By Mae Azango [email protected]
Speaking with FrontPageAfrica in an exclusive interview at the National Muslim Council Office on Old Road in Sinkor, he said they do not have a problem with the man who came to marry the child but with the parents of the girl who gave out their child’s hand in marriage at the age of 12. If the parents are caught, they will be punished, he said.
“We, at the Muslim Council, will try to ensure that every Muslim abides by the laws of this Republic. We will send a communication to all mosques and imams that before officiating any wedding, they should make sure the girl marrying is 16 years or 18. Any imam who violates the law will be punished. This act of marrying underage girls to older men must stop, and it must stop now,” said Muslim Council Chairman Sherif.
Chairman Sherif said gone are the days when 70-year-old men were in the habit of taking a 12-year-old girl as his wife. “We, as a council, are the political leaders of the Muslim community, and we are asking our people to live according to the constitution of this republic,” he said.
The Chairman’s statement came in the wake of widespread social media posts of a 57-year-old Fulani man allegedly marrying a 12-year-old girl in Logan Town, Bushrod Island, as his fourth wife.
According to KD Koon, who posted the photo on social media, he received it from a friend who had attended the ceremony, and the 57-year-old Fulani man fled to Guinea with his new bride after the ceremony as tensions around them were building up.
Condemning the incident, HeForShe Crusaders Liberia has frowned upon what it refers to as a willful violation of a girl child’s rights in Liberia, as a 12-year-old girl got married to a man old enough to be her grandfather.
“HeForShe Crusaders Liberia sees this 12-year-old girl’s marriage to a 57-year-old man as barbaric and a willful deprivation of the child’s right to education, adequate growth, and protection from slavery. Liberian laws, whether customary or statutory, do not allow a girl child to get married at that age. As such, we are calling on the Fula community to educate their members to respect the laws of Liberia,” says HeForShe Crusaders Liberia National Coordinator Tamba F. J. Johnson.
According to Mr. Johnson, a rights advocate under the Universal Law, territorial jurisdiction must be respected by all who dwell within said borders. The Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 24, states, “States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children. Article 34: States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” he said.
A person under 18 is considered a child and must be protected from all forms of physical and mental harm by the state party. In Liberia, if a girl below 18 engages in sexual activity with an adult aged 18 or above, it is considered statutory rape and is punishable under the rape law of Liberia. Therefore, according to the statutory law of Liberia, a girl child below 18 should not get married,” he said.
He further indicates that some families in Liberia, in total disregard of the CRC and the laws of Liberia, are still engaging in child marriage due to their entrenched religious and traditional norms. It is crucial that the laws of Liberia are not disregarded due to religious beliefs and practices, especially when it comes to the rights of women and girls.
The Liberian Penal Code states that there are two types of legal marriages: western or faith-based marriages and traditional/customary marriages. The legal age for marriage is 18 years for females and 21 years for males. However, exemptions exist, and traditional marriages can occur at age 16 for both sexes with the consent of parents or guardians.
Section 2.9 states that it is unlawful for any female under the age of 16 to be given in customary marriage to a man. Any person who violates this section has committed a felony of the first degree and, upon conviction, shall be fined an amount not less than L$500.00 nor more than L$1,000.00.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection recently issued a statement expressing serious concern regarding the alleged forced marriage of a minor. However, they require more details to establish the authenticity of the story. The SGBV task force has visited fourteen communities within Logan Togan, including St. Matthew, Central Town, Blamo Town, Zinc Town, Zolo Town, Sayon Town, Gaye Town, King Peter Town, Gbadi Town, Gbee Town, Babylo Town, Jacket Community, and Fula Mansion, but they were unable to verify the information.
Returning to the National Muslim Council, Chairman Sherif stated that the Council believes in the education of Muslim girls. He emphasizes the importance of educating girls because all of his daughters are educated. When women are educated, they can contribute to society, and the Council has a women’s office at the Council.