Why is Liberian Government politicizing, Safety of Children?

Satta Sheriff

The President with the help of the Minister of Gender might want to twist the truth around the prevailing situation on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Liberia just to paint the President as a “HeForShe Champion” or Feminist-in-chief” who “remains committed to the dignity of upholding human rights” but, it is clear that the President lied when he claimed that his government has significantly reduced rape since 2020 during his Annual Message to the National Legislature.

By Satta Sheriff, [email protected], Contributing Writer

President Weah and the Ministry of Gender should at least have some decency to acknowledged that not much progress has been made since the President declared Rape as National Emergency in 2020. Declaring Rape as national emergency, creating a SGBV taskforce, buying a DNA machine, and allocating 2million dollars were all good efforts initiated by the President until the government failed to follow up on safe homes, equip the various Women and children protection sections beyond Montserrado county, increase access to medical care for rape survivors, ensure the prosecution of perpetrators, expand the jurisdiction of criminal court E, monitor and evaluate, and regularly publish the SGBV report from across the 15 counties.

Over the last few weeks, we have lost not just one, but several girls and women to sexual and gender-based violence. Just last week before the President’s speech, we lost a 13-year-old to rape, a woman to gang rape and a 14-year-old died in Gbarpolu county after bleeding to death due to lack of accessible medical care.

At the Liberian embassy in Abuja, a 7-year-old was reportedly raped, while a peace crops instructor was accused of molesting our schoolgirls. Despite these alarming cases and many unmentioned, none of these victims and survivors have received Justice. Yet the Minister of Gender and the President still claims that “we saw a reduction in Sexual and Gender Based Violence cases.” Every day, right in our communities, we are seeing and reporting violence against children and women at a higher rate, yet the government is still refusing to acknowledge and take responsibility for their lack of due diligence.

We declared Rape as a national emergency to prevent these deaths, incidents and the constant abuse of children, and women. But it is a big shame that we have not seen much progress, the government continue to fail and live up to its promises. I know the Minister of Gender said on BBC Focus on Africa that “there’s no one country in the world were rape doesn’t exist” and have consistently claimed that “the number of rape cases in Liberia has reduced” it is important to note that Liberia needs to do better by taking genuine practical steps to prevent sexual and domestic violence. Yes, we have good laws, the president continues to make big speeches and empty promises, but when it comes to implementation, we are still lacking and continue to achieve the bare Minimum.

The government continues to politicize the safety of Liberian children and women in the name of scoring political points by making big, big promises and openly lying about the SGBV cases. This fight against rape goes beyond politics. And when government officials or police officers are accused of rape, they must be held accountable like a poor Liberian men/woman.

Why are we not making progress even though the president has openly committed his office to the fight against rape? There are just so many reasons: for example, we only have two “shelters for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection– in Lofa and Nimba Counties respectively.” (US State Department report, 2021) We lack rehabilitation or a national psychosocial counseling program for survivors of sexual abuse – it is one thing to prosecute a rapist, it is another to provide aftercare, support, and rehabilitation for the survivor. Rape leaves a lasting scar; I will never wish rape on any human being. No one deserve to be raped. Across prison compounds in Monrovia alone and other counties, alleged rape perpetrators are being released on medical bill; many of them never go back to jail or the court for trial. Some men have spent years in the prison system on pretrial due to our “overtaxed justice system that continues to prevent timely prosecutions, and delays justice for victims.” (US Human Rights Report, 2020) According to the US 2020 Human Rights report on Liberia, it has been observed that “victims’ families sometimes requested money from the perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the police reported that courts dropped 51 percent of reported domestic violence cases due to lack of evidence. The ability to collect and preserve evidence of sexual and gender-based violence crimes was also lacking” across the country. In Bong County alone, eight pretrial detainees accused of rape and statutory rape were released without trial after spending a year in detention. Many SGBV service providers including the SGBV task force, and the Women and Children Protection Section still lack operational vehicles and are faced with budgetary and logistical constraints. For example, the WCPS in Gbarpolu only have one female staff and a motorbike to run the entire county women and children affairs.

In his speech, President Weah claim that as a Government, one of their priorities is to “reduce the incidence of sexual and gender-based violence by 30 percent by 2023, through the provision of appropriate support services and access to justice systems.” As much as the president statement sounds promising and remarkable, the fact still reminds that all the girls and women that we have lost to SGBV in the last couple of weeks to Rape died because the system failed them. Their deaths are a clear manifestation that Liberia lied about making the fight against Rape a national priority. The fight against sexual violence has never been a priority for the pro-poor government until we forced them in 2020. I agree with the President that since 2020, the government have been “able to raise awareness among communities about the referral systems, the government’s anti-Sexual and Gender Based Violence Call Center and can ensure its functionality.” And it is true that the Ministry of gender in recent time has planted billboards that are not environmentally sustainable with the aim of ending rape and protecting the rights of children and women, but I believe all these efforts are not enough. We have come too far to still be doing business as usual, this government must learn to implement all existing laws that prohibit sexual and domestic violence including the rape law, domestic violence law, children’s law and other international instruments signed by Liberia.

As Liberians, we must never be afraid to hold the government accountable even if it means calling out the lies and misrepresentation of our experiences as citizens. As a very young Liberian woman, I want to be sure that my government is capable enough to protect me from abuse not just in speeches, but in reality.