International Day of the Girl Child: the situation of girls in Liberia

 

Satta is the Founder of Youth in Action for Peace and Empowerment, an NGO dedicated to defend and promote the rights of Liberian children and vulnerable groups which also campaigns for changes to rape laws. She has won numerous awards for her work in defending children’s rights and ensuring safe spaces for Liberian girls. In 2018, she will attend the One Young World Summit as a One Young World Peace Ambassador, with the support of the European Commission.

Every morning she dangerous peddles the streets of Monrovia between fast moving cars just to make some cash for survival. She is only 15 years, but already she’s the bread winner of the family. She has never had the chance to enter school; she sees education as luxury in her world. Mama is old, papa is no more, but siblings look up to her for daily meals. She would become a child-prostitute because earning money from street peddling is just too small to sustain the entire family.

This is the case of many Liberian girls who have never experienced or are forced out of school due to poverty, lack of educational opportunities, early forceful marriage and harmful traditional practices. In Liberia, almost half a million girls of the secondary school age are out of school; nearly 85% more are likely to be out of school than their male counterparts. (Ministry of Education Bridge Program published by FrontPage Africa Newspaper, Liberia, 2018). School enrollment and retention is still a huge national challenge for girls in Liberia.

Although primary and secondary Education is considered free and compulsory in Liberia; the system itself has failed to implement the compulsory and free aspect of the New Education Law. Inadequate schools, unskilled teachers and relevant school supplies are serious challenges faced by the country’s education system. The lack of infrastructure and basic social amenities which hinders accessibility has encouraged over-age enrollment among girls in Liberia especially the rural part of the country who inhabitants are far from the realities of the 21st Century. One of the most victims among the vulnerable population of Liberian girls is the disabled; most of who are unable to acquire education due to the inability of the government to provide disabled friendly campuses.  Education must be accessible and visible to all who aspire to have one regardless of their locality, sex and make.

Today in Liberia, 36% of girls in Liberia are married before age 18 (UNICEF 2017 Report). Child marriage robe girls of their chance to lead their own lives on their own terms. Like my late mother who was forced into early marriage by an act of tradition and never realized her dreams, I have pledged to fight against this barbaric and cruel act of violence perpetrated against innocent girls; because no girl deserves to be treated outside of their conscience and will in any form and manner.

Every day a girl in Liberia is likely to be sexually abused. Over 80% victims of the sexual abuse cases reported in Liberia are girls Ministry of Gender, 2017 Sexual Gender Violence report). Sadly, most perpetrators of these crimes never get prosecuted due to slowness in the Liberian judiciary system, corruption, financial constraints and institutional weaknesses.

Last month a 13 year-old was gang raped to death, in a week time another 17 year-old girl was also gang raped to death. Baby girls as low as two-months, two-years are being raped. This is unacceptable!

In 2017, a 13 year-old was reportedly raped and impregnated by a lawmaker; today the victim is still yet to be found since her kidnapped was reported; Despite continues calls by activist and human right institutions to bring the perpetrator to book and secure the life of the victim.

When two-month old and ten month old baby-girls were allegedly raped, I thought of myself as likely being the next victim. I would fear for myself as a girl, my little sisters and other girls that are vulnerable to the terrible sexual abuse situation in Liberian. No girl must be allowed to face the unimaginable pain and subsequent trauma of sexual abuse. Enough is enough!

Being a girl in Liberia comes with huge challenges especially at a time when sexual violence against girls is at its peak. At a time when our laws must be tougher and practical; yet are still being amended because they are just too straightforward for a law. At a time when statutory rape perpetrators are being free from jail on bail even though statutory rape is a non-bailable offense in Liberia. 

Low access to justice by rape victims coupled with corruption, financial constrains is gradually creating a dark cloud over the situation of Liberian girls. The judiciary system in Liberia seem just too weak to stop perpetrators of these gruesome acts.

As an advocate, I have had the opportunity to work with girls from across the fifteen counties of Liberia, I have seen firsthand the terrific situation of Liberian girls; but I must commend the resilience of Liberian girls. My very person is enough evidence that we can and will never give up, rather will  continue to stand to the face of these societal vises hoping that one day the table will turn to our favor.

The time is just right to tap in girls’ power to transform potential to create positive solutions that will challenge systems and situations that have kept girls behind for far too long.  Girls everywhere today are demanding safe spaces and breaking societal barriers.

I am sure the issues faced by Liberian girls are not just familiar with Liberia, but they are also burning issues affecting the girls-force around the world. We must press for progress everywhere and in every corner around the world, until girls are free to decide on their own body, to health, education, safety and well-being.

We must press for progress until every girl is prepared and equally represented at all levels most especially in the workforce. Equality is achievable! A prepared girl; skilled girl-force is even more achievable!