The tragic story of seven Liberian girls who sought better living conditions in Lebanon but ended up as domestic help and what is described as 'sex slaves' may be coming to an end, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official has confirmed to journalists.
Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs at the Ministry, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, said "We have sent travel documents, along with tickets for their return to Liberia in a few weeks' time." There is no indication why the girls should remain in Lebanon one day longer if they have been provided tickets and travel documents.
The girls, identified as Rema Nyepan, Ayres M. Jasper, Bernice Gbar, Muffitte N. Panma, Grace K. David, Emma T. Swaber and Patience King, have been in Lebanon for more than a year.
Chairman Morris Green of the Liberian Community in Lebanon has been quoted as saying, “the girls are unable to return to Liberia because they are indebted to their sponsors to pay between U$3,500.00 to U$4,000.00 each, and as a result, their passports cannot be released to them.”
Assisting the Liberian government to get the girls back home, Cllr. Kanneh said, “are the Ministries of Justice and Labor and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).”
Cllr. Kanneh did not explain whether the Liberian government had also sent the amount the girls allegedly owe their sponsors, since according to a source with knowledge of such transactions, "the beneficiaries of such a trip always agree to pay back the sum of money spent on their behalf after they are employed."
"Many Liberian girls have traveled in a similar fashion to Lebanon and so the method is not new to many in the sector," said knowledgeable sources.
But what is apparently new is in the event that the girls’ expectations turn sour and there is no way out and they have to end up being used as ‘sex slaves’ or when they have to engage in other behaviors to survive.
Though investigations are on-going, according to Cllr. Kanneh, to ascertain the facts as to whether the girls had been abused, Chairman Green's concerns seem to show the urgency that Liberia needs to apply to bring the girls home.
Green spoke of having rescued eleven other girls and also being aware of the deaths of two girls as well as the sad report of one being mentally deranged and walking the streets of Beirut.
The situation in Lebanon is not an isolated case, for reports across West Africa speak of several Liberian girls who are gone insane and many others who roam the principal streets of major cities, for ‘what they have not lost.’
Perhaps the Liberian government's lackluster attitude towards returning those girls at risk in Lebanon, many interviewed by the Daily Observer said, is due to the belief here that "no one sent the girls to seek better living conditions abroad," and as a result their fate is in their own hands.
But other Liberians interviewed for this story told the Daily Observer that though people may travel to other countries no matter the situation, "the main problem is the lack of education and business opportunities to empower young women in the country."
The creation of job opportunities for women graduates and training of unskilled women for the job market could prevent them from yielding to the temptation of taking needless risks with their lives.
Said another woman, "We are seeing this one in Lebanon…there are similar stories in West African countries where unskilled Liberian women have been traveling to seek better living conditions."
The Daily Observer also stumbled on a situation in Monrovia, where a sizable number of Liberian young women work as domestic help for Indians, Lebanese and other foreign nationals and are paid "little or nothing," according to a woman who has been in the sector for several years.
A young woman, who identified herself as Jojo, said, "I have been working as a domestic help for an Indian family in Monrovia the last three years.
"The money is not that attractive but I have to do some work to help myself to avoid selling myself to survive.”
Along with the government's cold shoulder to the current issue is the apparent lack of interest in deranged persons who roam Monrovia naked every day.
"One particular guy is always on Benson and MacDonald Streets naked," complained a petty trader.
She wondered, "What has happened to the Ministry of Health that it is unable to get such crazy people off the streets and help them.”
Health officials in Monrovia, when contacted, referred to the current Ebola Virus Disease’s challenges but noted that at a proper time in the future, “such people will be removed from the streets.”