Liberia: Poor Parenting Contributes to Spike in Rape Cases, VP Taylor says

 Vice President Jewel Taylor.   

Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor has blamed poor parenting as one of the root causes for spikes in the cases of sexual and gender based violence against children across the country. 

The VP who herself is a women and child rights advocate, argued that the government should not exclusively be blamed. Though some of the shortcomings are with prosecution, she said parents are also to blame for not doing enough to protect their children. 

“But let’s look at the other side of the debate that deals with effects of sexual and gender-based violence that have already occurred,” the VP said. “We continue to cry on government, civil society groups, and lawyers to help fix the problem, but the problem just is not there, I think we need to change our mindsets to start talking about what is happening in the homes.”

VP Howard-Taylor further defended her position, saying there is a problem at home, fathers are missing, mothers are too busy and “our children are left alone and that is what is bringing all of these problems.”

The VP then complained that because of poor parenting, the government should not be blamed always when a child is abused, rather the parents should first be held accountable.

“Let’s go back to the homes and let mothers be responsible for what is happening to their children,” said Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor as she placed some of the responsibility for SGBV cases at the feet of parents.  “Sometimes it is their boyfriends raping the children because most times they tend to introduce their boyfriends to their daughters as uncles and those uncles are the ones who are sexually abusing the children at home.”

The VP’s remarks, which may not go down with with many child rights activists, comes as the issue of SGBV cases, particularly rape have risen to unprecedented levels over the last 18 months, prompting a nationwide protest against rape and other forms of SGBV. The protest was followed by a national conference, in which President George Manneh Weah declared rape a national emergency. 

But the scourge has not decreased, but exacerbated since law enforcement authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate rape cases, even now that the government has provided DNA equipment to examine specimen from alleged perpetrators. Therefore, due to lack of evidence, many perpetrators go free.  

And while statistics for SGBV cases including rape are hardly forthcoming from government, a United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year in the country, and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction.

The increase, the report argued, was the resulting sense of impunity and legacy of the 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003, when SGBV cases including rape was commonplace, that created the current problem. 

Since the release of that report, Incidents of rape appear to have risen with harrowing tales of sexual violence against girls as young as three years old have made international headlines and sparked protests. 

Just two months ago, in February Police in Gbarpolu County arrested and forwarded to court a 27-year-old man for allegedly raping two minors, ages 4 and 6, in Belle Fasama, Belle District.

The suspect, Anthony Nyemah, according to local media reports, sexually abused his victims in the absence of their mother, while she was away.

Suspect Nyemah was said to be a neighbor of the victims’ mother and usually assisted her with domestic work. His case is now pending prosecution.

In 2020, Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia's Women Empowerment Network in report, noted that between June and August that year, her NGO recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August.

That was up from between 80 to 100 cases in May, she said.

And the spike in these cases, especially concerning minors, forced the government of President George Weah and Howard Taylor in September 2020 to act by introducing stern anti-abuse measures, which included founding a National Security Task Force on Sexual and Gender Based Violence, appointing a Special Prosecutor for rape and establishing a National Sex Offenders registry. 

However, most of the stern measures are yet to be implemented as the government has done little to fulfill his pledge of having a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up the national sex offenders registry.  

Since the DNA machine purchased by the Weah administration to fast-track the investigation and prosecution of rape cases arrived at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in 2021, the equipment is yet to be used due to the lack of skilled personnel to operate it. 

At the same time, the government’s “national security task force” on sexual and gender-based violence is yet to succeed in terms of prosecution and conviction of the alleged perpetrators as the judicial system remain heavily underfunded as well as the Ministry of of Justice to aid with prosecution. 

For example, just a year after the Weah administration declared rape a national emergency, in 2021 Criminal Court ‘E’ Judge then, Hector Quainguah, had to plead with the government via the Ministry of Justice to speedily prosecute cases on the court’s docket, 14 of which were rape cases. 

Criminal Judge Quainguah then outlined about 14 rape cases that need speedy attention, saying, “We want collective work to ensure that the docket is cleared.”

Some of the rape cases which are still on the court records date even further back in time and are still piling up. 

But in response to Judge Quainguah’s plea, a state lawyer, Attorney John Miah claimed that high number of unprosecuted rapes cases at the court was due to a shortfall in the prosecution funds, which led to prosecutors going on strike during the May Term of Court that year. 

He added that the lack of funding for prosecutors to bring in witnesses created impediments for speedy trials, especially during the May Term of Court.

And despite slow prosecution of rape cases, President Weah at this year’s  celebration of the International Women’s Day, in the presence of his predecessor Sirleaf, once again promised stringent measures to help tackle the surge in SGBV in the country.

“I will be reviewing the progress made by the Sexual and Gender-based Violence taskforce and will take stronger measures to bring this national strategy under control, President Weah said back then. 

President Weah then added that Liberia celebrated international women's day under difficult circumstances with an increase in Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.

The rare remark by VP Howard Taylor was made at an event climaxing the  month-long period of celebration of Women across the world this past March. 

The event, which was organized by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, featured five female panelists from various professional backgrounds who shared their personal experiences on the issue.

They were the Deputy Gender Minister Alice Johnson Howard, Dr. Tanya Garnett, an adjunct professor at the University of Liberia Graduate School, Atty. Mmonbeydo Joah, Ne-suah Livingstone, and Vickjune Wutoh. 

The Center’s founder, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf while speaking, blamed the lack of evidence, denials, and compromises as issues that continued to undermine the fight against rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence here.

The former president added that while her administration in 2006, passed a law making rape nonbailable offense, there were several issues that the law did not address.

“In 2006, we passed a law making rape a nonbillable crime and that led to a lot of other problems that we did not address,” she admitted. “First of all, the evidence to be able to go to court. As I said, lack of evidence; the next thing is denial and compromises by the victims’ relatives because of poverty.” 

In 2006, the Sirleaf administration enacted legislation to amend the new Penal Code of June 1976 Chapter 14, Section 14.70 and 14.71 (the Rape Law)  to punish rapists with ten years of imprisonment, depending on the degree of the rape (rape of a minor, rape resulting in serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, or gang rape). 

And while the law was passed more than 15 years ago, the Nobel laureate wants all hands on deck to address the issue since it portrays a negative image of Liberia to the outside world.

“We need to address this thing about rape in our society because it is causing our country a major, major problem. It is giving our country a bad name-whether you are a man or woman. It is taking away from the good efforts we have made to get support for this country,” Sirleaf added. 

“Because if you look at it, they will say the people in Liberia are hopeless, they don’t want change. They want to keep all those old habits again, it is destroying the young children, and they are not giving them the opportunity," former President Sirleaf noted. "We’ve got to send this message to all Liberian men and women to realize how serious it is and what the end repercussions of what this has on all of us.”