Liberia: VP Howard-Taylor Defends ‘Poor Parenting’ Remarks

VP Howard-Taylor insists: “This statement was made and I stand by it."

Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor has defended her remarks that poor parenting contributes to the spike in cases of sexual and gender based violence against children across the country. 

The Liberian Vice President — the first female in that position — wrote on Instagram that parents and mothers must now also be held responsible for “instances of rape especially on minor Children.” 

Vice President Howard-Taylor, whose write-up expounded on her previous remark, argued that if society and parents pay more attention to their children, and reduce the level of exposure to violence; this high level of abuse will reduce and, this way, government can use the extra funds it uses for SGBV cases to improve health care, education and other important social issues.

“A few days ago, I made statement about the saddening, increasing situation of rape in our Nation. My statement spoke to both sides of the coin. The first instance of abuse, which is at the home and the second instance of governance/law," the VP said. “I said that the governance process is the way it is laid out to be and can be slow; so our emphasis must be focused at the first instance of the home.

“My question is and remains — what is happening at the home front that is causing this level of abuse? I intimated that our focus as a society must be turned on the home," the VP said. "And parents and mothers must now also be held responsible for instances of RAPE, especially on minor Children."

However, the VP’s defense has angered child rights activist Karishma Pelham-Raad, who believes that the VP, as a woman and mother, might be encouraging rapists and giving them more reason to continue their evil acts. 

“This statement alone is very triggering. It just praises rapist and limits rape victims to not coming out with their stories. This statement can break anyone down.  Moreover, it is coming from you; literally, you are the voice of all Liberian Women,” Ms. Raad noted.

“And if you can make such a pronouncement, you have created a deep sadness for the victims of rape because they will be expecting you to push their case and stand within seeing that action is taken,” she added. “But now it’s different because you’re giving those rapists more reason to continue abusing our kids by putting out such statements. VP Jewel, this was not the right call for a mother and advocate like you, you have slipped badly,” Radd commented.

But for the VP, the focus as a society must be turned on the home — calling on the mothers to be more present and involved in the daily lives and activities of their children, as an early-warning mechanism to prevent sexual abuse.

“I believe that this is a sure way to reduce abuse in our society, and stop the act before it occurs,” VP Howard-Taylor insists. “This statement was made and I stand by it. For the best way to stop abuse is to stop it at the place it occurs. Most often the place of abuse is in and around the home.”

The VP’s defense comes after she told the EJS Presidential Center for Women and Development during an event celebrating the climax of international Women’s Day in March, that the government should not exclusively be blamed for the spike in rape cases, especially aginst minors, but parents ought to share the responsibility.

At the event, the Liberian VP noted that 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.”

She 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.

“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.”

The VP’s remarks also come as cases of SGBV, 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. Law enforcement authorities have failed to thoroughly investigate rape cases, prosecute and convict rape suspects, even now that the government has provided DNA equipment to aid in the process. Therefore, due to lack of evidence, perpetrators often 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 were commonplace, which 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 a 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 VP 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, Madame 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.