‘Think Out of the Box’

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called upon Liberia’s female lawyers, gender advocates and civil society to “think out of the box” and come up with suggestions on how to address the increasing incidences of rape against young girls in the country.

At a roundtable meeting convened by the Liberian leader on Thursday, January 9, 2014, to purposely discuss with women’s representatives the alarming trend of rape of under-age girls, she challenged them to come up with ideas on how to address this social menace.

Present at the meeting were 14 women representatives of the Ministry of Gender and Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), and civil society represented by the Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL).

President Sirleaf told the gathering that the statistics on rape cases in the country were alarming. She said measures against the crime included the Rape Law; which categorizes rape as an unbailable crime, and the just completed Code of Conduct for teachers regarding the crime of rape in the schools, are in existence.

She applauded the Ministry of Gender and Development for all of its efforts, but added: “We’ve got to think out of the box, and that’s why we called you here, to ask for some of your ideas. We have to find a way to deal with this problem.”

The Liberian leader herself, who is a longstanding women’s rights advocate, indicated that the breakdown of the family unit and the fact that heads of households today are practically children themselves makes the problem even more difficult to solve.

“But we have to find a way. So many kids’ lives and future have been taken from them because of this crime. We want AFELL to be more active in this,” the President said, indicating that the rate is ever increasing.

President Sirleaf drew her audience’s attention to the regular Security Report she receives from the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, a segment of which deals with rape.  According to the report, during the period from November 12, 2013, to January 7, 2014, there were 119 cases of rape reported, compared to 83 in the previously report. Of the total 119, 53 rape cases occurred in Monrovia and its environs, while 66 cases were outside Monrovia. The victims included girls as young as four years old.  There were a total of 61 arrests of the 119 or more perpetrators.

The Liberian President lauded women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) for going to court religiously every time there’s a rape case, noting that their presence always shows strong concern and support to the victims and their families.

Meanwhile, during the hour-long discussion, many concrete suggestions proposals were put forth by members of the participants some of which working more with their male counterpart, including those already behind bars, to change their mental attitude, their behavior and their thinking about who women are; research, in the various communities, into why men rape; and naming and shaming rapists by putting them in prison garb and making them clean the streets.

The group also proposed a critical look to be taken at the Rape Law in order to make revisions to close loopholes, such as provisions pertaining to the age of the perpetrator, and those who would compromise a case; training more lawyers in prosecuting sexual violence; advocacy and training for judges and the police; engaging police commanders to understand their critical role in protecting children who are molested.

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