Women representing six of Liberia’s most populated counties have called on lawmakers to include “age 18” on the agenda for the upcoming referendum as a constitutional marriage age for young Liberian women.
The women made the call on Saturday at the end of a three-day advocacy and lobbying training program for women’s groups, organized by the Liberia Women Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC), held at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Congo Town, Monrovia.
The counties are Margibi, Bong, Nimba, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Bomi.
Reading a statement, Jannet O. Paye, Executive Director for Women Care Initiative, said, “We the women of the above mentioned counties want to call the attention of the Legislature, in particular the House of Representatives’ Governance Committee, to reconsider its decision to exclude Proposition 20, which seeks to define the legal age of marriage.”
The women said marriage age for girls should be considered as a constitutional issue and included on the agenda for the referendum because it has the potential to tackle a series of problems that undermine the security and development of children, especially girls, in Liberia.
Madam Paye said “Today in Liberia we have two legal systems that are in conflict over the age of a child. These are the statutory and customary systems. Children in urban areas, according to our statutory law, reach age of maturity at age 18, while children in rural communities are considered mature at age 16.
This conflict in the law exposes girls in rural areas, particularly, to early marriage and statutory rape.”
She said according the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Liberian Children Law, anyone below age 18 is a child, which is reinforced by the rape law; and yet girls in rural communities are being married off below age 18 because under the customary law an individual reaches the age of consent at age 16.
“The body of a child is not fully matured below 18; the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) increases poverty (by) taking the child from school. The Constitution rightly defines 18 as the age of voting, low level of education, low self-esteem, liability to society, population growth; the child cannot make decisions on her own,” Madam Paye said.
She stressed the need for the Legislature to recognize that socioeconomic and political advancement of Liberia cannot be achieved outside of concrete laws that facilitate a transformative environment.
“Our constitution is the organic law of the land and must include a provision that protects its citizens and promote inclusiveness.
“We the women of Margibi, Bong, Nimba, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Bomi Counties, representing the women of Liberia, want to extend our thanks and appreciation to the Governance Committee of the House of Representatives for including on the preliminary list of recommendations, Proposition 18, which calls for women’s participation in governance and national affairs in the anticipated new Liberian Constitution
“We see it as a concrete attempt to increase women’s participation in Liberia’s governance process and decision-making,” the statement read.