Birth Registration: Citizenship can be derived through parentage if at least one parent is a Liberian citizen or by birth in the country if the child is of “Negro” descent. If a child born in the country is not of “Negro” descent, the child cannot acquire citizenship. As a result, non-“Negro” residents, such as members of the large Lebanese community, cannot acquire or transmit citizenship. The law requires parents to register their infants within 14 days of birth; however, fewer than 5 percent of births were registered.
In September the legislature passed the National Children’s Act. The act sets the foundation for and promotes children’s rights including parental responsibilities to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare, and other basic needs. It is also intended to protect children from illegal child labor practices and harmful traditional practices.
Education: The legislature passed the New Education Reform Act of 2011, extending free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades 1-6) through junior secondary (grades 7-9) levels. Despite this, many schools still charged informal fees to pay teachers and operating costs the government did not cover, which prevented many students from attending. Fees continued for secondary school, and the government was unable to provide for the needs of most schoolchildren. In both public and private schools, families of children were often required to provide their own uniforms, books, pencils, paper, and even desks.
Although the official primary-school-age population is six to15 years old, the war disrupted the education of many students, and as a result primary school students in the country ranged in age from six to more than 20 years old. While education reforms were ongoing, overaged students continued to pose a significant challenge to an education system with limited resources. Girls accounted for fewer than half of all students in primary and secondary schools, with gender parity worsening progressively with each subsequent grade. Among the most vulnerable and underserved groups in terms of access to education were those with special needs and marginalized youth (including vulnerable children). Although the government increased its budget allocation for education, it was unable to adequately compensate teachers, provide schools with needed resources, or offset the opportunity costs to families of sending their children to school.
Child Abuse: Widespread child abuse continued, and reports of sexual violence against children continued during the year. Civil society organizations reported continued incidents of rape of girls under 12, and there were 37 reported cases of child endangerment during the year, a statistic thought to greatly underreport the actual incidence.
Child Marriage: The Domestic Relations Law sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women. However, Section 2.9 of the Equal Rights of the Traditional Marriage Law of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. Underage marriage continued to be a problem, especially in rural areas. The recently passed National Children’s Act sets the marriage age for all Liberians at 18.
Female Genital Mutilation: FGM was common and traditionally performed on young girls in northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas. The most extreme form of FGM, infibulation, was not practiced. The law does not prohibit FGM, and traditional institutions, such as the secret Sande Society, often performed FGM as an initiation rite, making it difficult to ascertain the number of cases. To combat harmful traditional practices like FGM, the government trained community leaders and women’s groups during the year and provided training in alternative income-generating skills to FGM practitioners.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Young women and girls engaged in prostitution for money, food, and school fees. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and 17 of 38 reported cases of statutory rape--this is likely a small fraction of the true extent of the problem--were tried during the year. Statutory rape is a first-degree rape offense, and the maximum sentence for perpetrators is life imprisonment. The law also prohibits child pornography, with a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment for violators.
Displaced Children: Despite international and government attempts to reunite children separated from their families during the civil war, there were still children who lived on the streets in Monrovia. It was difficult to tell who were street children, former combatants, or internally displaced persons. Nearly all children older than 10 had witnessed atrocities during the 14-year civil war, and some children had committed atrocities.
Institutionalized Children: Regulation of orphanages continued to be very weak. Many unofficial orphanages also served as transit points or informal group homes for children, some of whom had living parents who had given up their children for possible adoption. Orphanages had difficulty providing basic sanitation, adequate medical care, and adequate nutrition. They relied primarily on private donations and support from international organizations, such as UNICEF and the World Food Program, which provided food and care throughout the year. Many orphans lived outside these institutions.
International Child Abductions: To address issues of child adoption and international child abduction, the government imposed a moratorium on child adoption in 2009; the moratorium continued during the year.
Liberia is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.