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, health care, and other basic needs. It is also intended to protect children from illegal child labor practices and harmful traditional practices.
Education: Although the legislature passed the New Education Reform Act in 2011, extending tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades 1-6) through junior secondary (grades 7-9) levels, many schools continued to charge informal fees to pay for teacher salaries and operating costs that the government did not cover. These fees prevented many students from attending school. Under the law 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 often were required to provide their children’s uniforms, books, pencils, paper, and even desks. The school year was delayed by three weeks because of protests over nonpayment of teachers’ salaries and increases in tuition.
Although the official primary school-age population is six to 15 years of age, the civil war disrupted the education of many students; as a result, primary school students in the country ranged in age from six to more than 20 years old. While education reforms continued, over-age 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 decreasing 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 persisted, and reports of sexual violence against children continued during the year. Civil society organizations reported incidents of rape of girls under 12, and there were 50 reported cases of child endangerment during the year; the true incidence was believed to be much higher.
Child Marriage: The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the marriage age for all persons at 18, while the Domestic Relations Law sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women. However, 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, but statistics were not available.
Harmful Traditional Practices/Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C 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/C, infibulation, was not practiced. The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and traditional institutions, such as the secret Sande Society, often performed FGM/C as an initiation rite, making it difficult to ascertain the number of cases. To combat harmful traditional practices such as FGM/C, the government trained community leaders and women’s groups during the year and provided training in alternative income-generating skills to FGM/C practitioners. Government, NGO, and media attempts to report on and end the practice were fiercely resisted by supporters of the practice. Law enforcement agents reportedly resisted investigating intimidation and threats against anti-FGM/C activists. During an August interview, the minister of internal affairs stated the government could not allow a cultural practice that is harmful to the human body. He also said the government could not place an outright ban on traditional practices but that such practices should be reformed. Officials did not actively seek a ban on FGM/C, but the government suspended the practice of the Sande across the country when school was in session.
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 during the year the government tried 17 of 38 reported cases of statutory rape but that was likely only a small fraction of the true extent of the problem. Statutory rape is a first-degree 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, some children, a mix of street children, former combatants, and internally displaced persons continued to live on the streets of Monrovia.
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 sufficient nutrition. The orphanages 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 without assistance from these institutions.
International Child Abductions: To address issues of child adoption and international child abduction, the government imposed a moratorium on international child adoption in 2009; the moratorium continued during the year.
The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.