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 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.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades 1-6) through junior secondary (grades 7-9) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay for teachers’ salaries and operating costs that the government did not cover. These fees prevented many students from attending school. Under the law fees were required 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.
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. A total of 91 percent of children in primary school were over age. 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. The Civil Service Agency led a civil service reform effort to introduce biometric identification and eliminate “ghost” employees from the schools and other government offices.
Women are historically undereducated, but the government sponsored campaigns countrywide to increase girls’ attendance at school. Government efforts resulted in more girls attending.
Child Abuse: Widespread child abuse persisted, and reports of sexual violence against children continued. Civil society organizations reported rapes of girls under 12, and there were a few reported cases of child endangerment during the year. The true incidence was believed to be much higher.
Forced and Early 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. The Equal Rights of the Traditional Marriage Law of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. The government, in partnership with donors, operated an alternative basic education program for adults who had never received an education. The program also addressed life skills, such as health, hygiene, birth control, and ways to delay marriage. During the year the government released a Parent Teacher Association manual addressing delayed marriage and the importance of enrolling children in their proper grades. Underage marriage remained a problem in rural areas. According to a 2012 demographic health survey, 38 percent of women ages 20-24 were married or in a union before the age of 18. Sensitization efforts and mass media campaigns were conducted in target communities to educate citizens about the negative consequences of harmful traditional practices such as child marriage.
Harmful Traditional Practices/Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was common and traditionally performed on young girls of northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas. According to a 2007 demographic health survey, 58 percent of women and girls ages 15-49 had undergone the procedure. Mass campaigns against FGM/C over the last six years reduced this number, but exact data was unavailable. 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 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. 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 were exploited in prostitution in exchange for money, food, and school fees. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and during the year the government tried four of 216 reported cases of statutory rape, but that was probably 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 them up 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 the UN Children’s Fund 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 adoptions in 2009. The moratorium remained in effect. The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.