Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a female or male is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem, especially under COVID-19 enforced lockdowns. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. Conviction of first-degree rape–defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon–is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
During the year the government increased efforts to combat rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. In July, in response to concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic had contributed to a rise in rape and other cases of sexual and gender-based violence, President Weah created an interministerial taskforce on sexual and gender-based violence. On September 8-9, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection convened a national conference on combatting rape and other acts of sexual and gender-based violence, which resulted in a plan to increase government action to address sexual and gender-based violence through victim support functions, the creation of a National Security Task Force on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, the launch of a public awareness campaign, capacity building for relevant ministries, and harsher punishments for perpetrators. As a result, public awareness of the issue increased, but the task force faced logistical challenges, such as a lack of vehicles.
On July 23, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor called for the arrest of Sense Kaiwu, a high school teacher at the Pejuhum public school in Grand Cape Mount County, Tewor District. Kaiwu allegedly raped and impregnated a 14-year-old girl in October 2019, who gave birth in July. The teacher fled, and no further information on his whereabouts was available at year’s end.
In August a consortium of civil society groups organized three days of protest against what the groups termed “an increasing wave of rape in Liberia.” On the first day of the protest, partisan violence broke out between protesters and persons believed to be supporters of the ruling CDC political party, who objected to the presence of Senator Abraham Darius Dillon on the protest grounds. Stone throwing between rival protesters resulted in injuries to two persons, as reported by news outlets. The protesters demanded that President George Weah personally receive their petition. On the second day of the protest, a group attempted to disperse the crowd of protesters, which again led to stone throwing. On the last day of the protest, LNP officers drove the protesters off the streets and reportedly used tear gas and arrested some of the protesters.
The government operated two shelters for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection–one in Lofa County and one in Nimba County. The government did not operate shelters in Monrovia. The Sexual Pathways Referral Program, a combined initiative of the government and NGOs, improved access to medical, psychosocial, legal, and counseling assistance for victims. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection assigned gender coordinators and staff members to each county office to increase public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence crimes and refer victims to assistance. The ministry also established “buddy clubs” in public schools across the country for children to discuss and report sexual and gender-based violence cases. Police officers received training on sexual and gender-based violence through programs sponsored by the EU Spotlight Initiative and the UNDP.
An overtaxed justice system prevented timely prosecutions, and delays caused many victims to cease cooperating with prosecutors. Victims’ families sometimes requested money from the perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the police reported that courts dropped 51 percent of reported domestic violence cases due to lack of evidence. The ability to collect and preserve evidence of sexual and gender-based violence crimes was also lacking.
Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem, and the Ministry of Gender stated 16 percent of reported sexual and gender-based violence cases were for domestic violence.
The 2019 Domestic Violence Act reportedly strengthened penalties and provided support for a referral mechanism, although copies of the law, and a simplified version of it, were not widely available to the public due to lack of funding. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence was six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The WACPS received reports on cases of domestic violence between January and September, which showed a decrease in the cases reported during the same period in 2019. Government and civil society officials attributed the reduced reporting of cases to the COVID-19 pandemic, as movement restrictions delayed official reporting, support services were limited due to the lockdown, and victims were unwilling to identify perpetrators while still living in close proximity under curfews and stay-at-home orders during the government declared state of emergency from April 8 through July 22. Civil society officials suggested that lack of speedy trials led victims to seek redress outside the formal justice system.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): According to the 2019-20 Demographic and Health Survey, 38 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C, with higher prevalence in the country’s northern regions. Although the government routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, there were no laws criminalizing it. Political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C continued because of the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with particular tribes in populous counties. In 2018 then president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued an executive order to prohibit FGM/C of all persons younger than age 18 and of persons older than 18 without their consent, but the order lapsed in early 2019 with no extension announced. NGO representatives reported there was little political will within the legislature to take on the issue of FGM/C.
In June 2019 the National Council of Chiefs and Elders and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with support from UN Women and the EU Spotlight Initiative, agreed to suspend for one year the activities of “bush schools” or traditional schools, like the Sande Society, in which girls learned farming and household skills but were often subjected to initiation rites, including FGM/C. Although the one-year period ended in June, the suspension reportedly remained in place and largely enforced by the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Sande (for females) and Poro (for males) societies–often referred to as “secret societies”–combine traditional religious and cultural practices and engage in FGM/C as part of their indoctrination ceremonies. Several human rights organizations reported bush school activities and FGM/C continued, despite the ban. In April, Front Page Africa reported a 25-year-old woman was drugged, abducted, forcibly subjected to FGM/C as part of ritual initiation into the Sande Society, and then held for three weeks. The victim alleged that someone in her family had paid for the initiation and procedure.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Many observers, including the INCHR, the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform, and the human rights office of the United Methodist Church, reported an apparent increase in harmful traditional practices during the year, including ritualistic killings, accusations of witchcraft, and trial by ordeal, although comprehensive data to confirm the increase was unavailable. Commonly called “Sassywood,” trial by ordeal is a way to establish guilt or innocence that takes many forms. Reported incidents of trial by ordeal included drinking a concocted liquid, heating a metal object until it glowed red and then applying it to the accused’s skin, beatings, inserting sharp objects into bodily orifices (including the vagina), and forcing women to parade naked around the community.
It remained difficult to obtain convictions for ritualistic killings in the court system because the justice system does not recognize traditional rites as judicable issues. There were reports of killings in which perpetrators removed body parts from the victims. The online newspaper Bush Chicken reported that on September 8, the body of a three-year-old girl was discovered in Dowein District, Bomi County, with body parts missing, including eyes, genitalia, tongue, and left foot, all indications that the child may have been a victim of ritual murder.
There were multiple cases of life-threatening violence against persons accused of witchcraft. In September 2019 a jury in Buchanan convicted seven men and sentenced each of them to 45 years in prison on charges of murder, aggravated assault, criminal facilitation, and criminal conspiracy for their roles in a 2018 attack against three women accused of witchcraft, in which one woman was raped and another killed.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it remained a significant problem at work and in schools. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace. In 2019 the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Education trained school administrators, students, and parents from seven of the 15 counties to identify warning signs and report incidents of sexual harassment and violence in schools.
Reproductive Rights: No laws restrict couples and individuals from deciding the number, spacing, and timing of their children or managing their reproductive health, and individuals have the right to seek and acquire information on reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. While the majority of clinics in the country provided family planning counselling and a mix of planning methods, access to these services at times proved challenging, particularly for women living in rural areas or those with limited financial means.
According to the 2019-20 Liberia Demographic Health Survey (LDHS), 25 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported using a modern form of contraception. Among sexually active unmarried women, 45 percent used modern family planning, while 23 percent of married women used a modern method. Unmet needs for family planning (defined as the percentage of sexually active women who want to postpone their next birth or limit their number of births but did not use a modern method of contraception) increased slightly from 31 percent in 2013 to 33 percent, according to the 2019-20 LDHS. The highest unmet need was among girls and younger women; almost half (47 percent) of women between the ages of 15 and 19 had an unmet need for family planning, primarily for the spacing of children.
The 2019-20 LDHS estimated the maternal mortality rate for the seven-year period before the survey was 742 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The survey estimated that 84 percent of births were attended by a skilled provider. According to the survey, the birth rate for adolescents was 30 percent. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) remained a problem and contributed to maternal morbidity.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: By law women may inherit land and property, are entitled to equal pay for equal work, have the right of equal access to education, and may own and manage businesses. By family law, men retain legal custody of children in divorce cases. In rural areas traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land. Programs to educate traditional leaders on women’s rights, especially on land rights, made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights in rural areas.
Birth Registration: The nationality law stipulates children of “Negro” descent born in the country to at least one Liberian parent are citizens. Children born outside the country to a Liberian father are also Liberian citizens. Nevertheless, they may lose that citizenship if they do not reside in the country prior to age 21, or if residing abroad they do not take an oath of allegiance before a Liberian consul before age 23. Children born to non-Liberian fathers and Liberian mothers outside of the country do not derive citizenship from the mother.
If a child born in the country is not of “Negro” descent, the child may not acquire Liberian citizenship. “Non-Negro” residents, such as members of the large Lebanese community, may not acquire or transmit citizenship. The law requires parents to register their infants within 14 days of birth, but only 25 percent of children younger than age five had birth certificates.
Education: Only 26.1 percent of children of official primary school age were enrolled in school, and only 34 percent of children completed primary education. On average, children attended school for 4.7 years in Liberia. The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades one to six) through junior secondary (grades seven to nine) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay for teachers’ salaries and operating costs the government did not fund. These fees prevented many students from attending school. By law fees are required at the senior secondary level (grades 10 to 12).
Girls accounted for less than half of all students and graduates in primary and secondary schools, with their proportion decreasing progressively at higher levels. Sexual harassment of girls in schools was commonplace, and adolescent girls were often denied access to school if they became pregnant. Nonetheless, the country continued to work on narrowing the gender gap at all levels of education, especially in primary school, where the gender parity index went from 88 girls per 100 boys in 2008 to 95 girls for every 100 boys in school in 2017. Students with disabilities and those in rural counties were most likely to encounter significant barriers to education. Only 14 percent of girls in rural areas completed primary school.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a widespread and persistent problem, and there were numerous cases reported throughout the year, including of sexual violence against children. The government engaged in public awareness campaigns to combat child rape. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, more rape victims were reported in the 13 to 17 age group than in any other. In July, Front Page Africa reported that an adolescent girl was sodomized after she was thrown out of her family home in the Omega Tower community for “witchcraft.” The girl was discovered early the next morning lying on the main road between Montserrado and Margibi Counties. Some community members accused the family of the victim of neglect and blamed them for throwing the girl out after relatives alleged she confessed to killing her 25-year-old uncle.
In June police arrested Johnson Chuluty in the Mount Barclay community of Montserrado County for statutory rape for allegedly impregnating his 15-year-old stepdaughter. Police also arrested the wife of the suspect, Mary Chuluty. In a video posted on social media, the victim explained she was living with her mother and stepfather when the rape occurred. The victim relayed that because the rape resulted in pregnancy, her mother sent her to Lofa County to live with her grandmother, where she remained until she gave birth. Police confirmed that the victim was placed in the care of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection.
On November 25, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection in collaboration with the Office of the First Lady and Partners officially launched the 16-Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. It sought to ensure nationwide awareness in almost all communities of the country to promote the concept of preventing gender-based violence, advocate for the protection of women’s and girls’ rights in all sectors of the society through media engagement, and re-emphasize the fact that the solution to ending gender-based violence lies with all citizens.
From December 28 to December 31, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, in collaboration with the Child Protection Network and with support from the EU Spotlight Initiative, held a four-day Child Protection Awareness Campaign in five communities (Peace Island-540, Clara Town, New Kru Town, Soniwehn, and Brewersville Township) within Montserrado County. The awareness campaign focused on curtailing the number of rape cases, child labor, and harsh punishment instituted against children in homes, communities, and public and private locations. The campaign was also geared towards achieving the goals of the Government of Liberia and Partners Roadmap on Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence by 2022.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the minimum marriage age for all persons at 18, the Domestic Relations Law sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women, and the Equal Rights of Customary Marriage Law of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. According to UNICEF, 9 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 36 percent before age 18.
With support from the EU Spotlight Initiative and the United Nations, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices such as child marriage. The campaign began in June 2019, when the ministry communicated with traditional leaders and community members in five counties in their local languages to raise awareness of the illegality and harm of child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law, although girls continued to be exploited, including in commercial sex in exchange for money, food, and school fees. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore it does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Additionally, sex in exchange for grades was a pervasive problem in secondary schools, with many teachers forcing female students to exchange sexual favors for passing grades. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape is a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The penalty for conviction of child pornography is up to five years’ imprisonment. Orphaned children remained especially susceptible to exploitation, including sex trafficking.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: There were cases of infanticide. On July 15, the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, freed 19-year-old Jamesetta Bendu Tour after she spent 10 months in prison without trial. She was accused of throwing her 22-month-old baby into the St. John River in September 2019. According to reports, the court freed Tour because the state prosecutor failed to pursue the case after two successive terms of court. On September 25, Tour admitted that she did throw her child into the river after she was put out by her parents, but she later contradicted that statement by saying the baby fell into the river while she was washing.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit, children with disabilities were often stigmatized, abandoned, neglected, and purposely exposed to risks (including death). Persons with disabilities suffered torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The National Union of the Organization of the Disabled (NUOD) reported families sometimes abandoned or refused to provide medical care to children with mental disabilities because of the taboo associated with the conditions or fear that the community would label children with disabilities as witches.
Displaced Children: Despite international and government attempts to reunite children separated from their families during the civil war, some street children, former child soldiers, and IDPs continued to live on the streets of Monrovia. Now adults, these homeless young individuals, who often suffered from drug addiction and engaged in crime, were referred to as “zogos.”
Institutionalized Children: Regulation of orphanages continued to be very weak, and many lacked adequate sanitation, medical care, and nutrition. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection did not monitor orphanages to ensure provision of basic services. Orphanages relied primarily on private donations and support from international organizations. Many orphans received little to no assistance. The ministry continued to run a temporary shelter capable of accommodating approximately 35 vulnerable children, including abandoned and orphaned children, which provided for basic needs until reunification with relatives.
Since the country did not have a designated facility for their care, juvenile offenders outside the Monrovia Central Prison were routinely held in separate cells in adult offender cellblocks (see section 1.c.). Guidelines existed and steps occasionally were taken to divert juveniles from the formal criminal justice system and place them in a variety of safe homes and “kinship” care situations.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Officials at the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor occasionally misapplied the term human trafficking to likely cases of international child abduction.
See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts against the country’s small Jewish community.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these prohibitions were not always enforced. Most government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. Sign language interpretation was often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the National Commission on Disabilities are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and implementing measures designed to improve respect for their rights.
Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, housing, access to all levels of education, and health care. Activists for persons with disabilities reported property owners often refused housing to persons with disabilities. According to NUOD, persons with disabilities were more likely to become victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
Some persons with disabilities suffered inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In April 2019 newspaper Front Page Africa reported that a 13-year-old girl with visual impairment was raped on separate occasions by two individuals, one of them a 17-year-old Braille instructor at the Christian Association of the Blind school, who impregnated her. The first of the alleged perpetrators was arrested in September 2019 at the age of 20. The Ministry of Justice Sexual Crimes Unit recommended that the alleged perpetrator be tried as a juvenile, but the court rejected the recommendation. The second alleged perpetrator was released by the Juvenile Court without the consent of the victim’s family and charged as a minor with corruption of a minor, although he was 20 years old at the time of his arraignment.
Few children with disabilities had access to education. Public educational institutions discriminated against students with disabilities, arguing resources and equipment were insufficient to accommodate them. Some students with disabilities attended a few specialized schools mainly for the blind and deaf–but only through elementary school. Students with more significant disabilities are exempt from compulsory education but may attend school subject to constraints on accommodating them. In reality few such students were able to attend either private or public schools.
The right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs is legally protected and generally respected. The law requires that the National Election Commission (NEC), to the extent practical, make registration and voting centers accessible to persons with disabilities. Despite educational sessions held by the NEC on the issue, persons with disabilities faced challenges during the voter registration and voting periods, including lack of access ramps, limited transportation to voter registration and polling centers, and limited mobility assistance at polling centers. The NEC, however, offered tactile ballots for the visually impaired.
Voting assistance in the December 8 senatorial elections and national referendum included the use of tactile ballots and permission for a trusted family member to accompany disabled voters, but some voters without a family member or accompanied by children had difficulty voting.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Although the law prohibits ethnic discrimination, racial discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, which restricts citizenship and land ownership to those of “Negro descent.” While persons of Lebanese and Asian descent who were born or who had lived most of their lives in the country may not by law attain citizenship or own land, there were some exceptions.
The law recognizes 16 indigenous ethnic groups; each speaks a distinct primary language and is concentrated regionally. Long-standing disputes regarding land and other resources among ethnic groups continued to contribute to social and political tensions.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activists reported LGBTI persons faced difficulty obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTI status in defense of their crime.
LGBTI persons continued to record instances of assaults, harassment, and hate speech by community members. In October, two members of a group known for beating and humiliating persons suspected to be LGBTI were arrested and referred to the Monrovia City Court at Temple of Justice. Defendant Cheeseman Cole, believed to be the ringleader of the group, along with Emmanuel Tarpeh, were arraigned before Magistrate Jomah Jallah to answer to multiple offenses that included criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault, among others. Cole and Tarpeh were later remanded at the Monrovia Central Prison to await prosecution after they could not secure a lawyer to process bail for their release. Cole, who was dishonorably discharged from the armed forces due to acts of criminality, faced allegations of brutality and torture against numerous young men he lured to his residence via Facebook over unfounded suspicion they were gay.
The Liberian Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, and Equality reported that in November 2019 an HIV testing drop-in center was stormed by members of the surrounding community who attacked a number of LGBTI persons who had gathered to celebrate a birthday. Reports indicated that approximately 10 persons were injured and five hospitalized, including one person stabbed and another knocked unconscious.
On November 12, OHCHR and UNDP published the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Rights in Africa: Liberia Country Report. The report calls attention to challenges and abuses LGBTI individuals face in Liberia, including arbitrary detention, violence, discrimination, stigma, inequality, social exclusion, as well as the denial of rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The launch event was organized by the INCHR, with the approval of a number of LGBTI organizations. In the weeks following the report launch, several threats to the LGBTI community were reported, one allegedly emanating from a government official. The threats prompted a number of activists to seek relocation assistance.
LGBTI victims were sometimes afraid to report crimes to police due to social stigma surrounding sexual orientation and rape as well as fear police would detain or abuse them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The HIV/AIDS team of the police and the Solidarity Sisters–a group of female police officers–undertook outreach to key communities, resolved disputes before they escalated, and helped other police officers respond to sensitive cases.
Authorities of the police’s Community Services Section noted improvements in obtaining redress for crimes committed against LGBTI persons due to several training sessions on sexual and reproductive rights. Police sometimes ignored complaints by LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists noted improvements in treatment and protection from police after officers underwent human rights training.
LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education. There were several reports from LGBTI activists that property owners refused housing to members of the LGBTI community by either denying applications or evicting residents from their properties. In 2016 the Liberia Business Registry denied registration to an NGO promoting human rights of LGBTI persons for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia.” The organization was later able to register under an acronym and with a modified scope of work.
There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. Influential figures such as government officials and traditional and religious leaders made public homophobic and transphobic statements.
The Ministry of Health had a coordinator to assist minority groups–including LGBTI persons–in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. Members of the LGBTI community often called upon trained protection officers to intervene in cases of harassment and violence.
The law prohibits “discrimination and vilification on the basis of actual and perceived HIV status” in the workplace, school, and health facilities, with conviction of offenses punishable by a small fine.
The most recent demographic and health survey (2019) found no measurable change since 2007 in popular attitudes, which remained broadly discriminatory, toward those with HIV. HIV-related social stigma and discrimination discouraged individuals from testing for their HIV status, thus limiting HIV prevention and treatment services. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 47,000 persons had HIV in the country during the year, with approximately 1,900 new cases reported annually. Children orphaned because of AIDS faced similar social stigma.
Government ministries developed, adopted, and implemented several plans to combat social stigma and discrimination based on HIV status. The Ministry of Health supported training to make health-care facilities more receptive to key populations, held discussions and outreach sessions, and provided services through drop-in centers. The Ministry of Justice and police worked with civil society organizations to engage key populations.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The penal code classifies mob violence as a crime. Nevertheless, mob violence and vigilantism, due in part to the public’s lack of confidence in police and the judicial system, were common and often resulted in deaths and injuries. Although mob violence sometimes targeted alleged criminals, it was difficult to determine underlying reasons, since cases were rarely prosecuted.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs. Trade and labor unions are registered with the Ministry of Labor. The Bureau of Trade Union Affairs & Social Dialogue is the arm of the ministry that coordinates the activities of the social partners, trade unions, and employer organizations in the labor sector.
Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but they may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Labor Congress (LLC), and Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including those for teachers and public-health workers, declared themselves to be unions, despite the law, and the LLC and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.
Under the Decent Work Act of 2015, parties engaged in essential services are also prohibited from striking. The act provides that the National Tripartite Council (comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and Liberian Labor Union) shall recommend to the minister all or part of a service to be an essential service if, in the opinion of the National Tripartite Council, the interruption of that service would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or any part of the population. As of year’s end, the National Tripartite Council had not published a list of essential services.
The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council.
While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”
The government inconsistently enforced applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. There were reports during the year of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas, including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days, and by public-sector associations of health workers and teachers. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depended on whether property damage occurred and was measurable. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference, such as bribes, coercion, and intimidation by politicians.
On September 23, a group of health workers demonstrated peacefully outside of diplomatic missions in Monrovia to advocate for international support in making their case to the government for better working conditions. On September 16, health workers under the banner of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) demanded the certification of NAHWUL, payment of outstanding salaries and benefits, and alignment between salaries and qualifications. The government responded with a call to hire replacement health-care workers. In October the health workers called off the strike upon the intervention of the UN resident coordinator and other international partners.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from forced prison labor or work defined as “minor communal service.” The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Criminal penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes involving denial of civil rights.
Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children to live with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers in Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation. There were also reports of forced labor on small rubber plantations and artisanal mines.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children were vulnerable to hazardous work because the government had not designated hazardous work categories. Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than 13 but younger than 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act, children 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until 15.
Gaps exist, however, in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including the one-year break between the compulsory education age and the minimum age for work. Additionally, the minimum age for work is not in compliance with international standards because it allows children younger than 16 to engage in work as long as it is outside of school hours, the employer keeps records of the child’s schooling, and the child is literate and attends school regularly. Because of these legal gaps, children of any age may be vulnerable to child labor. Although the Decent Work Act prohibits children younger than 15 from working full time, it does not prevent children below this age from engaging in part-time employment.
The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The ministry did not provide statistics on whether such permits were either requested or issued.
The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but had not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”
The National Commission on Child Labor (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies but did not do so effectively. Labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor but were understaffed and underresourced. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the police’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. It was not clear if any inspections or remediation took place. Although the National Child Labor Committee convened regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious problem. In 2019 the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government did not identify specific funding to implement its provisions and expected the donor community to contribute 59 percent of the total budget for eliminating child labor.
Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. It does not address refugee or stateless status. The law calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions discouraging their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6).
The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal sector workers. The law allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.
The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging.
The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one-hour rest period for every five hours of work. The law stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.
The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.
The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established wage, hour, and health and safety standards in the formal sector, but there is no system for monitoring and enforcement in the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. In April and September 2019, the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Immigration Service, and National Social Security and Welfare Corporation conducted joint nationwide labor inspections to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other labor laws. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.
Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority of citizens (estimated at 80 percent) worked in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries. Illegal mining of gold was rampant throughout the country and posed serious safety risks, resulting in the deaths of several persons every year. On December 11, the bodies of three illegal gold miners were retrieved from a collapsed mineshaft at David Dean Town in Kokoyah Statutory District, in Bong County. A local Lands and Mines inspector in Bong County told Front Page Africa that more than 10 illegal miners were feared to have been buried alive at the illicit David Dean Town mining center.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The law cites spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) as offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled by law to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases, although during the year these services were often limited due to resource constraints. As of September only 13 of the country’s 36 states (Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Osun, Cross River, Lagos, Plateau, and Bauchi) and the FCT had adopted the act, meaning that most Nigerians were not yet protected by the law.
The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 31 percent of women between ages 15 and 49 had experienced some form of physical violence and 9 percent had experienced sexual violence. On May 27, a university student was raped and killed while studying inside a church in Benin City, Edo State. With support from Edo State, the inspector general of police sent a special homicide team to investigate, which resulted in the arrest of six suspects in August. Four were charged and remained in jail awaiting trial until October, when they escaped during a mass jailbreak during the #EndSARS protests. At year’s end they remained fugitives, while two more suspects had yet to be charged because authorities could not locate them.
Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. Federal law provides penalties for conviction ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and provide for victims to receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, and for reintegration) provided by the law. The law also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape. Because the relevant federal law had only been adopted in one-third of states, state criminal codes continued to govern most rape and sexual assault cases and typically allowed for lesser sentences. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender-based violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation. Victims generally had little or no recourse to justice. In September, Kaduna State enacted laws increasing the maximum penalty for rape to include sterilization and the death penalty.
The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both for conviction of spousal battery. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government.
Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. A 2019 survey on domestic violence found that 47 percent of respondents had suffered from domestic violence or knew someone who had; 82 percent of respondents indicated that violence against women was prevalent in the country.
Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but there were few reports that the government took legal action to curb the practice. The law penalizes a person convicted of performing female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a monetary fine, or both. It punishes anyone convicted of aiding or abetting such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The federal government launched a revised national policy on the elimination of FGM for 2020-24.
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey found that 20 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. While 13 of 36 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature had criminalized FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws applied in their districts.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the law, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. For purposes of the law, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.
Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the north. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows were subject to social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but assault statutes provide for prosecution of violent harassment. The law criminalizes stalking, but it does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment. The law also criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.
The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions.
Reproductive Health: Although couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, traditional practices often hampered a woman’s choice on family size.
Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care were not widely available. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported as of 2020 that only 46 percent of married or in-union women were free to make their own informed decisions in all three categories of reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. More than 30 percent of women of reproductive age experienced spousal violence during pregnancy.
Modern methods of contraception were used by 12 percent of women, with nearly 19 percent of all surveyed women stating they had an unmet need for family planning, and 24 percent of women stating they wanted no more children. The UN Population Division estimated 17 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception. As of 2010, the UNFPA reported that 29 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18.
Cultural and religious views across regions affected access to reproductive services, especially contraceptive use. Not all primary health centers provided free family-planning services. The National Health Insurance Scheme did not always cover family-planning services.
Conversations around sex and sexuality issues were taboo in many places, posing a barrier for access for youth who might need services and information from health-care providers.
Pediatricians provided primary care for adolescents through 18 years of age. Adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and interventions were usually not provided within the health system. Low literacy and low economic empowerment among couples hampered effective access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and delivery, although government insurance policies sometimes provided for free antenatal services. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 67 percent of women ages 15-49 received antenatal care from a skilled provider during pregnancy, and 39 percent of live births took place in a health-care facility.
Inadequate funding for primary health-care facilities and cost of services, as well as lack of access to primary health-care facilities in rural and hard-to-reach areas with poor transportation and communications infrastructure, limited access to antenatal care and skilled birth delivery. Gender roles also limited access to maternal health services; women who were financially or socially dependent on men might be unable to access health care without seeking consent from their spouses. In some states, health-care workers frequently required women to provide proof of spousal consent prior to accessing contraceptives. In the North, societal and cultural norms inhibited women from leaving the house unaccompanied to access reproductive health services. Some women also preferred to deliver their babies using traditional birth attendants because of the belief they could prevent spiritual attacks and because of the affordability of their services.
According to the 2018 NDHS, one in 10 women ages 15-49 experienced sexual violence. A UNICEF survey from 2014 indicated one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence before age 18. The government received support from donors to provide access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Sexual violence survivors who sought and had access to care could receive a minimum package of care, including counseling, HIV testing services, provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (within 72 hours), linkage to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-negative clients, linkage to anti-retroviral services for HIV-positive clients, provision of emergency contraceptives (within 120 hours), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and legal support where required, among other services such as referrals for longer term psycho-social support and economic empowerment programs.
The 2018 NDHS reported a maternal mortality rate of 512 deaths per 100,000 live births due to lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services.
Complications associated with FGM/C included potential spread of HIV due to tearing of scarred vaginal tissue and use of unsterilized instruments; emotional trauma; and sexual health problems such as pain during sex, decreased sexual desire and pleasure, and obstetric problems such as prolonged or obstructed labor, obstetric fistulas, infection, sepsis, and postpartum bleeding.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and there were no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or jobs deemed too dangerous for women, there were limitations on women’s employment in certain industries such as construction, energy, and agriculture. Women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring.
Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.
In the 12 northern states that adopted religious law, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care.
The testimony of women carried less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.
Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than age five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services.
Education: The law requires provision of tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. According to the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to female participation in education persisted, particularly in the north.
Public schools remained substandard, and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children.
Most educational funding comes from the federal government, with state governments required to pay a share. Public investment was insufficient to achieve universal basic education. Actual budget execution was consistently much lower than approved funding levels. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF, in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.
According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide. Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated 10.5 million were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. At least an additional four million were estimated to be out of school at the secondary level. Primary school attendance was low, and learning outcomes nationally were poor on average, especially across the northern states, where compounding disadvantages included higher levels of household poverty, insecurity, and restrictive cultural norms. According to the 2015 education survey, the net attendance ratio at primary level was only 67 percent of children between the ages of six and 11. Children in rural areas were at a greater disadvantage than those in urban areas, with a ratio of 57 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Furthermore, national data on students’ reading and literacy levels revealed all of the northern states fell within the bottom third on reading performance.
The lowest attendance rates were in the north, where rates for boys and girls were approximately 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to UNICEF, in the north, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended. Approximately 25 percent of young persons between ages 17 and 25 had fewer than two years of education.
The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram and ISIS-WA insurgencies, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in Borno and Yobe States (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). According to the United Nations, between 2014 and 2017, attacks in the Northeast destroyed an estimated 1,500 schools and resulted in the deaths of 1,280 teachers and students.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed approximately six of every 10 children younger than age 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.
In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education reported 9.5 million children worked as almajiri, poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. Since government social welfare programs were scarce, parents of children with behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse problems turned to the almajiris of some mallams who claimed to offer treatment. Instead of receiving an education, many almajiri were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were given to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless. In April governors of 19 northern states agreed to ban almajiri schools, and during the COVID pandemic they repatriated thousands of students across state lines. By year’s end there were reports that almajiri schools had resumed in some states.
In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse, such as kidnapping and torture.
So-called baby factories operated, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They offered for sale the newborns of pregnant women–mostly unmarried girls–sometimes held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with boys fetching higher prices. Media reports indicated some communities killed infants born as twins or with birth defects or albinism.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF, 43 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before the age of 18, while 16 percent were married before age 15. The prevalence of child, early, and forced marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 25 state assemblies adopted the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum marriage age, and most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take significant legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage.
According to an NGO, education was a key indicator of whether a girl would marry as a child–82 percent of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13 percent of women who had at least finished secondary school. In the north parents complained the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child commercial sexual exploitation and sexual intercourse with a child, providing penalties for conviction from seven years’ to life imprisonment, respectively, for any adults involved. Two-thirds of states had adopted the relevant federal law. The minimum age for sexual consent varies according to state law. The constitution provides that “full age” means the age of 18, but it creates an exception for any married woman who “shall be deemed of full age.” In some states children as young as 11 can be legally married under customary or religious law. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking and prescribes a minimum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.
The law criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences of up to 10 years. The law criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms of 10 years, a substantial monetary fine, or both.
Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were exploited in commercial sex, both within the country and in other countries. Girls were victims of sexual exploitation in IDP camps. There were continued reports that camp employees and members of security forces, including some military personnel, used fraudulent or forced marriages to exploit girls in sex trafficking (see section 1.g.). The government expanded efforts to identify victims of exploitation in IDP camps and investigate camp officials alleged to be complicit in the exploitation. For example, the government continued a screening and sensitization campaign to identify sex-trafficking victims in IDP camps in Bama and other areas near Maiduguri. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) also collaborated with the Borno State government, international organizations, and NGOs to establish the Borno State Anti-Trafficking Task Force.
Displaced Children: As of September, UNHCR reported there were approximately 2.5 million persons displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region. According to the International Organization for Migration, children younger than age 18 constituted 56 percent of that IDP population, with 23 percent of them younger than age six. There were displaced children among IDP populations in other parts of the north as well. Many children were homeless.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
An estimated 700 to 900 members of the Jewish community, who were foreign employees of international firms, resided in Abuja. Although not recognized as Jews by mainstream Jewish communities, between 2,000 and 30,000 ethnic Igbos claimed Jewish descent and practiced some form of Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on the “circumstances of one’s birth.” In 2019 the government passed a disability rights law for the first time, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Violators are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. In August, President Buhari named the first appointees to lead the new National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
Some national-level policies such as the National Health Policy of 2016 provide for health-care access for persons with disabilities. By year’s end 10 states had adopted the national disability law including Kano, Jigawa, Anambra, Kogi, Ondo, Lagos, Ekiti, Plateau, Kwara, and Bauchi. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development has responsibility for persons with disabilities. Some government agencies, such as the NHRC and the Ministry of Labor and Employment, designated an employee to work on matters related to disabilities.
The government operated vocational training centers in Abuja and Lagos to train indigent persons with disabilities. Individual states also provided facilities to help persons with physical disabilities become self-supporting. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities served as the umbrella organization for a range of disability groups.
Persons with disabilities faced social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination, and relatives often regarded them as a source of shame. Many indigent persons with disabilities begged on the streets. Mental health-care services were almost nonexistent. Officials at a small number of prisons used private donations to provide separate mental health facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities. All prisoners with disabilities stayed with the general inmate population and received no specialized services or accommodations.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The country’s ethnically diverse population consisted of more than 250 groups speaking 395 different languages. Many were concentrated geographically. Three major groups–the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba–together constituted approximately one-half the population. Members of all ethnic groups practiced ethnic discrimination, particularly in private-sector hiring patterns and the segregation of urban neighborhoods. A long history of tension existed among some ethnic groups. The government’s efforts to address tensions among ethnic groups typically involved heavily concentrated security actions, incorporating police, military, and other security services, often in the form of a joint task force.
The law prohibits ethnic discrimination by the government, but most ethnic groups claimed marginalization in terms of government revenue allocation, political representation, or both.
The constitution requires the government to have a “federal character,” meaning that cabinet and other high-level positions must be distributed to persons representing each of the 36 states or each of the six geopolitical regions. President Buhari’s cabinet appointments conformed to this policy. Traditional relationships were used to pressure government officials to favor particular ethnic groups in the distribution of important positions and other patronage.
All citizens have the right to live in any part of the country, but state and local governments frequently discriminated against ethnic groups not indigenous to their areas, occasionally compelling individuals to return to a region where their ethnic group originated but where they no longer had ties. State and local governments sometimes compelled nonindigenous persons to move by threats, discrimination in hiring and employment, or destruction of their homes. Those who chose to stay sometimes experienced further discrimination, including denial of scholarships and exclusion from employment in the civil service, police, and military. For example, in Plateau State the predominantly Muslim and nonindigenous Hausa and Fulani faced significant discrimination from the local government in land ownership, jobs, access to education, scholarships, and government representation.
Land disputes, competition over dwindling resources, ethnic differences, and settler-indigene tensions contributed to clashes between herdsmen and farmers throughout the north-central part of the country. Ethnocultural and religious affiliation also contributed to and exacerbated some local conflicts. Nevertheless, many international organizations, including the International Crisis Group, assessed these divisions were incidental to the farmer-herder conflict. “Silent killings,” in which individuals disappeared and later were found dead, occurred throughout the year in north-central Nigeria.
Conflicts concerning land rights continued among members of the Tiv, Kwalla, Jukun, Fulani, and Azara ethnic groups living near the convergence of Nasarawa, Benue, and Taraba States.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
A 2014 law effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. According to the law, anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union may be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment. The law also criminalizes the public show of same-sex “amorous affection.”
A 2016 Human Rights Watch report asserted police and members of the public used the law to legitimize human rights abuses against LGBTI persons, such as torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, extortion, and violations of due process rights.
During the year LGBTI persons reported increased harassment, threats, discrimination, and incidents of violence against them based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity according to the NGO The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs). TIERs documented 482 human rights abuses based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression, and sex characteristics between December 2019 and November. Of these cases, more than 20 percent involved state actors. Invasion of privacy, arbitrary arrest, and unlawful detention were the most common abuses perpetrated by law enforcement and other state actors. Blackmail, extortion, assault, and battery were the most common types of abuses perpetrated by nonstate actors.
In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, adults convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual conduct may be subject to execution by stoning. Sharia courts did not impose such sentences during the year. In previous years individuals convicted of same-sex sexual conduct were sentenced to lashing.
On October 27, the Federal High Court in Lagos struck out the charges against 47 men charged in 2018 with public displays of same-sex amorous affection for their attendance at a hotel party where police stated homosexual conduct took place. The presiding judge struck out the charges due to a “lack of diligent prosecution” after the prosecuting counsel repeatedly failed to present witnesses or evidence for court proceedings among other concerns.
Several NGOs provided LGBTI groups with legal advice and training in advocacy, media responsibility, and HIV/AIDS awareness; they also provided safe havens for LGBTI individuals. This work took place contrary to the law.
In general the public considered HIV to be a disease, a result of immoral behavior, and a punishment for same-sex sexual conduct. Persons with HIV/AIDS often lost their jobs or were denied health-care services. Authorities and NGOs sought to reduce the stigma and change perceptions through public education campaigns.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Amnesty International reported in 2018 that 3,641 citizens and perhaps more were killed in violence involving herders and farmers since January 2016. According to International Crisis Group, what were once spontaneous attacks had increasingly become premeditated, scorched-earth campaigns driven primarily by competition for land between farmers and herders, and an estimated 300,000 persons were displaced by the violence.
Various reports indicated street mobs killed suspected criminals during the year. In most cases these mob actions resulted in no arrests.
Ritualists who believed certain body parts confer mystical powers kidnapped and killed persons to harvest body parts for rituals and ceremonies. For example, in June, five persons were killed in Oyo State. Their bodies were found with vital organs missing, and it was suspected that the organs were harvested for ritualistic use.
Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.
Persons born with albinism faced discrimination, were considered bad luck, and were sometimes abandoned at birth or killed for witchcraft purposes.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides all workers, except members of the armed forces, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and public employees who are classified in the broad category of “essential services,” the right to form or belong to a trade union or other association, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; some statutory limitations substantially restrict these rights. Trade unions must meet various registration requirements to be legally established. By law a trade union may be registered only if there is no other union already registered in that trade or profession and if it has a minimum of 50 members, a threshold most businesses could not meet. A three-month notice period, starting from the date of publication of an application for registration in the Nigeria Official Gazette, must elapse before a trade union may be registered. If the Ministry of Labor and Employment does not receive objections to registration during the three-month notice period, it must register the union within three months of the expiration of the notice period. If an objection is raised, the ministry has an indefinite period to review and deliberate on the registration. The registrar may refuse registration because a proper objection has been raised or because a purpose of the trade union violates the Trade Union Act or other laws. Each federation must consist of 12 or more affiliated trade unions, and each trade union must be an exclusive member in a single federation.
The law generally does not provide for a union’s ability to conduct its activities without interference from the government. The law narrowly defines what union activities are legal. The minister of labor and employment has broad authority to cancel the registration of worker and employer organizations. The registrar of trade unions has broad powers to review union accounts at any time. In addition the law requires government permission before a trade union may legally affiliate with an international organization.
The law stipulates that every collective agreement on wages be registered with the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding. Workers and employers in export-processing zones (EPZs) are subject to the provisions of labor law, the 1992 Nigeria Export Processing Zones Decree, and other laws. Workers in the EPZs may organize and engage in collective bargaining, but there are no explicit provisions providing them the right to organize their administration and activities without interference by the government. The law does not allow worker representatives free access to the EPZs to organize workers, and it prohibits workers from striking for 10 years following the commencement of operations by the employer within a zone. In addition the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, which the federal government created to manage the EPZ program, has exclusive authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, thereby limiting the autonomy of the bargaining partners.
The law provides legal restrictions that limit the right to strike. The law requires a majority vote of all registered union members to call a strike. The law limits the right to strike to disputes regarding rights, including those arising from the negotiation, application, interpretation, or implementation of an employment contract or collective agreement, or those arising from a collective and fundamental breach of an employment contract or collective agreement, such as one related to wages and conditions of work. The law prohibits strikes in essential services. The International Labor Organization (ILO), however, stated that government defined “essential services” in an overly broad manner. Essential services included the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Ltd.; any corporate body licensed to carry out banking under the Banking Act; postal service; sound broadcasting; telecommunications; maintenance of ports, harbors, docks, or airports; transportation of persons, goods, or livestock by road, rail, sea, or river; road cleaning; and refuse collection. Strike actions, including many in nonessential services, may be subject to a compulsory arbitration procedure leading to a final award, which is binding on the parties concerned.
Strikes based on disputed national economic policy are prohibited. Penalties for conviction of participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
Workers under collective bargaining agreements may not participate in strikes unless their unions comply with legal requirements, including provisions for mandatory mediation and referral of disputes to the government. Workers may submit labor grievances to the judicial system for review. Laws prohibit workers from forcing persons to join strikes, blocking airports, or obstructing public byways, institutions, or premises of any kind. Persons committing violations are subject to fines and possible prison sentences. The law further restricts the right to strike by making regular payments of union dues conditional on the inclusion of a no-strike clause during the lifetime of a collective agreement. No laws prohibit retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who believe they are victims of unfair retribution may submit their cases to the Industrial Arbitration Panel with the approval of the Ministry of Labor and Employment. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties but may be appealed to the National Industrial Court. The arbitration process was cumbersome, time consuming, and ineffective in deterring retribution against strikers. Individuals also have the right to petition the Labor Ministry and may request arbitration from the National Industrial Court.
The law does not prohibit general antiunion discrimination; it only protects unskilled workers. Penalties for violations were not comparable with penalties for similar offenses. The law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. A large number of alleged cases in antiunion discrimination and obstruction to collective bargaining were reported during the year. Specific acts include denial of the right to join trade unions, massive dismissals for trying to join trade unions, mass repression of union members, and arrests of union members, among others.
In 2013 the ILO ruled that many provisions of the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act contravened ILO conventions 87 and 98 by limiting freedom of association. While workers exercised some of their rights, the government generally did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Inflation reduced the deterrence value of many fines established by older laws.
In many cases workers’ fears of negative repercussions inhibited their reporting of antiunion activities. According to labor representatives, police rarely gave permission for public demonstrations and routinely used force to disperse protesters. In Port Harcourt union members were harassed in an effort to silence opposition to the unilateral abolition of the 30,000 naira ($78) monthly national minimum wage. On July 21, the Trade Union Side of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council alleged the governor of Rivers State dispatched armed thugs to the National Labor Congress secretariat to vandalize property and abduct the chairperson of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria. The chairman was detained at Government House, dragged to a magistrate court on trumped up offenses, and kidnapped while undergoing trial; his whereabouts remained unknown.
Collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector but remained restricted in some parts of the private sector, particularly in banking and telecommunications. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the government and some private-sector employers occasionally failed to honor their collective agreements.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except compulsory prison labor. Criminal penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes but were seldom appropriately enforced. The government did not effectively enforce these laws in many parts of the country. The government took steps to identify or eliminate forced labor, but insufficient resources and lack of training on such laws hampered efforts.
Forced labor remained with reports of women and girls subjected to forced labor in domestic service, and boys subjected to forced labor in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The government does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Child labor was prevalent, especially in the informal sector.
By law age 12 is the general minimum age for employment. Persons younger than age 14 may be employed only on a daily basis, must receive the day’s wages at the end of each workday, and must be able to return each night to their parents’ or guardian’s residence. By law these regulations do not apply to domestic service. The law also provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and horticulture if the employer is a family member. No person younger than age 16 may work underground, in machine work, or on a public holiday. No “young person,” defined as a person younger than age 18 by the Labor Act, may be employed in any job that is injurious to health, dangerous, or immoral. For industrial work and work on vessels where a family member is not employed, the minimum work age is 15, consistent with the age for completing educational requirements. The law states children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than eight hours per day. Apprenticeship of youths older than age 12 is allowed in skilled trades or as domestic servants.
The Labor Ministry dealt specifically with child labor problems but mainly conducted inspections in the formal business sector, where the incidence of child labor reportedly was not significant. The NAPTIP has some responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, although it primarily rehabilitates trafficking and child labor victims. Victims or their guardians rarely complained due to intimidation and fear of losing their jobs.
The government’s child labor policy focused on intervention, advocacy, sensitization, legislation, withdrawal of children from potentially harmful labor situations, and rehabilitation and education of children following withdrawal. In an effort to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, the government operated vocational training centers with NGOs around the country. The Labor Ministry confirmed that 2,996 children were removed from child labor during the year. Despite the policy and action plan, children largely were not adequately protected due to weak enforcement of the law and gaps in coverage.
Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor identified in the country including: commercial agriculture and hazardous farm work (cocoa, cassava); street hawking; exploitative cottage industries such as iron and other metal works; hazardous mechanical workshops; exploitative and hazardous domestic work; commercial fishing; exploitative and hazardous pastoral and herding activities; construction; transportation; mining and quarrying; prostitution and pornography; forced and compulsory labor and debt bondage; forced participation in violence, criminal activity, and ethnic, religious, and political conflicts; and involvement in drug peddling.
Many children worked as beggars, street peddlers, and domestic servants in urban areas. Children also worked in the agricultural sector and in mines. Boys were forced to work as laborers on farms, in restaurants, for small businesses, and in granite mines, as well as street peddlers and beggars. Girls worked involuntarily as domestic servants and street peddlers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or social status. The government did not effectively address discrimination in employment or occupation except in the area of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women). Women are legally barred from particular fields of employment, such as mining. Women often experienced discrimination due to traditional and religious practices. Police regulations provide for special recruitment requirements and conditions of service applying to women, particularly the criteria and provisions relating to pregnancy and marital status.
In January 2019 the government adopted the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, giving them the right to education without discrimination or segregation; the right to work on an equal basis with others, including the right to opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open. The act further provides that “all employers of labor in public organizations shall, as much as possible, have persons with disabilities constituting at least 5 percent of their employment.”
NGOs expressed concern regarding discrimination against women in the private sector, particularly in access to employment, promotion to higher professional positions, and salary equity. According to credible reports, many businesses implemented a “get pregnant, get fired” policy. Women remained underrepresented in the formal sector where labor protections and higher wages applied. Women did not receive equal pay for equal work and often encountered difficulty in acquiring commercial credit or obtaining tax deductions or rebates as heads of households. Unmarried women in particular endured many forms of discrimination. Several states had laws mandating equal opportunity for women.
Employers frequently discriminated against persons with HIV and AIDs. The government spoke out in opposition to such discrimination, calling it a violation of the fundamental right to work.
In April 2019 President Buhari signed legislation increasing the legal national monthly minimum wage. The minimum wage was not higher than the poverty income level. Trade unions protested the failure of the new minimum wage to keep up with inflation. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from this minimum, and the large majority of workers were not covered. Government enforcement of the minimum wage, particularly by state governments, remained sporadic despite workers’ protests and warning strikes. For example, on December 23, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) conditionally suspended its nine-month strike (the country’s longest strike since 1999) in protest of the government’s nonpayment of salaries of ASUU members and failure to revitalize public-sector universities.
The law mandates a 40-hour workweek, two to four weeks of annual leave, and overtime and holiday pay, except for agricultural and domestic workers. The law does not define premium pay or overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime for civilian government employees. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar violations.
The law establishes appropriate health and safety provisions. The law requires employers to compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of workers killed in industrial accidents. The law provides for the protection of factory employees in hazardous situations. The law does not provide other nonfactory workers with similar protections. The law applies to legal foreign workers, but not all companies respected these laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.
The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing these standards. The ministry did not effectively enforce occupational health and safety law and did not have a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce compliance. The department is tasked to inspect factories’ compliance with health and safety standards, but it was underfunded, lacked basic resources and training, and consequently did not sufficiently enforce safety regulations at most enterprises, particularly construction sites and other nonfactory work locations. Labor inspections mostly occurred randomly but occasionally occurred when there was suspicion, rather than actual complaints, of illegal activity. In addition the government did not enforce the law strictly. Authorities did not enforce standards in the informal sector, which included the majority of workers.