Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem. 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. Defendants accused of first-degree rape may be denied bail if evidence presented at arraignment meets certain evidentiary standards.
From January to August, the Women’s and Children’s Protection Section of the LNP received 264 reports of rape, of which 161 were pending investigation and 114 were referred to a specialized sexual violence court (Court E) that has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault, including abuse of minors. Court E’s effectiveness was limited by having only one of two authorized judges. A few of the 114 cases referred to Court E were forwarded to criminal court (Court D) for further judicial review. Of 98 cases submitted to the grand jury for prosecution, 89 resulted in indictment. During the year, 22 of 102 prosecuted statutory rape cases resulted in conviction. The true incidence of statutory rape was believed to be much higher than the number of rape cases prosecuted. The Sexual and Gender-based Crimes Unit within the Ministry of Justice continued to improve case management and increased the number of sexual offense indictments. During the year, 290 persons were arrested for sexual offenses and in pretrial detention. Of these, 215 had their initial appearance or first proceeding in front of a judge and 75 remained unprocessed. Of five cases tried, there were two convictions, one mistrial, one acquittal, and one that ended in a hung jury. Prosecutors obtained nine additional convictions through plea bargains.
The Sexual and Gender-based Crimes Unit continued to coordinate with Court E and to collaborate with NGOs and international donors to increase public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) problems; these efforts, according to the government and NGOs, led to increased reporting of rape. Human rights groups claimed the true prevalence of rape was higher than reported.
The government operated two shelters for SGBV victims and victims of trafficking in persons, and established two hotlines for citizens to report SGBV-related crimes. There was also one shelter run by an NGO. 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 social stigma of rape, especially in rural areas, contributed to the pervasiveness of out-of-court settlements and discouraged formal prosecution of cases. An overtaxed justice system also prevented timely prosecution, although local NGOs pushed for judicial action and sometimes provided lawyers to indigent victims. Due to delays in prosecution, many victims chose to cease cooperating with prosecutors. The government raised awareness of rape through billboards, radio broadcasts, and other outreach campaigns.
Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence is six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively and generally treated cases, if reported, as either simple or aggravated assault.
During the year the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection organized workshops and seminars to combat domestic violence. Media made some efforts to publicize the problem, and several NGOs continued programs to treat abused women and girls and to increase public awareness of their rights. LNP officers received training on sexual offenses as part of their initial training.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C, although the government maintained that a 2011 law protecting children against all forms of violence also proscribes FGM/C. The penal code prohibits causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon. No FGM/C perpetrators, however, were prosecuted. It was often performed during initiation into women’s secret Sande societies. Less discussed was the use of improper methods for traditional circumcision of boys. While uncommon, young men injured by poorly performed circumcisions may be ostracized by their communities.
In view of the sensitivity of the topic, FGM/C surveys typically eliminate direct reference to FGM/C and instead ask respondents questions regarding initiation into a women’s secret society, making it difficult to ascertain actual prevalence rates. According to a 2013 demographic health survey, 50 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 had undergone the procedure. FGM/C was common and traditionally performed on young girls of northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas and in the poorest households. There were also instances of women age 18 or older being cut, sometimes having married into a practicing community and being shunned by women unless they underwent FGM/C. According to a 2015 OHCHR report, older women were forcibly initiated into Sande societies as a threat or as punishment for perceived wrongs committed against society members. The percentage of girls and women ages 15 to 49 that underwent FGM/C ranged from 73 percent in the North Central Region to 28 percent in the South Eastern Region.
Government officials routinely engaged traditional leaders to underscore the government’s commitment to eliminate FGM/C. The president, minister of internal affairs (as overseer of traditional culture), and the minister of gender, children, and social protection spoke out against the practice, and the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Gender worked together in an attempt to pass anti-FGM/C legislation. The government routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, although there remained some political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C because of its association with particular tribes in populous counties.
There was steady movement in prior years toward limiting or prohibiting the practice. The Domestic Violence Bill proposed in January included a provision banning FGM/C on minors without parental consent, or on adults without their consent. In April this provision was removed by the House of Representatives, which prompted movement within the government to propose a stand-alone anti-FGM/C bill.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, which remained a major problem, including in schools and places of work. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.
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. Information and assistance on family planning was difficult to obtain, however, particularly in rural areas, where there were few health clinics. The government included family planning counseling and services as key components of its 10-year national health and social welfare plan. The UN Population Division estimated 19.6 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. A 2011 government-led survey found that approximately two-thirds of women in similar rural counties said they wanted to use family planning methods. This discrepancy suggested that poverty, lack of government resources, and cultural barriers impeded family planning efforts. The teenage pregnancy rate remained very high.
According to the UN Population Fund’s 2015 Trends in Maternal Mortality Report, the country had a maternal mortality rate estimated at 725 per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 28. Activities to reduce maternal mortality included additional training of midwives and providing incentives to pregnant women to seek prenatal care and childbirth at a hospital or clinic. Most women delivered outside of health facilities.
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. Under family law, men retain legal custody of children in divorce cases. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, pay, education, and housing. 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 made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights.
While the law prohibits polygamy, traditional and religious customs permit men to have more than one wife. No specific office exists to enforce the legal rights of women, but the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Women, Peace, and Security Secretariat–established within the ministry to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325–generally are responsible for promoting women’s rights. The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia operated a clinic to provide free legal representation to women, with its largest caseload made up of indigent women in child custody actions.
Birth Registration: 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 Liberia 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 the father naturalizes as a Liberian citizen prior to a child attaining the age 21, the child may qualify for citizenship. Otherwise, the child must follow normal naturalization procedures. If a child born in the country is not of Negro descent, the child may not acquire 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 fewer than 5 percent of births were registered. Even more women than usual did not give birth at health facilities during the Ebola crisis, resulting in thousands of unregistered births. The government acknowledged this problem and took steps to register these children.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades one-six) through junior secondary (grades seven-nine) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay 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 10-12) and, as a practical matter, are essential since the government was unable to fund these schools fully. In both public and private schools, families of students often were required to provide their children’s uniforms, books, pencils, paper, and even desks. According to UNICEF only 62 percent of primary school-age children were enrolled in school. The Ministry of Education disagreed, noting that UNICEF data did not take into account the many children enrolled in early childhood education programs. During the year the government began a pilot project with several for-profit education companies to test the feasibility of outsourcing public education. In September some public school teachers went on strike to protest the government’s actions, including inadequate pay and job retention reforms.
Girls accounted for fewer than half of all students and graduates in primary and secondary schools, with their proportion decreasing progressively at higher levels. Because parents placed more family responsibilities on daughters, they were more likely to pay school fees for their sons than for their daughters. In addition sexual harassment of girls in schools was commonplace, and adolescent girls were often denied access to school if they became pregnant. Students with disabilities and those in rural counties were most likely to encounter significant barriers to education.
Child Abuse: Widespread child abuse persisted, and reports of sexual violence against children continued. Civil society organizations reported many rapes of children under age 12, and from January to June there were 34 cases of child endangerment reported, of which four cases were being tried, four were pending investigation, and 26 were withdrawn for insufficient evidence or due to lack of cooperation by the complainant. The government engaged in public campaigns to combat child rape.
Early and Forced Marriage: The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the marriage age for all persons at 18, while the Domestic Relations Act sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women. The Equal Rights of the Traditional Marriage Act of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. In partnership with international donors, the government operated a free alternative basic education program for those unable to access formal education that taught life skills such as health, hygiene, birth control, and the merits of delayed marriage. The program, however, operated sporadically. Mass media campaigns were conducted in target communities, especially in rural areas, to educate citizens on the negative consequences of child marriage. Nevertheless, underage marriage remained a problem, especially in rural areas. According to a 2015 UNICEF report, 11 percent of women ages 20 to 24 were married by age 15 and 38 percent were married by age 18.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information on girls under 18 in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law, although girls occasionally were exploited in prostitution in exchange for money, food, and school fees. 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. The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the marriage age for all persons at 18, while the Domestic Relations Act sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women. The Equal Rights of the Traditional Marriage Act of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense that has a maximum sentence if convicted of life imprisonment. During the year the government prosecuted 102 cases of statutory rape. The penalty for conviction of child pornography is up to five years’ imprisonment. Orphaned children remained especially susceptible to exploitation, including sex trafficking.
Displaced Children: Despite international and government attempts to reunite children separated from their families during the civil war, some children–a mix of street children, former combatants, and internally displaced persons–continued to live on the streets of Monrovia.
Institutionalized Children: Regulation of orphanages continued to be very weak. Many unofficial orphanages also served as transit points or informal group homes for children, some of whom had living parents who had given them up for possible adoption. Many orphanages lacked adequate sanitation, medical care, and nutrition. They relied primarily on private donations and support from international organizations such as UNICEF and the World Food Program for emergency food and medical and psychological care. Many orphans received no assistance from these institutions. According to the NGO National Concern Youth of Liberia, some groups under the guise of operating an orphanage brought children from rural areas with a promise to provide them with education and then sold the children, often to households in the Monrovia area.
Since the country did not have a facility for their care, juvenile offenders at the MCP routinely were housed in separate cells in adult offender cellblocks. 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. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was a small Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
Although it is illegal to discriminate against persons with physical and mental disabilities, such persons did not enjoy equal access to government services and found very limited employment prospects. The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment and provides for access to health care, the judicial system, and other state services, but these provisions were not always enforced. Government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility disabilities, and sign language interpretation was not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services. There is a legal prohibition against discrimination on such grounds in accessing air travel or other transportation.
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. During the year the legislature passed a law prohibiting school administrators from discriminating against students with disabilities or denying them admission to schools based on inadequate school resources.
Many citizens had permanent disabilities resulting from the civil war. Persons with disabilities faced societal exclusion, particularly in rural areas. The government included persons with disabilities in its 2012 Vision 2030 National Development Strategy and related panel discussions that continued during the year. In August a Monrovia church taught LNP, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization officers basic sign language to facilitate communication with deaf citizens and suspects.
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. There were a small number of private schools located in urban areas specialized in education for persons with disabilities, but these schools had limited resources.
The right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs is legally protected and generally respected. The inaccessibility of buildings posed problems for persons with limited mobility wishing to exercise these rights. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection is the government agency responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and implementing measures designed to improve respect for their rights.
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 have 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, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, and the culture is strongly opposed to homosexuality. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. LGBTI activists reported that LGBTI persons faced difficulty in obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTI status as a defense. For example, an individual who was beaten sought police assistance but rather than investigate the victim’s allegation, police arrested the victim because the alleged perpetrator accused him of being gay. In October an LGBTI advocacy group reported several individuals were arrested and accused of sodomy; one of them was arrested after he reported being robbed to police.
The law prohibits same-sex couples, regardless of citizenship, from adopting children. LGBTI persons were cautious about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identities. A few civil society groups promoted the rights of LGBTI individuals, but most groups maintained a very low profile due to fear of mistreatment. Additionally, societal stigma and fear of official reprisal prevented some victims from reporting violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, an LGBTI advocacy group reported instances of women being raped to “correct” their sexual orientation, but women rarely reported rapes to the police due to fear and social stigma surrounding both sexual orientation and rape.
LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education. For example, in October an individual working for the Ministry of Health was “outed” by a coworker who repeatedly derided him at work, and the ministry failed to order an end to the harassment or otherwise respond. LGBTI advocacy groups also reported children quitting school due to bullying related to sexual identity and orientation.
There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBTI, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. For example, in June The Inquirer newspaper published a cartoon and sponsored an essay contest on whether FGM/C or homosexuality was worse for society. Some politicians, to garner support, made public statements against the rights of the LGBTI community.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health created a coordinator to assist minority groups–including LGBTI persons–in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. A civil society group provided human rights training on LGBTI issues to communities, including to local police and others promoted LGBTI access to judicial and health services by networking with and training lawyers. An LGBTI rights advocacy group provided human rights training to female police and immigration officers.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The most recent demographic and health survey in 2013 found no measurable improvement since 2007 in popular attitudes, which remained broadly discriminatory toward those with HIV. HIV-related social stigma and discrimination discouraged persons from testing for their HIV status, thus limiting HIV prevention and treatment services. Children orphaned because of AIDS faced similar social stigma.
Government ministries developed, adopted, and implemented several strategic plans to combat social stigma and discrimination based on HIV status. The Ministry of Labor continued to promote a supportive environment for persons with HIV. The Ministry of Education continued implementation of its strategic plan to destigmatize and safeguard HIV-positive persons against discrimination in its recruitment, employment, admission, and termination processes. 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 fine of no less than L$1,000 ($11).
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence and vigilantism, due in part to the public’s lack of confidence in police and the judicial system, resulted in deaths and injuries. For example, in September the threat of intertribal violence in Voinjama forced residents to hide or flee from an angry mob of ethnic Mandingos after police refused to release a Lorma man accused of ritually killing a Mandingo man. According to multiple reports, the Mandingo mob threatened to storm the police station and seize the Lorma man. The mob did not act on the threat.
There were also reports of increased stigmatization of Ebola survivors and their families and health-care workers who had worked in Ebola treatment facilities. According to the Ebola Survivors Network, survivors and their families confronted discrimination from landlords, neighbors, health-care providers, and employers.
There were reports of killings in which body parts were removed from the victim, a practice possibly related to ritual killings. On March 2, the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County convicted three men of murdering Nimley Tarr in 2014 for ritualistic purposes and sentenced them to death by hanging. According to the court record, the convicted men lured and murdered Tarr for his body parts. Ritual killings were reportedly on the increase during the year, but it was difficult to ascertain exact numbers since ritual killings were often attributed to homicide, accidents, or suicide.