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.
A specialized sexual violence court (Court E) has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault, including abuse of minors, but it was limited in effectiveness by having only one of two authorized judges presiding. Of 121 SGBV cases submitted to the grand jury for prosecution, 117 resulted in indictment. Observers believed the true incidence of statutory rape was much higher than the number of rape cases reported or prosecuted.
The government operated two shelters for SGBV victims, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection, and established two hotlines for citizens to report SGBV-related crimes. The Sexual Pathways Referral program, a combined initiative of the government and NGOs, improved access to medical, psychosocial, legal, and counseling assistance for victims. LNP officers received training on sexual offenses as part of their initial training.
An overtaxed justice system also prevented timely prosecution, and 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. The Woman and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the LNP received reports on 560 cases of domestic violence between January and July, thought to reflect only a small fraction of the true number.
During the year the MoGCSP organized workshops and seminars to combat domestic violence. In August the MoGCSP embedded two social workers within the WACPS to assist victimized or abandoned women and children who sought refuge at the LNP headquarters safe house, and the LNP released funds to purchase food, diapers, and other necessities.
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 fully prosecuted. In Tapita, Nimba County, a court case charging negligent homicide, criminal solicitation, and criminal conspiracy was brought against four individuals after 16-year-old Zaye Doe died after she was forced to undergo FGM/C (while being forcibly initiated into the Sande society). The accused were arraigned, but the second hearing of the case was postponed because the prosecuting attorney was ill. The case was later suspended.
There was steady movement in prior years toward limiting or prohibiting the practice. 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 MoGCSP 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 the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with particular tribes in populous counties.
For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to a 2015 UN assessment, accusations of witchcraft were common and often had “devastating consequences” for those accused, including “trial by ordeal,” and in some cases, large fines for simple mistakes like inadvertently spilling food when trying to serve it, which is interpreted as a sign of witchcraft. Authorities often failed to investigate or prosecute cases involving trial by ordeal.
Trial by ordeal included: forcing the ingestion of poison; hanging the accused from a tree by the arms or feet for extended periods of time; requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a pot of hot oil; heating a metal object until it glows red and then applying it to the accused’s skin; beatings; rubbing chili pepper and mud into the accused’s bodily orifices (including the vagina); depriving the accused of food and water; requiring the accused to sit in the sun or rain for extended periods; forcing the accused to sit on hot coals; forcing the accused to ingest food or nonfood substances to induce severe vomiting, diarrhea, and other illnesses; and forcing women to parade naked around the community.
On May 16, traditional leaders reportedly held hostage, beat, forced humiliating acts upon, and otherwise abused 13 women in Saclepea, Nimba County, after the women had been accused of witchcraft. LNP officers rescued the women during a “trial” proceeding, and arrested the traditional leaders responsible. The suspects were taken to the Nimba police detachment for investigation on aggravated assault charges, and the case remained pending.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, which remained a significant problem, including in schools and places of work. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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. 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.
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 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
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).
Girls accounted for less than one-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 made significant progress in 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 96 girls for every 100 boys in school in 2015. 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. The government engaged in public campaigns to combat child rape. The MoGCSP reported removing children from the immediate reach of the perpetrators and placing them in safe homes. During the year the MoGCSP launched a “child hotline.” Because the ministry had not designated a call-answering command center, social workers were responsible for taking calls while working and at home, and they did not always respond.
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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
In January the MoGCSP launched a strategic framework and campaign to end child marriage with UNICEF funding. The MoGCSP held working sessions with students in six of the country’s 15 counties, and launched a community-awareness campaign intended to highlight the importance of ending 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 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. Statutory rape is a criminal offense that has a maximum sentence if convicted 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. According to the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Section, children with disabilities were often abandoned, neglected, and exposed to risks (including death). Persons with disabilities suffered torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, or punishment. Families sometimes took their relatives who were mentally ill to “healing centers,” where some were chained, and the legs of children with clubfoot were severely beaten with blunt objects with the aim of straightening the legs.
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 and many 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 outside of the MCP were routinely 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.
In July the government successfully prosecuted a trafficking-in-persons case; two young girls were the victims. The perpetrators, two Sierra Leoneans, transported the girls from Sierra Leone with the intent to sell one of them in Liberia. Two Liberian citizens were also prosecuted for their roles as facilitators. The trial was conducted over five months, and the main perpetrator, Sao Kromah, received a 10-year prison sentence. The two victims were in a safe house while the government worked to return them to their families in Sierra Leone.
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. 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
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these provisions were not always enforced. Government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. Sign language interpretation was not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services.
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 specialized schools mainly for the blind and deaf–but only through elementary school. During the year the legislature passed and amended a Public Health Law to add a chapter on mental health that seeks to give persons with mental health problems equal access to health care and protect the properties, civil, and social rights of such persons.
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. Generally, the inaccessibility of buildings posed problems for persons with limited mobility wishing to exercise these rights.
The law requires that the NEC, to the extent practical, ensure that registration and voting centers are accessible to persons with disabilities. Despite educational sessions held by the NEC on the issue, persons living with disabilities faced challenges during the voter registration and voting periods, including lack of access ramps or transportation to voter registration and polling centers. The NEC, however, does offer tactile ballots for the blind. The MoGCSP 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.
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 2017 presidential and legislative election season resulted in an increase in reports of xenophobic incidents. Some citizens with last names associated with neighboring countries were accused of being foreigners who should not participate in Liberian elections. Moreover, several Muslim groups noted other forms of discrimination when trying to register to vote, including a group of women in hijab who were told they had to remove their head coverings completely for their registration photo, when non-Muslim women wearing traditional head coverings were not told to remove them. The case was raised to the level of the National Election Commission and reportedly resolved.
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. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. LGBTI activists reported 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. In February a senior LNP officer stated officers should not protect LGBTI individuals because their identity as LGBTI persons violated the law, although there is no such law.
In June an LGBTI individual described respectful treatment by police after she reported a violent assault by a neighbor with a history of harassing and whose family had justified the assault by calling the victim an “aggressive lesbian.” Cases of abuse against LGBTI persons can be reported via the Ministry of Justice, National Aids Commission, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights; however, no official action was taken.
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, one transgender woman reported being attacked in her apartment by five men who robbed, bound, beat, and raped her. One of the attackers then threatened to kill all transgender individuals in the country. The victim did not report the crime to police. LGBTI persons rarely reported rapes to 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. In November 2016 an NGO promoting LGBTI rights was denied reregistration by the Liberia Business Registry for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia.” The registration request continued to be denied.
According to testimonies provided during an assessment conducted in seven communities by a local LGBTI NGO, discrimination against LGBTI persons is prevalent throughout the society, and violence against the community continued to be a concern.
There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBTI, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. In August, Senate President Pro Tempore Jallah released a statement claiming, “homosexuals and lesbians are using the dollars to ruin the sanity of young people” [sic]. Later that same month, five presidential candidates contesting the October elections stated they would criminalize homosexuality if elected; two others said they would support the LGBTI community.
The Ministry of Health created a coordinator to assist minority groups–including LGBTI persons–in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. Two civil society groups were training 100 police officers in human rights as part of an effort to educate police on the rights of these communities.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
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 ($12).
The most recent demographic and health survey in 2013 found no measurable change 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.
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, often resulted in deaths and injuries. Although mob violence usually targeted alleged criminals, it was difficult to determine underlying reasons since cases were rarely prosecuted.
There were also reports of continued 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. In a widely reported incident in February, a nurse who survived Ebola and immediately returned to work to help other Ebola patients died during complications of childbirth after local health workers refused to administer injections that might have brought them in contact with the nurse’s bodily fluids.
Ritual killings reportedly increased, but it was difficult to ascertain exact numbers since ritual killings were attributed to homicide, accidents, or suicide. There were reports of killings in which body parts were removed from the victim, a practice possibly related to ritual killings. In February a five-year-old boy reportedly survived attempted ritualistic killing in Lofa County after unknown attackers allegedly attempted to remove his penis. A woman from a nearby farm rescued the child, but the attackers escaped.