Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a woman or man 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 of a child, rape resulting in serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, or gang rape, is a nonbailable offense punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without aggravating circumstances, is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
According to an INCHR report, perpetrators of rape enjoyed widespread impunity, in part because bureaucratic obstacles restricted the number of cases that could be heard in each judicial term, as well as institutional weaknesses of government agencies tasked with combating sexual violence. An inefficient justice system prevented timely prosecutions, and delays caused many survivors to cease cooperating with prosecutors. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. Survivors’ families sometimes requested money from perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court.
Government officials allegedly committed acts of sexual violence. Deputy Police Commissioner Joshua During was accused of raping an LNP colleague at police headquarters, and Harper City Solicitor Thomas Togba Kun was charged with sexually assaulting a law client (see section 1.c.).
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. Civil society observers suggested that lack of speedy trials led some survivors to seek redress outside the formal justice system.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit the practice of FGM/C, and NGOs reported there was little political will within the legislature to address the issue. According to the 2019-20 Liberia Demographic and Health Survey (LDHS), the most recent data available, 38 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C, with a higher prevalence in the northern regions.
Political resistance to legislative prohibition of FGM/C continued because of the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with cultural traditions of certain tribes and secret societies in populous counties. For example, the Sande society for women and girls combined traditional religious and cultural practices, and members underwent FGM/C as part of their indoctrination ceremonies. On February 21, the National Traditional Council suspended the practice of FGM/C for three years.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it remained a significant problem at work and in schools. UNICEF reported that sexual harassment in schools in the form of “sex for grades” and “sex for school fees” was common. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.
On January 31, local radio reported that residents of Maryland County staged a protest at the Maryland Palm Oil concession company and accused the company of harassment of women employees.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape, through one-stop centers. While public clinics throughout the country provided family planning counselling and a mix of modern contraceptive methods, access to these services at times proved difficult, particularly for women living in rural areas or those with limited financial means.
According to the 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 LDHS. Almost half of all respondents between the ages of 15 and 19 reported an unmet need for family planning, primarily for the spacing of children.
The LDHS estimated the maternal mortality rate was 742 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Postpartum hemorrhage remained the leading cause of maternal mortality and accounted for approximately 34 percent of maternal deaths. In remote areas, clinics often lacked basic infrastructure and facilities, and midwives and health workers sometimes delivered babies at night without electricity. According to the survey, teenage childbearing accounted for 30 percent of all births in 2019-20. FGM/C remained a problem and contributed to maternal morbidity (see the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection).
There were no legal barriers related to menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene that impacted the ability of women and girls to participate equally in society, including access to education, but economic, social, and cultural barriers remained. On September 21, a civil society group petitioned the government to take action to improve menstrual health by abolishing a tax on sanitary pads and providing menstrual changing rooms in schools. There was no evidence the government took such steps at year’s end.
The law is silent regarding school attendance of pregnant students, leaving school administrators to decide the course of action. Adolescent girls were often denied access to school if they became pregnant, and students who became pregnant while enrolled often did not return until after they gave birth due to fear of being bullied and stigmatized. Pregnant girls were sometimes expelled from school due to pregnancy or motherhood status. For example, after being raped by Anthony Mulbah, a math teacher at the Grace Heritage International School System in Monrovia, a pregnant student aged 14 was expelled on the grounds that her presence at the school would be a shame and disgrace and other students would likely mock her.
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. In rural areas, traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions discouraging their employment outside the home. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged that of men. Programs to educate traditional leaders on women’s rights, especially those regarding land rights, made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights in rural areas.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Although the law prohibits ethnic discrimination, racial discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, which restricts citizenship and land ownership to those of “Negro descent” only.
The law recognizes 16 Indigenous ethnic groups; each speaks a distinct primary language and has a regional concentration. Long-standing disputes among ethnic groups regarding land and other resources continued to contribute to social and political tensions.
Birth Registration: The law stipulates children of “Negro” descent born in the country to at least one citizen parent are citizens. Children born outside the country to a citizen parent are also considered citizens but are not entitled to birth registration or issued a birth certificate.
Every child born in the country is entitled to birth registration and certification, regardless of the parents’ nationality or socioeconomic status, but 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, according to the LDHS, only 66 per cent of children younger than age five were registered. Failure to register births did not necessarily result in restricted access to education and other public services.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory education in public schools through grade nine. The Ministry of Education nevertheless authorized public schools to charge fees for registration, activities, identity cards, entrance and placement exams, and graduation from kindergarten and grade 12. There were additional fees for early childhood education and night school. The fees prevented a significant number of poor students them from attending school.
Sexual and gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy, and unequal division of domestic labor were key constraints for girls’ education. Girls comprised less than half of all students and graduates in primary and secondary schools, with their proportion decreasing progressively at higher levels of education. Poor and rural girls experienced the highest levels of disadvantage, with 14 percent completing primary school, 2 percent completing secondary school, and 57 percent having no formal education at all (see subsection Women, Reproductive Rights). Students with disabilities and those in rural counties were most likely to encounter significant barriers to education.
Child Abuse: The law provides for children to be protected from abuse, but it was not effectively enforced. 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.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Laws regarding minimum age for marriage are inconsistent, setting the minimum marriage age for all persons at either 18 or 21 but also permitting girls to marry at age 16. According to UNICEF, in 2020, the most recent data available, 9 percent of girls were forced to marry before age 15 and 36 percent before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. A 2021 amendment to the law strengthened penalties for child sex trafficking offenses and removed the requirement to demonstrate elements of force, fraud, or coercion. Authorities generally enforced the law, although girls continued to be exploited, including in commercial sex in exchange for money, food, and school fees. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and statutory rape is a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Sexual abuse was a pervasive problem in secondary schools, with many teachers forcing girls to exchange sexual favors for passing grades. Orphaned children remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Infanticide, including Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: There were no known reports of infanticide. According to a report by the African Child Policy Forum, there were some ritual attacks against children with disabilities who were accused of witchcraft (see also Persons with Disabilities).
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 or no assistance.
There were no known reports of antisemitic acts against the country’s small Jewish community.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor under criminal law with a penalty of up to one year’s imprisonment. The government enforced the law. Activists reported LGBTQI+ persons faced difficulty obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the survivor’s LGBTQI+ status to justify their crime.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: LGBTQI+ persons recorded instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech. The NGO Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia reported 14 cases of abuse, including mob violence and assault. On July 13, local radio reported that several residents of Sinoe County threatened to kill “anyone involved with homosexuality.”
LGBTQI+ victims were sometimes afraid to report crimes to police due to social stigma surrounding sexual orientation and rape, as well as fear that police would detain or abuse them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The LNP’s Community Services Section claimed improvements in obtaining redress for crimes committed against LGBTQI+ persons as a result of human rights training. Police sometimes ignored complaints by LGBTQI+ persons, but activists noted improvements in treatment and protection after officers underwent training.
Discrimination: LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in access to housing, health care, employment, and education. There were several reports from activists that property owners refused housing to members of the LGBTQI+ community by either denying applications or evicting residents from their properties. In recognition of the problem, the Ministry of Health had a coordinator to assist minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, in obtaining access to health care and police assistance.
There were media and civil society reports of harassment of persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Anti-LGBTQI+ hate speech was a persistent problem. Influential figures, such as government officials and traditional and religious leaders, made public homophobic and transphobic statements.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The government does not allow individuals to change their gender identity marker on legal and identifying documents to bring them into alignment with their gender identity. The option of identifying as “non-binary/intersex/gender non-conforming” was not available.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no known reports of involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices specifically targeting LGBTQI+ individuals.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no legal restrictions on those speaking out on LGBTQI+ issues or on the ability of LGBTQI+ organizations to register or convene events, but few engaged in these permissible activities due to fear of verbal or physical abuse, as antigay sentiment is a regular part of political, social, and religious discourse.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. 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. The government did not provide information and communication on disability concerns in accessible formats. Sign language interpretation was often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services. Election ballots were not available in braille, but visually impaired voters could be accompanied by a sighted helper in the voting booth.
Persons with disabilities lacked equal access to social, economic, and political opportunities and were among the most vulnerable population groups in the country. Few children with disabilities had access to education. In 2019-20, less than 1 percent of students in public schools had a disability, suggesting that nearly all school-age children with disabilities were out of school. Some students with disabilities attended a few specialized schools, mainly for the blind and deaf, but only through elementary school. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, housing, and health care. According to the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled, persons with disabilities were more likely to become subjects of gender-based violence.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The law classifies violence by mob 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 for attacks because cases were rarely prosecuted.
The law prohibits “discrimination and vilification” of persons with HIV and AIDS, but the LDHS found no measurable change since 2007 in popular attitudes, which remained broadly discriminatory toward persons with HIV and AIDS.