By Emmanuel Ford, ChildFund Liberia
In 2012, ChildFund launched a program called Shine a Light in four countries — Dominica, Indonesia, Liberia and Senegal — thanks in large part to a major gift from a concerned donor. The project’s goal is to raise awareness of gender-based violence, assist child survivors of sexual abuse and help communities develop child-protective systems and responses. In four blog posts, we’ll learn about the progress made in these countries; today, we focus on Liberia.
In Liberia, Shine a Light was launched in Klay Town, Klay District, Bomi County. The project targets 200 children in two schools — 100 boys and 100 girls aged 10 to 17.
Schools in Liberia are rife with sexual exploitation and abuse. Sexual exploitation and abuse, a form of gender-based violence, is an abuse of a position of authority for sexual purposes. In 2012, research among 800 girls in four of Liberia’s counties found that 88.7 percent had experienced a sexual violation, 40.2 percent had engaged in transactional sex, and 47 percent had endured sexual coercion — citing classmates, teachers, and school personnel as the main perpetrators.
To respond to this enormous challenge with the aim of preventing sexual exploitation and abuse before it happens, the project has formed two clubs for girls. These clubs provide a safe space in the school setting where girls may interact with each other and community mentors. Community mentors are individuals who live and work in the same communities as the girls and who demonstrate interest in empowering both girls and boys to stop sexual exploitation and abuse at school.
Utilizing a dynamic and interactive curriculum, club members and community mentors together address important issues such as sexual harassment, HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, prevention of unintended pregnancy, and reproductive myths. Girls also receive financial education where they spend time learning about options for income generation, how to control spending, learning the differences between needs and wants, and how to save. Girls will be exploring options to open savings accounts and form savings groups.
However, because boys and teachers are also important partners to end sexual exploitation and abuse, the project engages these critical groups. For example, boys are learning about the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse and are receiving financial education. The project works with teachers and school administrators to reinvigorate and apply a school code of conduct for all personnel.
Gender-based violence has long been an issue of critical importance in Liberia. The national government started a national effort to fight gender-based violence in 2012, focusing on a community-based observation network to identify problems and address them quickly. In 2007, the World Health Organization worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development to interview 2,828 women about violence in their relationships.
According to the study, 93 percent had been subjected to at least one abusive act. Of those who survived violence, 48.5 percent said they were forced to work as sex workers; 13.6 percent of survivors were younger than 15. Rape cases are the most frequently reported serious crime in Liberia, and in 2007, 46 percent of reported rapes involved children under age 18; sexual assaults frequently occurred during Liberia’s political strife as a tool to control civilians, according to a 2012 Liberian government report.
Despite the response by Liberia’s government, sexual violence remains a serious problem, with a total of 2,493 sexual and gender-based violent crimes being reported across the country in 2012 and 2013, according to the Ministry of Gender and Development.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has taken on gender equality and gender-based violence as key causes in her administration, said in a November speech: “In Liberia, through the pain and anguish experienced by each of these victims, we have found the strength and the courage to start to build a new, transformed society — where women enjoy equal rights and fair treatment, and where their productive role in society and the economy is acknowledged. In my country, women occupy high-ranking government positions; rape, though continuing, has been criminalized; and women have greater property and custodial rights.”