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Liberia

As the result of the devastating wars Liberia experienced, children now face many challenges and dangers. Poverty, malnutrition, and consistent patterns of sexual violence against children are the realities of post-conflict life in Liberia. Children who had been forced to join armed forces and groups are now trying to put the pieces of their lives back together.1 Liberia´s infant and under 5 mortality rates remain among the five highest in the world. More than 15 per cent of children die before reaching their first birthday. Preventable diseases like malaria and measles are among the leading killers of children, and 45 per cent of Liberian children under age five are chronically and acutely malnourished.2 According to UNICEF, armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and other diseases have orphaned approximately 230 000 Liberian children.3

Sexual assault

Sexual violence in Liberia is a major concern. It counts as one of the most common crimes in the monthly police listings in Monrovia, Liberia's capital city. According to treatment centre statistics, the majority of the victims are children. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Monrovia report their youngest sexual violence survivor was only 21 months old.4 In May 2007, the Liberian Government decided to establish a special court dedicated to hearing gender and sexual violence cases, but the court processed only four cases during 20095. In June that same year the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) opened a safe house for victims of sexual violence, which is being run by a local NGO. Liberia adopted a national action plan on gender-based violence in 2008 and the United Nations provided funds to implement the plan. In July 2008, Liberia ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.6

Child soldiers

Child soldiers were used by both government and opposition forces in the war, and the forced recruitment of boys and girls (some as young as nine years old) became a deliberate policy on the part of the highest levels of leadership in the armed groups.7 Girl soldiers were given the same responsibilities as boys. In addition, girl soldiers were victims of rape and sexual assault, sometimes over periods of several years. One girl, aged 14 at the time of her abduction, told Human Rights Watch about the multiple rapes she endured.8 Despite the cessation of fighting, armed forces along the borders with Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire continue to recruit children into their ranks.9

Education

The war led to the destruction of almost all of the schools in the country. In 2004, less than 50 per cent of children were enroled in primary education. Schools allow corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure and is widely practised. Corporal punishment is lawful in the home, causing serious injuries or harm.10 Half a million children do not attend school. Two thirds of the students are being taught by unqualified teachers. Girls’ enrolment rates lag far behind those for boys.11

Gender

The minimum legal age for marriage is 21 for males and 18 for females, but in practice, the custom of early marriage is widespread, particularly for girls in rural areas who can get married as early as 12 or 13 years old. Female Genital Mutiliation (FGM) still remains a widespread practice.12

Justice

Even though the minimum age for criminal responsibility is set at 16, children under the age of 16 are nevertheless held criminally responsible in juvenile court procedures. Capital punishment and imprisonment without possibility of release can be applied under Liberian Penal Law against children aged 16 and 17 years at the time of the commission of the crime. In urban areas, child prostitution is prevalent and there are increasing concerns about substance abuse among young children, especially children associated with armed forces.13

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