TGCI’s Liberia Citizen-Government Engagement Project (CGEP) is based in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Margibi, and Monterrado Counties, four of the largest counties in Liberia.  They were selected by TGCI to be a part of our project because there have been widespread reports of child and youth sexual abuse in these four counties. These counties were engaged in Liberia’s 14-year civil unrest (1989 – 2003), in which there was widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by males over the age of 18, many of whom were known to their victims.

Statistics from Counties we worked in

Grand Cape Mount

Located along the border with Sierra Leone, and it composed of five constitutional districts. These districts include, Garwula (26,936), Golakonneh (23,518), Porkpa (42,615), Commonwealth (6,547), and Tewor (27,460).

Bomi County

Located 35 km north of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. The country is composed of four constitutional districts with the total population of 84,119. These constitutional districts are: Dowein (13,188), Klay (23,397), Senjeh (30,027), and Suehn Mecca (17,507).

Margibi County

Located in the middle of Liberia. It has a population of 209,923 with four constitutional districts. They are the Firestone (61,988), Gibi (14,250), Kakata (88,704), and Mambah Kaba (44,981).

Montserrado County

Liberia’s most densely populated county with a population of 1,118,241. This county has five legislative districts: Careysburg (29,712), Commonwealth (11,876), Greater Monrovia (970,824), St. Paul River (71,831), and Todee (33,998).

The Challenge of Addressing Child Sexual Abuse in the Four Counties

Historically the justice system has been slow to respond to complaints of rape and sexual abuse in these countries (and elsewhere in Liberia). Factors such as corruption, the lack of a well-organized response system, and inadequate logistical and financial resources have constrained government from effectively responding to citizen complaints. Other barriers to fair treatment for sexual abuse victims include inappropriate meddling by traditional actors, and culturally supported attitudes and practices of male supremacy. Social pressure to informally settle cases out of court also has occurred on a regular basis. There is a widespread culture of impunity and secrecy with regards to sexual-based gender violence, putting women and children in continued serious risk of sexual violence.

Victims face challenges at every step of the process if they attempt to hold their assaulters criminally accountable. Child sexual abuse occurs on almost a daily basis because there are no effective systems to report and track it, effectively arrest and persecute perpetrators, and provide aid to traumatized victims. Many citizens have seen reporting child sexual abuse as worthless. They are fearful that their privacy will not be respected if they lodge a complaint. They believe that there are no effective systems to respond to their complaints and monitor the investigation process. They also rarely receive feedback on how their complaints have been handled by government.

In the past, many perpetrators of child sexual abuse have walked out of courts and police stations scot-free. Data show that for every 1000 cases reported, more than 50 perpetrators were successfully prosecuted.  In communities across the four counties, it is not uncommon for 12-year-old girls to give birth and be married to men old enough to be their grandfathers.

How TGCI’s Project is Helping

In each of the four counties, TGCI has introduced a dedicated protected cell-phone based SMS messaging system and (for those who don’t text) a telephone hotline whereby citizens can report incidents of child sexual abuse with the local office of the Ministry of Gender. We also have installed a dedicated database management system in each Ministry of Gender country office that enables the Ministry to record citizen reports and track how they are being addressed.

We also have worked with the Ministry of Gender and other Ministries to establish a pathway for referring and addressing reported incidents of child sexual abuse. This referral pathway involves the police, the judiciary, the Ministry of Health and other stakeholder organizations with resources prosecute perpetrators of child sexual abuse and provide remedial services to victims.

The Project also is undertaking a mass media campaign to raise citizen awareness and change their behavior towards the practice of child sexual abuse. Local radio stations run frequent attitudinal and behavior change messages.

Since the Project began increasing numbers of citizens have been using their phones to report cases of child sexual abuse. Testimonies and our regular surveys have shown that citizens are now more comfortable and confident in reporting any case of sexual abuse. Preliminary data also indicates that the rate of successful prosecution of sexual abuse perpetrators also is increasing. The Project will continue to collect data on its activities and will undertake an in-depth evaluation of its impact in August.