Making Liberia a safe and inclusive place for children and young people is possible.
Liberia is a youthful country. Children under the age of 15 make up 42 per cent of its population while 63 per cent is under 25. This gives the country a great task at hand: to protect its young people from harm while giving them the space and opportunity to develop and lead the country forward.
Yet, most of Liberia’s children, adolescents and youth are trapped in a cycle of violence, poverty and deprivation, experience violence, struggle to get educated, and find it difficult to find decent employment. Violence against children and adolescents, especially girls, is rampant, including rape, abuse, harassment and exploitation. In 2015, 89 per cent of reported rape survivors were children, with 39 per cent 12 years or younger. Sexual harassment in schools in the form of ‘sex for grades’ and ‘sex for school fees’ is common. Violent discipline is also a widely accepted practice, while at least 31 per cent of children (2-14 years old) were engaged in some form of labour.
Harmful cultural and traditional practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are among the worst forms of violence practiced against children in Liberia.
Birth registration, which is the first critical first step towards safeguarding lifelong protection for a child, is out of reach for many children in Liberia. The country has one of the lowest levels of birth registration in the world: less than one quarter of all births are registered.
When vulnerable children and adolescents come into conflict with the law, they are often exposed to even more violence and distress.
The consequences of violence, abuse and exploitation on the lives of children and adolescents can be profoundly harmful and long lasting, given its devastating negative impact on children’s development and wellbeing.
UNICEF contribution to the solution
Children and adolescents are at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation from a complex web of factors. This is why the solution needs to be holistic and has to involve all levels of government and society.
In Liberia, UNICEF is helping to build a comprehensive child protection system to keep children safe. This means supporting the implementation of laws, especially the Children’s Law, and relevant policies, regulations and services that protect children from harm, and that respond to, and support victims and survivors.
Protection starts at birth. UNICEF supports the delivery of birth registration services by building the capacity of government, increasing the availability and quality of services and mobilizing parents and communities to register their children.
A key priority in Liberia is to stop the violence that children experience every day. We collaborate with the government, civil society and development agencies to strengthen community-based protection and response services to prevent all forms of violence against children, or provide assistance should it occur.
To help adolescents fulfil their potential, UNICEF supports the government to provide life skills and vocational training, and to protect adolescents, especially girls, from abuse, sexual violence and harmful traditional practices. Young people are also given opportunities to have a say on policies and programmes through SMS-based tools such as U-Report and the Children’s Representative Forum and Adolescent Girls’ Forum.
UNICEF’s work in child justice involves strengthening laws and systems to better protect children in contact with the law, especially by supporting them to receive support and rehabilitation at community level, rather than be detained in adult facilities.