Liberia’s Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Julia Duncan-Cassell, has stressed that violence against children in Liberia is a societal menace that needs to be addressed urgently.
Minister Cassell, who spoke Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in a Voice of America interview, said, if Liberia is to win the war against rape, the government should take the lead with the collaboration of family members of raped victims and community residents.
“The issue of violence against children”, she said, “is not a government thing; it’s a societal thing. It’s something that the society and community should take ownership of, parents have responsibility to their children.”
Minister Cassell explained that the Sirleaf administration has been taking many steps against issues about rape, which she recounted in the interview as enacting a law that makes rape a non-bailable or capital offense, and setting up a special court for the speedy trial of rape cases, among others.
According to Minister Duncan-Cassell, family members of victims often compromise cases because they are not willing to go through the court process, adding that family members often feel the legal process is too slow.
“The community itself has a role to play; if we are to win this war against rape, it has to be done collectively; most of the victims know, who their perpetrators are; they are people in the community that these children refer to as uncles, brothers or whatever. The perpetrators are not strangers,” the Gender Minister added.
Also speaking on the issue of female genital mutilation or FGM, she told the VOA that President Sirleaf maintains zero tolerance for all forms of violence, including FGM.
“We are working with our traditional people to see how they can learn from what people have done in other countries that practice similar rituals so that they can now see how they can empower themselves to move away from FGM.”
According to the Minister, since the ascendency of President Sirleaf, status of women in Liberia has improved dramatically and that most rural women that could not read before the 2005 election are now able to do so, adding that all thanks to a literacy program introduced by the government.
Minister Cassell also noted that local businesswomen are driving Liberia’s informal economy, and some of them are breadwinners, but noted that the deadly Ebola virus has been a setback to the progress of Liberian women.
She dismissed criticism that the Ministry of Gender has done nothing to care for the over 3,000 children across the country made orphan by the Ebola Virus, arguing that the government has put in place a number of programs to care for the children.
“As government and our partners, we have set up what is called the foster care program; this is to train people within the community to serve as foster care parents and we also have what is called the Safety Net Program through cash transfer for the orphans,” she explained.
The Minister narrated that the government is partnering with a number of faith-based institutions to accept some Ebola orphans into their boarding schools.
By Ben P. Wesee