This special investigation, supported by the Liberia Women Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC), features a teenage girl brought in Monrovia from Foya, Lofa County, by relatives who promised her education, protection and better life. But her present life is a complete irony of what was promised her few years ago. My name is Samuka V. Konneh, a Liberian but a journalist with a story to tell. For obvious protection of identities, names used in this feature are fictitious and any resemblance is only a coincidence.
Siah, now 16, has been married ever since she was 13 in 2011, same year she was brought in Monrovia from Foya, Lofa County by her aunt, Mamie Finda, on the promise of a good education, protection against societal ills and better social living. Beneath these promises, Mamie’s intentions were quite clear: ‘Siah is of age to get married to help her poor parents back home.’
Living around the DC Road area at Stephen Tolbert Estate, Siah struggles to survive her pregnancy with maximum risk of eventual collapse. From mere looking, her body is no doubt still unprepared to manage another life within it. Yet, she carries on with life; hoping that one day her ‘nine months would come to a successful end.’ But this remains a challenge considering her realities.
She sells biscuits and coal for the whole day before eating around 9pm each day. She has to fetch her own water from a well because no one cares to help. She is woman of her own. Despite these troubles, her greatest challenge remains her 34 years old able-bodied husband who sits around the checker table all day only to retire late nights expecting to eat what he really didn’t leave his wife to prepare.
His name is Sah, the equivalent to Siah in the Kissi culture that refers to firstborns in the family. When life was okay at first, just before the deal to marry Siah was sealed with her aunty, Mamie, Sah sold cell phone accessories such as packs, batteries and earphones. Proceeds from these sales were used to provide sustenance for Mamie and her kids in return for a promised-wife; and Siah was brought in as a collateral damage.
Though Siah agrees that her life has been made a collateral damage, she blames not Mamie. She blames her parents who didn’t make due diligence before letting her off their control.
“(sync) Aunty Mamie used me to pay her debt. She brought me to satisfy Sah. She took things from him and then she used me to pay. I am here, she ain’t care for me. Whether I am happy or not, she ain’t care. But I leave my own with God.
“I also blame my parents. They mind their poverty and just sent me here to suffer. They ain’t even know what I am passing through. One day, one day, I will see them and I will tell them what I am going through because of them,” Siah has told me in a friendly but emotional chat during the Christmas season in 2013.
Nurses attending to her at the Stephen Tolbert Estate government clinic or the Chicken Soup Factory government clinic won’t disclose much information concerning Siah’s medical condition except that they anticipate serious physical complications during accouchement.
“Her health is poor. She doesn’t eat and she has serious sexual and urinary infections. Moreover, we can’t predict her state of mind. Every day, she’s not happy; and this plays on a woman during childbirth. Even though she’s already pregnant, from where I sit, she is not prepared for childbearing. She is young, hungry and angry. Let’s just wish for the best,” a nurse attending to her had told me.
For Siah, being bold is one step towards seeking help. “The man na (doesn’t) have heart. He can hurt me during sex. I feel pain in my waist and my stomach. When he drinks liquor, he will just have me anywhere, anytime, and anyhow. He doesn’t care. If I say ‘let’s go to the clinic,’ he will refuse. Da my one can go to the clinic every day. I am sick, I want to go home to my parents,” she told me – faking her smiles. Siah, finally, has estranged herself from the rest of world, confining herself to the four walls of her one bedroom makeshift house.
Well, apart from the violence and pains Siah undergoes each day of her three years surprised-marriage, a crime has been and still is being committed, that’s according to the New Rape Law of 2009 and the New Panel Code of Liberia.
According to Section 14.70 (b) of Liberia’s New Panel Code, a person has committed rape if “the victim is less than 18 years old, provided the actor is 18 years of age or older. This makes Siah’s case a crime; she is less the 18 years. In fact, she has been subjected to rape when she was just 13yrs old by a man almost three times her age. Ever since then, she continues to be raped in the name of marriage.
Sex crimes investigators and lawyers at the Ministry of Justice Sexual Crimes Unit have decried the act but insist that the law does not operate in a vacuum. “In the absence of a complainant, it might appear difficult to prosecute such case, especially when her aunty might go all out to hinder investigation because it might implicate herself. In any case, this is a good lead and we will see what can be done in the soonest possible time,” one of them had promised during an interview on Capitol Hill.
Though investigation and possible prosecution appear to be miles away, what Siah needs right now, she says, is a friend to talk with and someone to save her out of her ugly situation. Can she get one soon?
In Foya, Siah’s father, Pa John Tamba, survives on rice farming, mat and net weaving. The biggest news anyone from Monrovia is expected to tell him is how good his daughter Siah is doing in Monrovia. Any news on the contrary is like death news. Realizing this after being told by my interpreter, I had to mince my words – selecting them in a way that will not tell the whole story in it ugly form. But the fact remains the fact; Siah is not fulfilling her Monrovia-dream of a better life.
For Pa John, not even an angel would convince him that his daughter is being used and abused in the way he is being told. “We all serve the God of Moses, Isaac and Jacob. He shall see my daughter through. God knows I gave her (Mamie) my daughter because I trusted her as a family. I didn’t give her my daughter to find food for her. I who born her never send her to get food for me. But our God will fight for us,” he told me on his farm, few kilometers outside of Foya main town, along the Guinean border.
Any mention of his coming to Monrovia to rescue his daughter is just loose-talk. He can’t afford and won’t afford. “Can you call the police for them and arrest them and bring my daughter here for me?” Pa John asked, of course understanding that that might be impossible for me. From all indications, at least so far that I can tell, Siah is on her own – left at the mercy of her aunt Mamie and husband Sah.