Liberia – Child Rape Case Sparks Protest in Gbarpolu

…. “Our children are unprotected and they can no longer walk free without someone pouncing on them. Something must be done to stop this,” said the protesting women.

The alleged rape of a two-year-old girl in Gbarpolu County has sparked a one-day protest, with many people demanding justice for the minor and raising questions over why the safety of women and children still eluded the country, despite having one of the toughest rape laws in the world.

The protest, which was held on September 12, was one of the biggest displays of public anger against rape in Bopolu City, where the rape of minors is not uncommon.

“A two-year-old girl has been raped. And this has to stop. We cannot remain silent over this crime,” said the protesters in Gbarpolu on Monday. “We want justice and medical support for the victim.”

“We cannot stop asking what wrong have we committed to deserve this kind of pain as mothers. Our children are unprotected and they can no longer walk free without someone pouncing on them. We are tired of crying. Something must be done to stop this.”

Just a fortnight ago, a four-year-old girl became another rape victim, but her perpetrators remain at large.

In March, a 27-year-old man was sent to Court for allegedly raping two minors, ages 4 and 6, in Belle Fasama, a remote place in Gbarpolu. The suspect, Anthony Nyemah, sexually abused his victims in the absence of their mother, while she was away.

In 2021, a 14-year-old girl died of excessive bleeding after being raped by a 30-year-old man, and a year earlier, a 15-year-old boy was charged for allegedly raping a 3-year-old girl, using a razor blade on the child to expand the minor’s private part.

And now, it is Joseph Flomo, a 24-year-old school teacher, who has raped a two-year-old. The child is in critical medical condition at the Chief Jallah Lone hospital.

Flomo’s action sparked intense anger in Bopolu City, with lots of women taking to the streets, crying out for justice and respect for women’s and children’s rights. They claimed that the last two rape incidents showed that their children live under threat.

Flomo was arrested, is currently in police custody, and is expected to bed charged with rape in violation of 14.70 of the revised penal code of Liberia.

Rape is a second-degree felony in Liberia and is punishable with a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. However, in the case of minors, it is a felony of the first degree, which can garner a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

According to the victim’s family, Flomo carried out the act after he had approached the mother of the child, requesting an exchange of memory cards. The mother, the family said, agreed and that’s how Flomo asked for the minor to accompany him for the exchange of the device. He used the opportunity to rape the child, whose condition the family claimed is now critical.

According to the family of the little girl, her future is bleak as the possibility of her having children is slim.

“We are not sure she will be able to give birth in the future. The doctors are giving conditions and that depends on the kind of medical care she receives now. But we don’t have the money, so we are resigned to fate — praying to God for intervention,” the victim’s family told the Daily Observer.

The issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), particularly rape in Liberia has reportedly been on the increase despite thousands of Liberians protesting against the crime in 2020 in a bid to draw local and international attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault.

Rape has been a long-standing concern and a United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction. Harrowing tales of sexual violence against girls as young as three years old are nothing new.

Also in 2020, as a result of the anti-rape protests in Monrovia, President George Weah declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike in the number of cases in the country, but this has not stopped its increase.

That same year, Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia’s Women Empowerment Network, said her NGO had recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August alone. According to her, the number was up from between 80 and 100 cases in May.

And in Gbarpolu, the victims of the reported rape cases are all minors.

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