What is the law in Liberia? What efforts have been made to ban the practice? Learn more from Equality Now.
How prevalent is FGM in Liberia?
Presently, 31.8% of Liberian women and girls are living with the consequences of this harmful practice and many more are at risk. These women and girls have little choice in this matter, with reports of forced mutilations being common.
FGM is heavily entrenched in Liberian culture, dating back many centuries. Strong taboos surrounding the practice and associated Sande secret societies make tackling the practice challenging.
Liberia remains one of the three West African countries that do not have a law criminalizing FGM despite having signed and ratified regional and international human rights instruments condemning the practice as a human rights violation, including the Maputo Protocol.
What efforts have been made to ban FGM in Liberia?
On her last day in office in 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order on the Domestic Violence bill to ban FGM on girls under 18 years old. However, the ban expired in February 2019. Additionally, the punishments included rehabilitation and fines which are determined on a case-by-case basis — none of which deterred practising communities. There are currently two anti-FGM Bills pending before Liberian Parliament, which seek to permanently outlaw FGM in the country.
Traditional leaders have significant power and influence over the Liberian community and often over policymakers. Once girls reach age 18, they will face immense pressure to undergo FGM in order to remain in the community. On February 6th 2023, Chief Zanzan Karwor, the Chairperson of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders in Liberia, declared, “By the power vested in me by all the Paramount Chiefs of the 15 political divisions in Liberia and signed by myself… FGM is banned in Liberia.”
The temporary ban on FGM passed in 2018 was not effective, mainly due to a lack of knowledge on the existence of the ban and a lack of a coordinated multi-sectoral implementation by state agencies. Even with the existence of the Executive Order, the number of Sande bushes in Liberia has increased with the practice now extending to 11 counties from the previous 10.
In the absence of a specific law against FGM, the few cases that have gone through the justice system so far have been covered under Section 242 of the Penal Code which speaks to malicious and unlawful injuries towards another person by cutting off or otherwise depriving him or her of any of the members of his body, finding a person guilty of a felony. This is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The declaration by the traditional leaders has shown the way for Liberia’s Parliament to finally pass a law making the practice illegal in Liberia.
Ruth Berry Peal’s case:
In July 2011, the members of the politically influential Sande secret society who had kidnapped and forcibly subjected Ruth to FGM were sentenced to three years imprisonment; however, they appealed the judgment and were released on bail. The appeal has been pending at the Supreme Court with no hearing date set and the perpetrators remain free.
Zaye Doe’s case:
In March 2017, 16-year-old Zaye Doe died in the Tappita area in the Sande bush during forced mutilation. The traditional leaders (Zoes) subjected Zaye and 25 more girls to FGM despite the government ban on Sande Secret Society operations, including FGM.