Liberia: Enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law - Equality Now

Liberia: Enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law

Ruth Berry Peal with her lawyer

23 JANUARY 2019: On 19th January 2018, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed Executive Order 92 banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for one year. Although this temporary law was a step in the right direction, it only covered girls below the age of 18 and imposed lenient penalties on perpetrators. This temporary ban has now come to an end, leaving Liberian girls and women open to the risk of undergoing FGM once again.

Presently, more than half of Liberian women are living with the consequences of the cut 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 make it one of the hardest countries to crack when it comes to tackling the practice. As it is, 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 among them the Maputo Protocol.

Other than the temporary ban on FGM, there has never been any solid attempt at making FGM illegal in Liberia. In fact, the few cases that have gone through the justice system 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.

Moreover, the temporary ban on FGM had not been as effective as initially anticipated during its one year of existence as a law. This was mainly due to lack of knowledge on the existence of the ban and lack of a coordinated multi-sectoral implementation by state agencies. It has been noted with concern that 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.

Equality Now is therefore calling on President George M. Weah, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, along with the 54th legislature to ensure a permanent protection of women and girls against the practice of FGM, in adherence to the many regional and international human rights instruments that Liberia subscribes to by legislating a law prohibiting the practice in the country in the shortest possible time. The government should also support educational outreach to relevant communities and educate local chiefs on the harms of FGM. Women’s rights and health matters must be treated as a national priority. Liberia owes it to its women and girls and to the Ruth Peals and Zaye Does who continue to endure the long term health implications of FGM.

Please call on Liberian authorities to ensure that a permanent and comprehensive anti-FGM law which imposes heavy penalties on actors is passed and enforced. Further, call on them to support educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM. Let’s do it on behalf of the girls and women who may have lost their voice. Let’s help amplify their silent cries for help.

22 JANUARY 2018 UPDATE: On her last day in office, 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 is only in effect for one year and provisions on age of consent create a legal loophole that fails to protect women over 18. Additionally, the punishments include rehabilitation and fines which are determined on a case by case basis -- none of which will not deter practising communities. Traditional leaders have significant power and influence over 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.  Though Sirleaf's action was an important step towards a universal ban on FGM in Liberia, it is not enough. Please call on new President George Weah to enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law! 

Equality Now is calling on the Government of Liberia to enact a law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and to ensure the justice in 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.

Despite Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s pledge to make women’s rights and health a national priority, recent steps by the government to suspend Sande activities and the government’s stated willingness to work on an anti-FGM law, reports of mutilations continue with a lack of government intervention. This lack of a unified stance by government officials undermines the efforts the government is making to end FGM.

Please call on Liberian authorities to ensure that Ruth Peal’s case is speedily concluded and that that the government’s suspension of Sande FGM activities is enforced. Furthermore, call on them to enact and enforce comprehensive legislation against FGM as well as supporting educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM.

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