On my way back from Mali a month ago, I was in transit in Ghana, where this large sign greeted us at the airport. After the initial surprise I had a good chuckle, and thought others would too.
The Welcome sign was funny at first, with its suggestion that paedophiles go elsewhere. But then it was also sad that we have to put such warnings up at all. I decided not to post it earlier, mainly because it wasn't really a "Liberia Story." Now I share it in a different context:
Maybe in Ghana the problem comes mostly from foreign visitors, but here in Liberia young girls are sexually assaulted very often by family members or familiar people in their communities. I recently heard the case of 7-year-old Sarah (not her real name) who lives with her Uncle and his wife and 18-year-old son in their rooming house. Sarah has to share a room with her 18-year-old cousin, who rapes her several times a week and has been doing so for over a year. All the tenants in the Uncle's rooming house know this, but are afraid to speak out in case they get kicked out. Those who have expressed concern have already been warned by the Uncle not to "spoil [his] family."
Liberia, like Ghana, has passed into law "harsh penalties" for such crimes, but the reality here is that these crimes, especially when committed within families, are often kept secret. And when they are caught, criminals, even murderers, often do not pay the prescribed penalties.
What will happen in this little girl's case?
Luckily, the young woman who told me about this situation does not live in the rooming house and is not afraid to confront the Uncle. Today she told me that she'll speak out again when Sarah's own father comes down to Monrovia next month, and that the Uncle is starting to get worried because of her intervention. This is good news in a way, but July is still weeks away and I worry about the girl constantly; a rescue mission should not be so slow and should not leave the child in care of her abusers once they know a process has started.
There are currently excellent nationwide campaigns against rape and gender-based violence, but, like Ghana, we need to be serious about prosecuting the criminals. I believe we should also prosecute the adult enablers (too often mothers and aunts) who look away and allow children to suffer sexual abuse.
We've got to do more for little Sarah, and we've got to do it more quickly. Real justice in this case will be a welcome sign of our now so-called commitment to child protection.