Visit to Liberia – March 1998
The Special Representative visited Liberia from 11-13 March 1998 to assess the situation of children after a period of protracted civil war in the country.
During his visit the Special Representative met several senior officials, including the Ministers for Health, Education and Justice, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Social wellbeing, the Chief Justice, heads of UN agencies and representatives of local and international NGOs.
The protracted period of conflict has had a devastating effect on the children of Liberia, many of whom have known no other way of life. A serious erosion of local value systems has also taken place.
The Special Representative was, however, encouraged by the climate of UN inter-agency co-operation on issues of child rights, particularly in the sectors of Education and health, where UNDP provides the physical infrastructure, UNICEF the materials, WFP the food and entities such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) the medical assistance. The activities of NGOs in areas such as family unification, demobilisation, vocational training for war-affected youth, health and Education, and the presence of an active and well-organised civil society in Liberia, are further promising signs.
The following were identified as the key challenges requiring initiatives:
- Empowering families, economically and socially, to resume their roles in bringing up and supporting children, thus moving away from a policy of heavy dependence on institutional care. At present, many unaccompanied, displaced and orphaned children are resident either on the streets or in orphanages, many of which are of dubious quality.
- Carefully assessing and accrediting existing institutions such as orphanages.
- Improving Educational opportunities through reduced school fees, better infrastructure and reading materials and improving salaries for teachers. Currently, teachers in rural areas in particular are usually unpaid, or paid only in food.
- Revitalizing primary health care, particularly through the revival of rural clinics. In this regard, too, local civil society and non-governmental organizations should be strengthened to enable them to become effective implementing partners. A major child health issue is the need to promote adolescent reproductive health awareness and practice.
- t is vital to dedicate a larger proportion of the national budget to the revitalisation of social services, in particular health and Education. Currently, the Government spends approximately 60% of the budget on security, while 7% is spent on health and 4% on Education.
- Improving the juvenile justice system, particularly by complementing the newly created juvenile court with facilities for the separate pre-trial detention and post-trial incarceration (if necessary) of minors, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. ICRC is currently involved in assisting the Ministry of Justice on this matter.
- Training for income-generating activities for all children affected by war, without differentiating between former combatants and those who were involved in conflict in other ways.
- Reviving local values and support systems, such as the role of the traditional Sande and Poro “bush”schools, which is a traditional system in rural communities to inculcate local ethics in children.
- Supporting local Advocacy efforts, by encouraging the formation of a group of local eminent persons willing to act as advocates for children in Liberia and by instituting a radio station to promote issues related to the interests and rights of children.
The categories of children identified as having special protection needs include ex-combatant youth, refugee and internally Displaced Children, sexually abused girls and unaccompanied and street children.