Liberia's Minister of Gender and Development says a stronger rape law is needed in order to take tougher action against rapists.
Responding to questions from cross section of Liberian women, many of whom are calling for harsh punishment for perpetrators including castrating rapists, Minister Cassell said if that is how Liberian women feel, they should take their plea to the National Legislature for passage of tougher rape law.
"It is not how I feel about men who rape little girls, for them to be castrated, but what is right? If people strongly believe that is what should happen to those men, I think they should take it to the legislature to be put into law, because I think the rape law is watered down. I think we need to do a little more to the rape law for people who are found guilty", Says Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell.
The Minister speaking at the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence, that started November 25th and runs up to December 10, 2013 said women who are affected by rape should have their say through the required laws to protect them from rapists.
The program brought together many women groups, women and men who marched through the principal streets of Monrovia and gathered at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) to celebrate the day, Under the National Theme: "Men as Agents of change in ending violence women and Girls".
Rape not a one side fight
Minister Cassell believes the fight against rape should not be left with the Ministry of Gender or only women.
"I am overwhelmed to see the outcome today from the women group, men group, people who are now saying no to rape but I would like to see more of the judiciary, legislature and religious groups joining this fight. This is not a Ministry of Gender Fight but a fight for the country and all of us", the Gender Minister expressed.
Women carry 10 symbolic Caskets of victims
In sympathy with victims of rape, the women carried 10 symbolic caskets, representing victims of rape.
The ten symbolic caskets of children who died as a result of rape were displayed at the ATS with writings and pictures of some victims placed on them.
Age: 3 years old
Died from rape and parents refused to give update. This might be one of the compromised cases.
Age: 8 years old
She was found dead with intestines out and died few hours later. She wanted to become a banker.
Krubo Aye Gayflor
Age: 13, years
She was raped and found dead in a pit latrine. She met her death, when she went out of her house to urinate.
The case was compromised by family members who signed a promissory note with perpetrator. She wanted to be a minister.
"I feel terrible seeing those ten symbolic caskets because on November 25th of 2012, we had five deaths of children as a result of rape and this year, we have ten, what is going to happen next year? The youngest child amongst the children was three years old, "Says Minister Casell.
Answering to the issue raised about the 280 dismissed cases of rape from Criminal Court E due to thefailure on the part of complainants to follow up, Minister Cassell said the Ministry of Gender work is to do awareness and work closely with the Ministry of Justice and Health for prosecution and safety of victims.
According to the Gender Minister, when these cases are placed on the docket, most of the parents don't have the time to wait but go to their villages, because some of these cases take 6-8 months before being assigned for hearing.
Says Minister Cassell "We need to ensure that the survivors of rape are protected, because if they are not, they become stigmatized in the community of reporting something, so this is what is happening to many of these cases. What happens to the cases that are not reported? This is why we need to do more awareness because this is not a family issue. People are talking about rape. Some counties are reporting this is why their number is high, but some counties like the south eastern counties are still not reporting".
'Stop Defending Rapists' says President Sirleaf
Liberian President also made known her frustration over unfolding issues in the country. In an apparent frustrated mood about the manner and form rape cases continue to escalate in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has urged lawyers to stop representing rapists in the country.
Speaking Monday at the launch of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence at the Antoinette Tubman stadium in Monrovia, the Liberia leader noted that lawyers also have the responsibility in curbing the rape endemic by demonstrating a courage to deny representing anyone who has violated children and took away their future.
Said President Sirleaf: "Every week, I get a report from the Special Representative of the Secretary General and the report is the rape cases that took place within the week across the country. I get angry when one thinks about how our children are being so abused. And I also get sadden at what has happen to our country. What has happen to our people?"
Recounting her days as a child, PresidentSirleaf went on to narrate that rape was never heard of nor talked about noting that the present day has changed owing to several difficulties the country has undergone.
Continued Sirleaf: "I grant you that our value system has been turned upside down. I grant you that the communication revolution has brought to our living and bedrooms all of these ills that take place all over and we try to copy them."
Apparently disappointed in religions preachers, Sirleaf went on to further question the whereabouts of preachers who she said are not often on the pulpit to preach about rape. "Preachers, where are you that you are not every day in the pulpit talking about this. You talk about corruption and you should. But why are you not talking about rape. Why are you not talking about what's happening to our children?" she said.
President Sirleaf then called on all Liberians to see the 16 days of gender activism as a period of recommitment and awakening in forming a united force to combat rape in the country.
"We ask all of you to please drop us a note to give us your suggestion. We believe in the justice system and we know people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but I also know that people who commit crimes must find a way to fight. Bad sickness sometimes requires bad medicine, President Sirleaf noted.