Liberia: Traditional Leaders Agree to Suspend 'Bush School' Activities

Ganta, Nimba County — Traditional leaders working in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs have agreed through a resolution to temporarily suspend all 'Bush School' activities for one year.

The decision was reached Tuesday, June 25, at the end of a two-day consultative meeting that brought together over 180 traditional leaders under the leadership of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of Liberia (NACCEL).

The meeting which was facilitated by UN Women Liberia with support from the European Union funded Liberia Spotlight Initiative and the Embassy of Sweden, was held Monday and Tuesday (June 24-25) in Ganta, Nimba County.

The traditional leaders, in their policy statement, said the suspension is in aimed at effort to address some practices within the Sande often referred to as "harmful traditional practices."

During the two-day meeting, paramount chiefs, traditional leaders and Zoes discussed the progress toward eliminating "harmful traditional practices" against women and girls.

Speaking at the gathering, the Chair of the Superintendent Council, Grand Bassa County Superintendent Janjay Biakpeh said the news is an essential first step towards ending Bush School activities in Liberia.

"I would like to commend all of our chiefs for taking this giant step and we look forward to the biggest news of abolishing Bush School activities in Liberia," he said.

Superintendent Biakpeh described the move as a huge outcome for Liberians.

"Our future goal is to see an overall abandonment of Bush School activities in our country," Biakpeh added:

He said a law must be enacted and properly implemented to ensure that every girl at risk is protected. "The government needs to show strong commitment and prioritize the issue about Bush School activities in Liberia."

Also speaking, Mary Larteh, Paramount Chief of Jorquelleh District in Bong County, said bringing an end to Bush School activities is possible, but there needs to be means of survival for those who already consider initiation as employment.

"They do it not out of love, but out of custom and ignorance," she added.

The establishment of Sande grooves in Liberia dates as far back to the days when there was no constitutional government to run the affairs of existing traditional societies. These institutions, including the Poro, inculcated the values of their societies in their children.

The Poro trains the boys for manhood while the Sande prepares girls for womanhood.

Despite the existence of a constitutional government in Liberia, these secret societies still exist to ensure the perpetuation of the traditional culture.

The traditional leaders said over time they have observed that certain individuals in some localities are in the habit of subjecting women and girls into the cultural practices without their consent; adding: "This is in total violation to the rules and guidelines of the Council."

The head for the Chiefs and Elders Council for Nimba County, Chief Peter G. Barloun, told our Nimba Correspondent that the action of these individuals and/or groups who are claiming to represent zoes continues to cause embarrassment for them (traditional leaders) and causing trauma for the affected families and victims.

He disclosed that both the National Council of Chiefs and Elders and Ministry of Internal Affair's attentions have been drawn particularly to the increase of Sande bushes or grooves even after their commitment to conduct inventory in-order to know the total of those groups in the various counties that they are involved with said practices among others.

The traditional leaders agreed that before the suspension is lifted, the Council and the Ministry of Internal Affairs must re-license and carry out registration of trained zoes before the resumption of operation.

According to our Nimba Correspondent, the traditional leaders also agreed that the establishment of Poro and Sande grooves be conducted at least 30 miles away from all city limits.

Prior the Ganta meeting, the chiefs and elders had met in Gbarnga, Bong County and the same discussions were held. They had just assembled in Ganta to put the icing on the cake with the resolution.

The program coordinator for National Council of Chiefs and Elders, Isaac Gbarpue named early marriage of girls as one of the harmful traditional practices that used to be rampant.

According to him, in the early days, women were not useful in the society and were not given the chance to take part in any decision making.

Liberia is a founding member of the Council of Traditional Leaders of Africa [COTLA], founded in Lagos, Nigeria in December 2018 and was launched in February, 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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