Liberia: Protesters Chase Gender Minister Tarr

A Liberian anti-rape protester outside President George Weah's office at the ministry of foreign affairs in downtown Monrovia.

Liberia's Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection experienced a bad Tuesday here when she was publicly shunned and chased away by anti rape protesters before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia where she had gone to proxy for President George Manneh Weah.

Minister Whillimena Saydee Tarr, accompanied by her Assistant Minister, had gone to receive a petition from the protesters on behalf of President Weah when she was shunned with angry marchers saying nothing good would come out of their petition if it landed in the hands of the Ministers.

According to them, the decision to reject Minister Tarr is due to her lackadaisical posture to the alarming rape cases across the country, especially where she heads the government ministry that is responsible for handling such gross abuses and clear violation of women's dignity.

"We Don't want you and your officials here; we have come to deliver our petition to President George M. Weah and not any so-called Minister!", the petitioners resisted.

According to them, too often government officials have received petitions and promised to deliver same to the President, but such promises have yielded no results, noting that it was unfortunate to see increase in rape cases and other sexual harassment especially with a woman heading the government's arm that is responsible to handle women and children's affairs.

However, speaking to protesters subsequently, Minister Tarr defended that under her leadership there are numerous efforts being put into place to address issues of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and children.

Her remarks to the protesters were aimed calming tension that nearly resulted to stone battle between riot officers of the Liberia National Police and the angry protesters.

Tarr continued that her ministry has been conducting series of engagement with relevant authorities, including civil society organizations to address rape issues which she says pose serious threat to survival of innocent children.

Speaking to this paper in an exclusive interview from the protest scene on the grounds of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Hill, a representative from a civil society group under the banner, Youth Action Movement, Ms. KuluboKoquoi stressed a need for national government to find solution to the constant abuse of women and girls in the country.

"This is alarming and it has claimed our attention that we can no longer sit and wait for government to take action; we need to hold their feet to the fire", she said.

Madam Koquoi said she believes strongly that if government castrate perpetrators, such punishment would serve as deterrence to would-be rapists.

She warns that if nothing were done in addressing the alarming situation, perpetrators will continue to find pleasure in abusing innocent children, urging, "Now is the time for us to tell our government that we the women of this country are tired."

Meanwhile, a representative from Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa or YALDA, Ms. Lisa T. Cooper, is optimistic that following their three days nationwide protest, government will do something in curbing systemic rape and sexual violence across Liberia.

"I'm here today in solidarity with our women and girls to put an end to the devilish act of rape", Miss Cooper said.

More than one hundred protesters converged early Tuesday before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill to present a petition to President George M. Weah, seeking drastic action against increase wave of rape cases in the country.

The protesters carried placards reading, "Say No to Rape" and "GOL Must Take Action", among others.

The Government of Liberia enacted legislation to amend the new Penal Code of June 1976 Chapter 14, Section 14.70 and 14.71 title the Rape Law which states that a person who has sexual intercourse with another person (male or female) without his/her consent has committed rape that is punishable by ten (10) years or lifetime imprisonment depending on the degree of the rape (rape of a minor, rape resulting I serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, and gang rape).

The new rape law came to effect in January 2006. The Act also requires in-camera hearings of all rape cases with a special court (Criminal Court E) set up at the Temple of Justices to fast track cases. Despite these measures, the crime continues unabated, becoming a societal challenge.

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