Monrovia — A group of women and children rights advocates have called on the Legislature to allocate funding in the 2021 Special budget to effectively combat rape and protect survivors of the menace.
On September 11, 2020, President George Weah declared rape as a national emergency in the wake of a drastic increase in the number of sexual abuse cases that triggered a mass demonstration by rights groups across Monrovia.
A national conference on sexual and gender-based violence was held and, at the end, President Weah made several pronouncements aimed at tackling rape and other forms of SGBV. Among them, the "appointment of a special prosecutor for rape, the establishment of a National Sex Offender Registry, the National SGBV taskforce, and an initial 2 million to the fight against rape.
Almost one year since the President's pronouncement, the group said much has not been done to actualize his promise to 'spare no effort in ensuring that the rape and SGBV epidemic scourging the country is curtailed', evidence is the government's decision not to include rape in the draft budget that has already been passed by the House of Representatives and currently before the Senate for action.
"With sadness in our hearts and with deep disappointment in the government, we have realized that not a dollar was allocated in the 2021 Special National Budget for the fight against the rape project personally initiated by the President, said the group, under the banner the 'Affiliation of Women and Children Rights Advocates' in a statement read by its spokesperson, leading child rights advocate, Satta Sheriff at the grounds of the Capitol Building recently.
It continued: "The President, the Legislature, and the Ministry of Gender action to defund the fight against Rape project is a blow to the fight against sexual and gender-based violence in Liberia. They have failed the children and women of Liberia. They have failed the thousands of victims, survivors and frontline workers that are fighting sexual and gender-based violence in this country."
The House of Representatives, a fortnight ago, passed the Special National Budget for Fiscal Year 2021 in the tone of US$342,186,000. The introduction of the special national budget which will cover a period of six months beginning this gone July 1 to December 31, 2021, is part of the Government of Liberia's transition to a full calendar year (January 1, to December 31). Despite several allotments, the fight against rape and other forms of SGBV were ignored.
The group said, "The President's action to declare rape as a national emergency and later the Ministry of Gender's deliberately refusing to put money in the 2021 national special budget was just a mere bluff. It's sad, but the President's action was all performative just for the media."
It continued: "Well, we believe they have fooled us. But today, we say, enough is enough. We want accountability. We want the actions and we want the Legislature to allocate funding for fight against rape. You can't declare rape as a national crisis and refuse to fund it."
It called on the Legislature, the President's office, and the Ministry of Gender to do the right thing by living up to their promises, adding "When you promised your people something, you must deliver. When you say we will fight rape, you must make the resources available in the national budget. We can't keep waiting for donors or the international community to fund the fight against rape before we take action. We need to be serious in this country."
The group noted that the fight against rape starts with the President's office being held accountable to emergency order on rape, and the Legislature in the exercise of its oversight responsibility, noting "For too long our leaders have misrepresented us; failed to provide due diligence, failed to ensure Justice is served to victims and survivors of rape in this country. Our safe homes lack funding; babies are being raped."
It added that since the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Gender has not given a clear report on the status of sexual gender-based violence in this country, saying, "We need data, but most importantly, we need accountability."
The group said it was unfair for members of the Legislature to be ditching out millions among themselves but could not make any budgetary allocation to the fight against rape.
The group then made a repeated call on the President to adequately equipped safe homes to meet the needs of abused children and survivors; creat a national rehabilitation and trauma counseling program for all survivors of sexual abuse; implement the Rape Law and policies that prohibit sexual violence in Liberia and decentralize and strengthen Criminal Court E (the court responsible to prosecute all Rape cases).
The group also called on the government to increase speedy access to justice for rape survivors, strengthen and train the Liberian National Police to handle Sexual abuse cases, include consent and sexual abuse education in the secondary and university curricula, criminalize what they refer to as revenge pornography- the recording women and girls during sex without their consent, adding "It's barbaric and unacceptable!"