In Pleebo, Maryland a five-year-old girl named Armah Geply was burnt by her aunty Patience Doplay on September 2, 2018. According to eyewitnesses, Ms. Doplay burnt little Armah's hands and feet for eating a bowl of rice without permission. Neighbors, who refused to be identified over fear of reprisal said, Doplay hid the girl in a room for days to avoid drawing public attention.
Doplay had the girl locked in the room until her neighbors, who continuously asked her for the welfare and whereabouts of the girl, discovered that she had hidden the girl in the room for days. It was then that the matter was taken to the police and little Armah was taken to the Pleebo Health Center. The story claimed huge public interest, stealing headlines for weeks and going viral on social media. Little Armah's story mirrors those of hundreds of children who are trafficked each year in Liberia.
What is then child trafficking?
According to the United Nations, "Child trafficking is the illegal movement of children, typically for the primary purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation which has become a worldwide concern in the last five years." Child trafficking is no different from Human Trafficking and defined by the United Nations as the "Recruitment, Transportation, Transfer, Harboring, and or Receipt, kidnapping, Forced Labor and Exploitation.
Liberia is a source, transit and destination country for child trafficking, forced labor and sexual exploitation. Most children who are trafficked in Liberia are from rural areas. They are taken to the urban areas for domestic servitude, forced vending and sexual exploitation.
Special consideration and participation of child victims in the trafficking case in the criminal justice proceeding is very crucial for effective prosecution. In Liberia, seventy percent of detected victims of trafficking are children below the age of eighteen years and are trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and the most frequently detected form of exploitation is up to 55 percent.
Children who are trafficked often lack adequate levels of agency experience of dealing with public officials, educational background and ability to articulate needs and claims. As in the case of adults who are trafficked, children may be confused and intimidated by formal and informal adjudication procedures.
The story of victim Armah Geply is just one of several cases of child trafficking happening across the country. Little Armah who suffered a lifetime injury by her aunt, only 'crime', supposedly, was to eat. Her aunt was absent. There was food. She was hungry. She ate.
When the Pleebo Sodoken Statutory District police arrested and questioned suspect Patience, she admitted to committing the act but begged the police to forgive her. She further said she did not have any explanation in defense of her action or justification for her conduct. Suspect Patience admitted that she brought the little girl from a rural town in Maryland to live with her in order to gain western education.
In Liberia Trafficking has taken on slightly a new face, this new form of slavery is being carried out unknowingly by rural elders who believe sending their children to the urban areas for education is a better option than village life.
Children sent to relatives in the cities, by request from other relatives, are oftentimes misused, sent to poor schools, used as breadwinners and sometimes denied of going to school. Whereas other children trafficked are placed in dangerous situations, many of whom are emotionally and physically abused; while yet others are sometimes raped. Thus, contributing to high teenage pregnancy and drug addiction.
What Liberia has done to eliminate child trafficking?
Liberia has taken some steps towards combating child trafficking. In 2005, the country passed into law An Act to Ban Trafficking in Persons within the Republic of Liberia. Then there is also the Act to Amend the Penal Law Regarding Extortion, Environmental Crimes and Illicit Trafficking in Human Beings and Migrant Smuggling of 2012. The Judiciary has also taken trafficking very seriously, with periodic training of magistrates and judges, across the country, on the subject matter.
Despite these efforts, there is a great need for awareness. Nationally, there should be a clear, sustained message on the forms and dangers of child and human trafficking, as apparently, many communities still do not know what constitutes trafficking, nor do they know it is a crime. The time to act and protect our children is now!
Maxwell G. Karsor, MPA Candidate
University of Liberia Graduate School