Liberia, on Wednesday (Nov 20), joined the rest of the world to commemorate the Universal Children’s Day – the 24th anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child – with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stating that four children were being raped daily in the country.
Church bells tolled and moazins in mosques called out for salaat (prayer) at noon, as Liberians observed a minute of silence and prayer for every child who has suffered of rape, and committed themselves to protect children against violence.
“Every day four children are raped in our country and ten children have died in tragic death this year as a result of rape,” said the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in a recorded statement supporting the Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC). “To pay respect and pray for the perpetual peace of their young innocent bodies, and to show our commitment to protect our children and prevent these kind of heinous acts from happening again, I call on you to observe a minute of silence and a prayer at 12 o’clock noon on Wednesday, November 20th.”
Besides moments of silence and prayers held in churches and mosques, prayers were also held at work places and at other activities including at a three-day workshop on social protection taking place in Careysburg, rural Montserrado.
Deputy Minister of Gender and Development Andrew Tehmeh, Deputy Health Minister Cllr. Vivian Cherue and other government officials led participants into a minute of silent prayer when the clock ticked 12 Noon.
Ten years after the end of the civil conflict, sexual violence against children remains extremely high in this West African country, a UNICEF release stated.
In the first nine months of this year alone, hospitals in Monrovia recorded more than 1,300 cases of rape – ninety per cent of the victims were under the age of 18. Ten children have already died from sexual violence in 2013, noted the release.
“We should all be outraged. This epidemic of sexual violence needs to be condemned,” said the UNICEF Representative of Liberia, Sheldon Yett, at a press conference with religious leaders for the observance of the Day of Prayer and Action for Children (DPAC).
“Indeed, going forward, we have a responsibility not to be silent, but to lead what needs to be a public outcry against the acceptance of violence against children. Let it begin with a payer and a moment of silence – but let it end in tangible action to stop violence against children,” Yett said.
The Inter Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) with support from the Liberian Government and UNICEF organized the Day of Prayer and Action.
This is the first time that the whole country is being mobilized to specifically pray and make a commitment to protect children against violence.
“Violence became a cultural value that has affected a whole generation of Liberians, and we must continue praying and working together to strengthen family structures and practices for better care of our children,” said the IRCL President, Imam Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh at the press conference. “We appeal to Imams and Pastors to offer prayers for the children and to increase the advocacy for their well-being and safety. We must stop the violence against children in our communities,” added the IRCL Vice President, Bishop B.B. Hart.
The 2013 day of prayer also kicks off the Government and UN-led 16 days of activism which begins on 25 November, the International Day to End Violence against Women.
Given the high incidences of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) cases against children in the country, the campaign will specifically focus on sexual violence against children.