Unreported World reveals how Liberia is facing a child rape crisis.
Six years after the end of a brutal civil war in which rape was routinely used as a weapon, children still face the daily fear of being attacked, and the West African country's hospitals are overwhelmed with child victims, a quarter of them under four years old.
In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, reporter Jenny Kleeman and director Matt Haan meet Mercy, a six-year-old girl who was abducted and raped by a stranger two weeks previously. Mercy is taking a course of drugs to try to stop her from contracting HIV. She lives in a safe house run by a Liberian charity, which is filled with other child rape victims.
Maryam, Mercy's social worker, tells Kleeman many of these children can never go home. Child victims are often ostracised by their communities, she says, and when the perpetrator is a relative, which is often the case, the child is seen to have disgraced the family by reporting the rape.
The team visits a children's hospital run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières. Elias Abi-Aad tells Kleeman that his unit saw 771 child rape victims in 2008 and in the first six months of 2009 had already seen 422 victims, but he estimates this is only a small fraction of the total number of cases in Liberia. Victims suffer serious medical problems as a result of their ordeal and the hospital saw three recent cases where children died as a direct consequence of rape.
Tikka, a nurse, tells Kleeman she thinks the crisis may be caused by Liberia's years of civil war, when both government forces and rebel factions terrorised communities by raping at will. Liberians had become used to living in a lawless and violent world, she says.
Lofa County saw some of the war's most intense and prolonged fighting and rape was one of the weapons most commonly used. In the town of Voinjama, Kleeman meets Finda, who doesn't know her age but looks around 14. She says a relative raped her last year but when she told the rest of her family, they wouldn't take it seriously. She is still suffering physically from the attack but has no choice but to remain with her family, and wake up every morning in the same house as her rapist.
In the border town of Foya, Kleeman and Haan meet two sisters, aged 16 and 15. Oretha and Sarah were orphaned during the war and say they survive by begging for food and money, but the men they ask often demand sex in exchange for it. They tell Kleeman they often have sex with charity workers, for as little as 40 pence a time. They say they also beg UN peacekeepers for food, and claim the peacekeepers demand sex in return. The say they have been doing this since 2003, when Oretha was only nine.
The UN acknowledges there have been problems of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers in Liberia, including a few that allegedly involve underage girls. They say they take allegations very seriously and have promised to investigate Oretha and Sarah's claims.
In a Monrovia clinic the team meet 14-year-old Blessing, who says she has been gang raped by ten strangers. Blessing can hardly walk, is very disorientated and can't remember much of what happened to her. Blessing was so badly injured she had to be carried to the local police station in a wheelbarrow. Kleeman and Haan discover that, although the police took her to hospital, incompetence and communication failures mean Blessing's case was never investigated and no one has been brought to justice.
At Monrovia Central prison Kleeman is shocked to discover there is only one inmate who has been convicted of raping a child. The government claims to be serious about tackling child rape, but justice for victims seems agonisingly slow.
Liberia's civil war has left the country with a culture of impunity, and a culture where men want to have sex with very young girls. Until that changes, Liberia can't escape its tragic past.
|Friday 16 October 2009||Channel 4|
|Monday 11 April 2011||11.40PM||More4|