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Date: Tue, 22 Jul 97 09:32:01 CDT
From: rich%pencil@cmsa.Berkeley.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Liberian Law Reforms Will Protect Women

/** headlines: 138.0 **/
** Topic: Liberian Law Reforms Will Protect Women **
** Written 1:39 PM Jul 21, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 3:37 PM Jul 14, 1997 by newsdesk@igc.org in ips.english */
/* ---------- "LIBERIA-HUMAN RIGHTS: Women and Chi" ---------- */

Liberian Law Reforms Will Protect Women

By Attes Johnson, IPS, 11 July 1997

MONROVIA, Jul 11 (IPS) -- Liberian women, encouraged by their recent victory of having a juvenile court established in the country, are now working on other areas of legislation to guarantee the human rights of women and children.

The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) are pushing for new legislation to protect the rights of widows, and for the harmonisation of civil and customary law in the country, so that all women can enjoy the same rights within marriage.

The dual system now leads to a situation where cases involving women in civil or modern marriages are heard in the High Court and those in traditional marriages are brought before the lower courts, where decisions have tended to marginalise the rights of women.

Despite the fact that early Christian missionaries condemned the traditional forms of African marriages, many Liberians still cling to traditional beliefs towards marriage which allow a man to marry more than one wife, said Joseph S. Johnson of the Humanities Department at the University of Liberia.

It is believed, Johnson added, that traditional forms of marriage are based on a culture which discourages prostitution, since every woman has a husband.

But AFELL argues that in the event of death, when a man's relatives swoop on the wife or wives and take all the property, widows are left destitute, highlighting the inherent discrimination against women imbedded within the traditional system.

Liberian women and children, the main victims of the civil conflict which began in December 1989, have been ignored by the transitional governments and the international community, said Elizabeth Boryenneh, AFELL's President.

The organisation's most recent victory in its push for women and children's rights has been the creation of a juvenile court. AFELL has been pushing for the court since it was formed three years ago.

The plight of children has been our concern and the opening of a juvenile court is a major victory for not only AFELL, but for Liberian women and their children, and those unborn, said Boryenneh.

According to Boryenneh, AFELL has been assisted in its efforts to work with women and children by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), but it is approaching other organisations to help it achieve its goal of empowering women and children to participate in the development of Liberia.

A law for a juvenile court to be set up has been on the statute books since 1972. The transitional government of Ruth Sando Perry finally set up the court last month and appointed a woman lawyer, Malia Doe, as its first judge.

Perry said recently that the government had not adequately addressed the plight of the youth due to the lack of financial resources and expertise and there are no social service agencies, trained social workers for counselling and rehabilitation centres.

The Liberian Head of State noted that women have been at the forefront in seeking needed resources from the United Nations and its related agencies, such as UNICEF, to assist us(government) to help our young people.

Now that the court is working, AFELL will campaign for separate detention centres for juveniles to keep them from being put into the same cells with adults, Boryenneh said.

She also warned parents that they too should safeguard and not abuse the rights of their own children. Now that the court is constituted, parents and guardians should be mindful of their children's needs for protection while in their care, she said.

AFELL will not hesitate to file petitions to the court against parents who act contrary... Children need care and protection, Boryenneh added.