Child marriage in Liberia is not uncommon. According to Girls Not Brides, 36% of girls in Liberia enter into marriage before reaching their 18th birthday and Liberia ranks 20th in the world for the highest rates of child marriage.
UNICEF defines child marriage as “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child” and warns that the effects extend not only to the girl’s health and future prospects but also to the economy through economic detriment on a national level. A 2017 study by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) projects that the prevalence of child marriage “could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030 – the year by which the U.N., through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for the elimination of the practice.”
Child brides are more likely to face domestic violence and early pregnancy before their bodies have even fully developed. Child marriage also increases the risk of HIV among young girls.
The prevalence of child marriage in Liberia will continue to hinder progress toward gender equality in Liberia unless the government introduces legislation and improvements in policy. For as long as child marriage exists, Liberia will not see significant strides in education or the economy.
Reasons for Child Marriage in Liberia
Plan International describes the generalized reasons for child marriage prevalence in countries as systemic gender inequality, poverty and societal customs/traditions, among other reasons. In terms of poverty, according to the World Bank, 34.6% of the population in Liberia lives under the international extreme poverty line ($2.15 per person per day in 2017 PPP). Due to entrenched gender discrimination and inequalities, impoverished families often view daughters as economic burdens. Parents push young daughters into marriage to ease the household’s financial burden and bring in finances in the form of the “bride price.”
Regarding customs, Plan International details that some families push their daughters into child marriage to safeguard family honor by ensuring that sexual relations outside of marriage do not occur. Child marriage in Liberia persists despite domestic legislation setting the legal age of marriage for girls as 18. Humanium explains that “the lack of consistency of customary and statutory laws” and engagement with traditional leaders means people routinely break these laws and forced marriage practices persist.
It is also important to note that while 36% of girls younger than 18 enter into marriage, this figure stands at 5% for boys in Liberia, highlighting obvious gender inequality and disparities that need to be addressed. Gender-based violence and inequality in Liberia extend to female genital mutilation (FGM). According to Equality Now, Liberia is one of the three remaining West African countries that have not legislated FGM as a criminal offense.
Organizations and NGOs Striving to Reduce Child Marriage in Liberia
BIRD-Liberia (Brighter Initiatives for Revitalization and Development) was founded by Sammenie O. Sydney in 2014. The organization’s latest efforts include working with youth activists to eliminate child marriage. BIRD-Liberia began the Power to Girls campaign, in collaboration with Girls Not Brides, to raise awareness of child marriage.
“The activists will go around the country to speak to students and school administrators,” Emmanuel Quiqui, BIRD’s Office Administrator, said to Girls Not Brides. “They’ll go to radio stations around Liberia and meet with the national legislature to spread the campaign message.” Bird-Liberia has trained 10 activists to educate fellow Liberians on the detriment of child marriage with the aim of ending the practice entirely.
Though child marriage persists, activists and organizations on the ground are showing their commitment to ending the practice and safeguarding children’s rights.
– Priya Maiti