FGM Victim Wants Justice …..As Perpetrators Go With Impunity

By: Varnetta Johnson Freeman

Nearly five years have gone since Ruth Peal, a member of the Kru tribe in Liberia, was forcibly initiated into the Sande Society in Bomi County. The Sande Society in Liberia is considered a traditional school where girls are supposed to learn social skills, build good character and prepare for family life. However, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is at the core of this traditional school system.

The Kru tribe to which Ruth belongs is not known for practicing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but the practice is common for the people of Bomi where Ruth lives. Since her initiation, Ruth says she is not the same person. Her skinny and unkempt look clearly suggests that something is wrong.

 

Attitude wise, Ruth drinks excessively and misbehaves in the community. Speaking to our reporter recently, she said some people take advantage of her condition to beat her and inflict bodily wounds on her. Unfortunately, she still lives with the very people that initiated her against her will.

In 2011, Ruth was forcibly initiated after being accused of talking openly against the Sande Society which its members believe is very sacred. They believe that no one should talk against their society, especially when that person is not a part.

Ruth’s case was taken to court and the perpetrators were found guilty of kidnapping and torture. They were, however, not charged for initiating Ruth against her will, because the Liberian laws do not address such issues, according to Atty. Esther Neal of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL).

Maima Kanneh and Rose Kerkulah, who allegedly forcibly initiated Ruth were each given a two year jail sentence by the then Criminal Court “E” Judge Zota, but the sentences were never served. Ruth believes the frustration of seeing Maima and Rose move about freely is a contributing factor to her present condition.

According to her, these women on many occasions openly taunt her saying, “you taught we were going to go to jail, you lie. We are free moving about, but here you are looking crazy, in fact you haven’t even felt it, you will get crazy in the street.”

Ruth Peal is still calling for total justice in her case. She wants those who contributed to her condition to serve their jail sentences handed down by the court. She says she also wants to leave Tubmanburg, Bomi County and resettle elsewhere. She’s looking for help form any organization to help her relocate.

There were several women organizations and the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection involved in this case until the court ruling in 2011. The Ministry of Gender says the resettlement of Ruth should be the concern of every organization working on the rights of women and girls and not only the ministry.

Since the Ruth Peal’s case and other cases of forced initiations, there have been a number of consultations held with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Traditional Council of Liberia and civil society organizations on how the practice can be modernized.  As a result of these consultations and other international laws that Liberia has signed unto, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Traditional Council of Liberia developed a circular that is intended to guide the Sande Society.

Recently at a two-day national dialogue organized by the Women of Liberia Peace network (WOLPNET), the Zoes (traditional people) of Liberia reached a number of resolutions including no forced initiation. They agreed that women who go to the Sande Society should reach the age of consent, 18, and should willingly go to be initiated. If these resolutions are passed into law by the National Legislature, it means the issue of child initiation or forced initiation will be eradicated.

This report was compiled by the writer with support from Womankind Worldwide, under the “Empowering Media for Inclusive Governance” Project implemented in Liberia by LIWOMAC.

 

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