The recent increase in the orphan population in Liberia
Up to 40 percent of the student body in Liberian primary schools are often filled with children that are three years older than their intended school grade. Liberia has encountered its fair share of struggles over the past few decades, which have ultimately led to an increase of the orphan population in the country, including two civil wars from 1980 until 2003 and other significant social circumstances.
A major issue that emerged within the past two decades from the orphanage system had been that a number of non-licensed orphanages sprung up and did not provide the proper living conditions for children. Government investigations revealed that over thirty locations would have to be shut down for operating illegally and for exposing children to a varying degree of abuse and neglect, which meant that other orphanages would experience an influx of children.
Another problem that also came out of illegal orphanages in wake of the civil wars was reports of child trafficking. Due to these concerns, Canada did not accept adoptions from Liberia for several years. Similar to this scenario, a report in 2006 revealed that 95 percent of children that had been brought into the orphanages did not meet the criteria for being there in the first place. Instead, recruitment was done by telling parents that these institutions would provide better care and free schooling for their children. Since then, such open-door policies are no longer allowed and there have been increases in law enforcement efforts to stop these practices.
In 2014, the Ebola epidemic emerged. One of the most heavily impacted countries in the region of West Africa was Liberia. UNICEF found that many children who were left orphans experienced unstable living situations, and suffered both socially and economically. Many children were left to live on their own in the streets, which raised concerns of young boys getting by through working in dangerous conditions and girls facing sexual exploitation through child marriage.
It is estimated that over 6,000 children lost either one or both of their parents to Ebola in Liberia. In the months that followed, issues about orphan safety continued to come into light. Children who were left without one or both of their parents experienced issues in being taken in by their community in certain cases. Even if the child was cleared of having Ebola, they carried additional stigma through association, meaning they were unable to reintegrate into their communities.
One of the ways that the situation was handled involved sending children away to live with strangers. A worrying problem was voiced by 1,562 survey respondents through an assessment that had been done in partnership with UN Women, Oxfam, The Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, and the United Nations Mission in Liberia. The respondents were from five regions in Liberia and were selected for being a sample representative of the general population. 17.4 percent of them mentioned that children were being exploited by their guardians or foster care parents.
However, out of these concerns, a new approach has been taken in taking care of children in need. Liberia’s Government has worked on providing child care at a community level. In the past, funding has gone into community strengthening programming, capacity building, family reintegration, and deinstitutionalization. An example of a community-based initiative was in Careysburg, Libera. The Shiata Women of Faith Project assisted teenage mothers by providing mentors that helped look after their children while they went to school. These mentors also helped them gain life skills and access to family planning services. In addition, work has been done in transitioning former institutional care into day-care centers. It is through steps like these more vulnerable or at-risk populations can be supported by members within their community, lessening the number of orphans within the country and ensuring that children can remain with their families in a healthy environment.
Korkoyah, Dala T., and Francis F. Wreh. “Ebola Impact Revealed .” Oxfam, July 2015. https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/rr-ebola-impact-women-men-liberia-010715-en.pdf.
Collins, Prince. “What Happened to Liberia's Ebola Orphans? .” ReliefWeb. The New Humanitarian, October 7, 2015. https://reliefweb.int/report/liberia/what-happened-liberia-s-ebola-orphans.
“Liberia: Orphanages Accused of Child Trafficking .” ReliefWeb. The New Humanitarian, February 24, 2006. https://reliefweb.int/report/liberia/liberia-orphanages-accused-child-trafficking.
“Ebola Outbreak: 'Thousands of Orphans Shunned'.” BBC News. BBC, September 30, 2014. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29424919.
“The Situation for Children in Liberia.” UNICEF Liberia. Accessed December 1, 2020. https://www.unicef.org/liberia/situation-children-liberia.
Dodoo, Lennart. “Liberia: Mariah Luyken Found Guilty of Child Trafficking after Two Years of Legal Battle.” FrontPageAfrica, October 26, 2020. https://frontpageafricaonline.com/front-slider/liberia-mariah-luyken-found-guilty-of-child-trafficking-after-two-years-of-legal-battle/.
Keshavarzian, Ghazal. “Country Care Profile - Liberia .” Better Care Network, January 2015. https://bettercarenetwork.org/sites/default/files/Country%20Care%20Profile%20-%20Liberia_0.pdf.