There are some 1,878,000 children living in Liberia, with an astonishing 340,000 of them orphaned during the Liberia civil war or by AIDS. All teenage children living in Liberia today were effected by the civil war. 87% had seen a family member killed, 60% had seen other children beaten to death whilst 84% reported that they had experienced being "surrounded by, lying underneath or stepping on" dead bodies. As one girl reminisced "When I close my eyes, all I can see is the war. I often think about taking my own life." Yet, even when the war ended, and the peace keepers arrived, the abuse of these children continued often by the very people sent there to protect them.
Girls in camps, some as young as eight, turned to prostitution to help their families make ends meet, and the purchaser of these services were often UN military personnel. When Save the Children started to investigate these practices one teenager recounted a familiar story, that having sex with peacekeepers was a good and reliable source of extra income. She advised "If you 'go out' with men you can get money to buy the things you need. My friend had no money before. Now she is selling because she is loving to Unmil". (Unmil being the United Nations Mission in Liberia)
Equally disturbingly, most parents were prepared to allow this to happen as they needed the money, although if the girl the got pregnant she was quickly disowned as the idea was to ease the family's financial burden not add to it with unwanted babies. Many schools were destroyed during the civil war and many qualified teachers killed leaving the education system in Liberia in disarray. When Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president in 2005 she introduced free and compulsory primary education, although secondary school retained its fee paying structure.
However drop-out rates remain high, particularly for girls, of whom three out of every five can't read, as they quit for reasons ranging from forced marriages, early pregnancies, discrimination and violence. (Girls were even known to have sex with their predominately male teachers in order to receive decent grades.) Liberia's failure to implement strategies to engage girls in education led UNICEF to withdraw funding from government sponsored initiatives in 2009 on they grounds they were there on paper but no real effort had been made to implement them. Healthcare is also a cause of concern for children in Liberia with just 40 Liberian doctors and 50 nurse midwives for a population of three and a half million.
Again, during the war, clinics and other medical facilities were destroyed as well as the loss of life of medical staff. This general lack of health care resources is compounded by the country’s hot, tropical climate that is ripe for numerous diseases from cholera, lymphatic filariasis, yellow fever, river blindness, to the country's greatest health threat of malaria.
Other facts and figures paint an unequally bleak picture for Liberia children. 83.7% of them live in poverty, 111 out of every 1000 Liberia children will die before their fifth birthday and most can expect to live to just 45 years old. Only 61% have access to safe water and those who grow up and find a job, made harder with a literacy rate of just 52%, will be amongst just the 15% of the population that's employed.
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