Liberia’s Government Takes the Helm to Protect Vulnerable Children

Geoffrey OyatGeoffrey
Oyat, Child Protection Manager

Monrovia, Liberia

February 28, 2013

Mr. Mulbah, a farmer in Gleegbar Town in northwest Liberia,
was persuaded by a distant family member to send his four older children to a
boarding school in Monrovia in 2007. 
This school, Aunt Musu said, would provide a better life for his two sons
and two daughters since there was no good school in Gleegbar Town. Four years later, Mr. Mulbah was notified
that his children were living in an orphanage, where they had been beaten,
starved, and forced to beg for money on the streets. Mr. Mulbah’s children were
returned to him in July 2011 and he is now caring for a family of nine and
sending all his children to the local school in Gleegbar Town. Although Mr. Mulbah is now reunited with his
children, many other parents in the region still face uncertainty about their
kids’ whereabouts.

Poor services and poverty in rural areas compel parents to
send their children to the capital city Monrovia with hopes for a better life
for their children. Parents enroll their kids in orphanages with false promises
of funding for their education. An
assessment done by Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in 2008
found that a majority of the 5,000 children living in orphanages in Liberia are
not orphaned but wrongly placed.    

The Government of Liberia is faced with the daunting task of supervising
orphanages and ensuring the protection of Liberia’s two million children. Moreover, the country is still recovering
from a 16-year civil war and its institutional capacity remains weak.

AidreformLIBOver the past decade, Save the Children has been assisting
Liberia’s Department of Social Welfare, the government ministry
responsible for child protection on measures and structures to prevent and
respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence affecting children. 

With funding from the United States
Agency for International Development (USAID)
’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s
Fund, and administered by World Learning, Save the Children Liberia has been removing
children from the streets, unsafe orphanages, and other risky circumstances,
and reintegrating them with their parents when possible. We have also helped parents to improve their skills
and economic opportunities to prevent family separations in the first place.  

With its latest package of reforms called “USAID Forward”,
USAID is investing more resources in building the capacity of Liberia’s institutions
to take over essential functions such as child protection and health services
that were primarily led by international NGOs and private contractors in the
years immediately following the war. By
shifting these responsibilities –from US entities to the Liberian public sector
– USAID is fostering sustainable development and reducing the need for U.S.
development assistance over time.

Over the past several years, Save the Children's role
has expanded beyond providing child protection services alongside Liberia’s
Department of Social Welfare. We are now
working to help improve the government’s tracking and protection system for
vulnerable children. In the USAID-funded
project called, “Educating and
Protecting Vulnerable Children in Family Settings” project, we are setting up a
case management system for the Department of Social Welfare, in partnership with World Learning, to enhance
the government’s ability to prevent vulnerable children from being separated
from their families and reintegrate those that have been separated. World
Learning has also been working to build the capacity of the Department of Social Welfare in child
protection and other priority areas. Since
the project began, we have prevented 457 separations and returned 221 children,
ages 4 to 18, to safe homes.

Once the project is over in 2014, the Department of Social
Welfare will take leadership over the protection and unification of children in
Liberia. They will have quality baseline
information on vulnerable families in six counties and an active county-level
database of families linked to the national record. Moreover, members of Liberia’s judiciary
and police will be able to work with 36 community groups and local leaders trained
by Save the Children to identify child protection risks, relevant laws, and local
services provided by the Department of Social Welfare.   

Building stronger and more responsive government institutions
is a challenging task, particularly in a country like Liberia that has been so
deeply impacted by war. Efforts by Save
the Children, however, help to ensure that U.S. development assistance not only
improves the lives of vulnerable children in Liberia now but also strengthens the
country’s public institutions to lead and drive effective service delivery for
at-risk kids in Liberia in the future.