by Kula V. Fofana on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 4:50am
A Paper to solidify arguments to concord with the Liberian Senate in the passage of the African Youth Charter submitted to the Honorable House of Representatives by Ms. Kula V. Fofana, Youth & Student Advocate and Executive Director, Paramount Young Women Initiative.
May 13, 2011
Honorable members of the 52nd Legislature, members of the Joint House Committee on Youth & Sports, Judiciary and Gender & Child Development, members of the Government officials, Youth and Students Advocate and Activists, the youth community, invited guests, the general public, distinguish one and all.
I’m amaze to be invited by you Honorable Members to present a paper to further enlighten the debate in concurring with the House of Senate on the passage of the African Youth Charter. Too often laws are made and agreements are signed in the absence and without the acquiescence of the people it intends to affect of which such action has given a negative dividend to Liberia with significant impact on development process. This gathering here today manifest a noteworthy action and a turning point in the accepted ‘status co’ which is a right step in the right direction with a hope of continuity.
Now the African Youth Charter! In its 13th paragraph of the preamble which states “recognizing that youth are partners, assets and prerequisite for sustainable development and for peace and prosperity of Africa with a unique contribution to make to the present and to future development”, is a clear demonstration of the partnership role that young people hold in every nation with specification to Africa and the importance of including young people in the facet of nation building. Liberia is a unique case and for too long young people issues have been a lip service, cross cutting and address on surface.
With the passage of the African Youth Charter, Liberia stands at the helm of development. As we all are aware more than half of our population is young people. If the issues of youth are undermined the development of Liberia is undermined. With the history of arm conflict and the involvement of young people as victims and perpetrators, the level of unemployment and underemployment, crimes, limited basic social services, limited educational opportunities, limited access to affordable health care etc.
With the prevailing situation and assuming that more than 50% of our young people lack the basic social services, imaging that the current leaders in our geo politics are leaving the surface of the earth or are no longer physically fit to run the affairs of the state what will be that picture? With the privileged few young people attaining quality education now may be of now use as the country will be treading on a fragile path.
Members of this 52nd legislature, with keen interest in Article 23 of the charter which clearly point out the need for young women and girls inclusion, promotion, protection and development, it calls for a proactive and pragmatic action in the inclusion of young women and girls.
The state of the world population puts Liberia at 1.3 % of the prevalence rate of HIV amongst young females between the ages of 15-25. While a 2007 demographic health survey conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in collaboration with the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo Information Services reveals that 1 in every 3 girl between the ages of 13-19 has given birth once or twice, the study shows that young women and adolescent girls lack basic information relating to their sexual health and as a result they fall prey and end up getting pregnant and dropping out of school, and getting infected with HIV/AIDS and they lack basic knowledge and limited access to health services.
Liberia’s population growth pattern is influenced by five factors: (a) high fertility rates (5.2 nationally, 6.2 in rural areas and 3.8 in urban areas) (LDHS 2007); (b) the large population of women of reproductive age; (c) the practice of early marriages – approximately 48% of Liberian girls marry by the age of 18; (d) the widespread practice of polygamy, particularly in rural Liberia; and (e) the generally low utilization of contraceptive services.
Maternal mortality remains staggeringly high and appears to have increased in recent years. Currently estimated at 994 deaths per 100,000 live births (2007), this rate is among the worst in the world.
What do these statistics mean? Most of our young women and girls are at the peak of these stats and there is a need for a specific and clear action to enhance the growth and development and their access to health services.
Women were not allowed until the 1940s when they were granted the franchise to vote. This was not the end of the story, as all women whether rural/indigenous or urban settlers were not allowed to vote until 1946, but only if one had property. Indigenous women, notwithstanding, were not permitted to participate in elections until the 1950s. This was a contradiction of the constitution which proclaimed the equality of all people, and the inalienable rights of all its citizens to participate in their governance. If interpreted, the constitution was fashioned in a way favorable to one segment of the society-the property class. Hence in actuality there were three categories of women in Liberia; the settlers’ women some of whom owned property and by that standard were qualified to vote; poor settler women who did not have property and were excluded. There was yet another group, the indigenous women who like their male counterparts could not vote until the 1950s. Hence, in spite of the constitution’s stance on the equality of all persons, the political class at the time set aside the real meaning of the equality “doctrine” and therefore ignored the constitution. Certainly this was the beginning of the discrimination of all Liberian women which in a way reinforced the already existing cultural bias against women which is also been reinforce by limited opportunities for young women participation in local and national politics or even representation.
The charter will reinforce the mandate and obligate government, stakeholders and partners to involve young people as partners and not receivers and as well it mandates local actors to create a frame work of action for domestication which is the national youth policy.
And the young people of Liberia are ahead of that step with the already existing youth policy.