Last updated: April 2017
Flag of Liberia Country report for Liberia

Summary of law reform necessary to achieve full prohibition

Prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, alternative care settings, day care and schools.

Article 5(8) of the Penal Code 1976 authorises the use of force by parents, guardians and teachers against children for “prevention and punishment of misconduct”; article 7(7) of the Children’s Law 2011 provides for “justifiable correction” of children. The near universal acceptance of a certain degree of violence in childrearing necessitates clarity in law that no degree of corporal punishment is acceptable or lawful. All legal defences should be repealed and prohibition of all corporal punishment should be enacted in relation to parents and all those with parental authority.

Alternative care settings – Prohibition should be enacted in legislation applicable to all alternative care settings (foster care, institutions, places of safety, emergency care, etc).

Day care – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, preschools, family centres, etc) and all day care for older children (day centres, after-school childcare, childminding, etc).

Schools – Prohibition should be enacted in relation to all education settings, public and private.

Legality of corporal punishment

Home

Corporal punishment is lawful in the home. Article 5(8.1) of the Penal Code 1976, entitled “Use of force by persons with special responsibility for care, discipline, or safety of others”, states: “Parent, guardian or teachers. The use of force upon or toward the person of another is justifiable if the actor is the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the care and supervision of a minor under eighteen years old or teacher or other person responsible for the care and supervision of such a minor for a special purpose, or a person acting at the direction of any of the foregoing persons, if the force is used for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting his welfare including prevention and punishment of his misconduct, and the maintenance of proper discipline. The force used for these purposes must not be designed to cause or known to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement or degradation.”

The Children’s Law 2011 provides limited protection from violent childrearing but does not make all corporal punishment unlawful or repeal the provisions for the use of force in article 5 of the Penal Code 1976. Article 4(1.3) states that “every parent shall have an equal duty with a co-parent to: … (g) respect the child’s dignity and refrain from administering domestic discipline that violates such dignity or adversely affects the psychosocial or physical well-being of any child living in the household”. However, it does not explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment, and article 7(7) allows for “justifiable” corporal punishment, stating: “(1) No person shall subject a child to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (2) Any correction or punishment of a child shall be justifiable for the child concerned. (3) No correction of a child is justifiable for any child if it is unreasonable in kind or in degree relative to the age, physical and mental condition of the child and no correction is justifiable if the child by reason of tender age or otherwise is incapable of understanding the purpose and fairness of the correction. (4) The Ministry of Gender and Development shall progressively facilitate parental guidance programs aimed at developing the capacity of parents to discipline and guide their children without use of any form of violence.”

There is an ongoing process of reviewing national laws so as to comply with international and regional human rights standards. The Constitution 1986 is being reviewed and public consultations on Constitutional Reform commenced in March 2014; the work of the Constitution Review Committee is expected to be completed in 2016.[1] A Domestic Violence Bill is under discussion, which the Government has said will domesticate the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[2] The Government reported to the Human Rights Committee that the Domestic Violence Bill was submitted to the House of Representatives in January 2016, was passed by the Lower House and as at December 2016 was being discussed in the Senate.[3] We do not know if prohibition of corporal punishment has been proposed in the context of these reforms.

 

Alternative care settings

Corporal punishment is unlawful in some but not all alternative care settings. Article 8(2) of the Children’s Law 2011 prohibits corporal punishment by child protection practitioners: “Every employer of a child protection officer shall incorporate into the child protection officer’s employment contract a code of conduct which mandates the employee to: … (k) refrain from physical punishment of a child under the child protection officer’s protection….” But other carers would be permitted to inflict corporal punishment under the provisions for the use of force in article 5(8) of the Penal Code 1976 and for “justifiable” correction in article 7(7) of the Law (see under “Home”).

 

Day care

In early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, kindergartens, family centres, etc) and in day care for older children (day centres, after-school childcare, etc), children are legally protected from corporal punishment by child protection practitioners under article 8(2) of the Children’s Law 2011 (see under “Alternative care settings”). But other carers would be permitted to inflict corporal punishment under the provisions for the use of force in article 5(8) of the Penal Code 1976 and for “justifiable” correction in article 7(7) of the Law (see under “Home”).

 

Schools

Corporal punishment is lawful in schools under the provisions for the use of force in article 5(8) of the Penal Code 1976 and for “justifiable correction” in article 7(7) of the Children’s Law 2011. The Education Reform Act 2011 replaces the Education Law 2001 and according to the Government it provides “appropriate sanctions against teachers who commit sexual abuse and assault of students”.[4] However, the Act is silent on the issue of corporal punishment and discipline, stating only that “Pupils conduct shall be regulated by the policy guidelines prescribed by the Ministry” (art. 8.6); offenses listed in Chapter 7 of the Act include those of sexual violence towards a pupil but do not include corporal punishment.

 

Penal institutions

Corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited as a disciplinary measure in all penal institutions accommodating children in conflict with the law in article 9(3.5) of the Children’s Law 2011: “Corporal punishment, placement in a dark cell, closed or solitary confinement, or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health or well-being of the child concerned are hereby prohibited.” Article 34(18)(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code explicitly prohibits corporal punishment in prisons: “… No cruel, degrading or corporal punishment including punishment by confinement in a dark cell, shall be inflicted on any prisoner….”

 

Sentence for crime

Corporal punishment is unlawful as a sentence for crime under article 9(3.5) of the Children’s Law 2011 (see under “Penal institutions”). Under the Revised Rules and Regulations Governing the Hinterland of Liberia 1949 (revised 2001), there are separate legal structures for “civilised” and “native” Liberians, with justice for the latter being administered in native courts. The Regulations provide for tribal affairs to be administered through tribal chiefs “who shall govern freely according to tribal customs and traditions so long as these are not contrary to law” and state that “no chief shall be penalised for imposing sanctions when his legitimate orders are not obeyed, provided such sanctions do not exceed the limits fixed by Regulation” (art. 29). Article 45 expressly provides for corporal punishment – “which means whipping, stocking, tying” – in cases of petty larceny (art. 45).

It would appear that such punishments if inflicted on a child would be unlawful under the above mentioned prohibition of corporal punishment in the administration of justice in article 9 of the Children’s Law. In addition, article 6 states that “no person or society shall subject a child to … any unnecessary or uncultured practice that may inflict physical, psychosocial, or emotional pain to the child or otherwise violate or endanger her or his bodily integrity, life, health, dignity, education, welfare, or holistic development” (art. 6(4)(d)). Efforts are under way to harmonise the Hinterland Regulations with statutory law.[5]

 

Universal Periodic Review of Liberia’s human rights record

Liberia was examined in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2010 (session 9). No recommendations were made concerning corporal punishment of children. However, the following recommendations were made and were accepted by the Government:[6]

“Complete the process of examining regional and international human rights instruments to which the country is party, so as to revise national legislation and better fulfil its regional and international obligations imposed by such instruments (Algeria);

“Continue to prioritize and implement policies and legislation to address violence against women and the protection of the human rights of children (South Africa);

“Take further legislative and policy measures to protect the rights of children, including by ensuring that Liberia meets its obligations under the CRC and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (Australia);

“Pursue efforts to harmonize its national legislation with its international obligations (Senegal);

“Continue to pay particular attention to the rights of children and women, including through the development and enactment of national action plans (Egypt);

“Encourage Liberia to strengthen its judicial system, especially in view of promoting accountability, in order to bring to justice those committing violence against women and children (Thailand);

“Reinforce the protection and promotion of the rights of vulnerable groups, namely, children, women, disabled and elderly persons (Algeria);

“Sustain efforts to promote and protect the rights of groups and of the vulnerable population, such as children, women, disabled and elderly persons (Cuba);

“Continue to reinforce efforts to promote the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children, especially orphaned and disabled children and child victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation (Bangladesh)”

Examination in the second cycle took place in 2015 (session 22). The following recommendation was made to which the Government must respond by September 2015:[7]

“Take all necessary measures to abolish corporal punishment for children at all institutions, including alternative care settings (Namibia)”

The Government “noted” the recommendation.[8] The Government subsequently explained that “noting” a recommendation did not mean it had no support but that the Government could not commit to its practical implementation, and that all recommendations that were “noted” had been included in Liberia’s National Human Rights Action Plan as “aspirational provisions”.[9]

 

Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations

Session 061 (2012)

(11 December 2012, CRC/C/LBR/CO/2-4, Concluding observations on second-fourth report, paras. 44 and 45)

"While welcoming the incorporation of the legal prohibition of corporal punishment in correctional facilities in article IX, section 3.5, of the Children’s Law, the Committee is concerned that corporal punishment remains lawful in schools, in the home and in alternative care settings. It is highly alarmed by the frequent incidence of corporal punishment, including extreme physical violence suffered by children at school and in the home. The Committee is also concerned about the lack of awareness among parents, persons working with and for children, and the general public of the negative impact corporal punishment has on children.

"With reference to its general comment No. 8 (2006) on the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment (CRC/C/GC/8), the Committee urges the State party to explicitly prohibit by law corporal punishment in all settings, including in the family, schools and other institutions and childcare settings. Furthermore, it urges the State party to step up its efforts in carrying out awareness-raising programmes through the Ministry of Gender and Development, together with civil society and community leaders, aimed at fostering a culture of non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing and alternative forms of discipline to corporal punishment. In this endeavour the State party should introduce public education on the harmful effects of corporal punishment on children and establish a confidential reporting system in schools and childcare settings for children who are victims of corporal punishment."

Read more from Session 061 (2012)

Session 036 (2004)

(1 July 2004, CRC/C/15/Add.236, Concluding observations on initial report, paras. 42 and 43)

"The Committee is concerned about the incidence of abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence and neglect of children in the State party.

"The Committee recommends that the State party:

a) take all necessary measures to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all places, including in the family, in schools and other institutions and childcare settings…."

Read more from Session 036 (2004)

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Concluding Observations

Session 23 (2014)

([April 2014], ACERWC, Concluding observations on initial report, pp. 5-6)

"The Committee acknowledges Liberia’s effort in putting legislative ban on corporeal punishment in corrective facilities. But corporeal punishment remains legal and common practice in schools, homes and in alternative care settings. Children fall out with their parents and move out of the home or dropped out of school as a result of corporal punishment. And the situation is not monitored and documented to reflect its magnitude and impact on children. Further, domestic violence is often regarded as an issue of family affairs, and mostly not dealt within the judicial settings. Thus the Committee recommends the State Party to ensure that corporal punishment is expressly prohibited by law and adequate mechanisms be put in place to monitor and enforce the law. It recommends the State to strengthen its enforcement institutions to be able to promote prevention of corporal punishment and domestic violence and more importantly to be able to effectively investigate and prosecute violence against children. The Committee also recommends Liberia to provide adequate protection for child victims of violence particularly those whose cases are going through legal proceedings by arranging free access to legal assistance, psychosocial and medical therapy and treatment for their quick recovery."

Read more from Session 23 (2014)

Prevalence/attitudinal research for Liberia in the last 10 years

In a baseline survey of parents and caregivers undertaking a parenting programme in Lofa in 2012, 36% of caregivers reported shouting at their child every day. Severe forms of physical punishment such as hitting, kicking, or locking the child in a room were rarely reported and only 8% of caregivers agreed it was necessary to physically punish their child in order to raise them well, but when asked what they did the last time their child misbehaved, more than half (53%) reported beating their child.

(International Rescue Committee (2014), Parents Make the Difference: Findings from a randomized impact evaluation of a parenting program in rural Liberia, New York, NY: International Rescue Committee)

According to a survey conducted in 2007, 76% of children aged 2-14 years had experienced physical punishment in the month prior to the survey. Psychological punishment was even more prevalent (83%) while non-violent forms of discipline were extremely uncommon and used with only one in 20 children. The use of physical punishment is highly normalised among parents and caregivers: six out of ten households believe children need to be physically punished in order to be raised properly.

(Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) at al (2008), Liberia Demographic and Health Survey 2007, Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) and Macro International Inc.)

According to UNICEF statistics collected between 2005 and 2013, 90% of children aged 2-14 experienced “violent discipline” (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the home in the month prior to the survey. More than three quarters (76%) experienced physical punishment and 84% experienced psychological aggression (being shouted at, yelled at, screamed at or insulted). A smaller percentage (61%) of mothers and caregivers thought that physical punishment was necessary in childrearing.

(UNICEF (2014), Hidden in Plain Sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children, NY: UNICEF)

Footnotes

[1] 18 February 2015, A/HRC/WG.6/22/LBR/1, National report to the UPR, para. 21

[2] ibid., para. 20

[3] 9 December 2016, CCPR/C/LBR/1, Initial report, para. 30

[4] 10 April 2014, CEDAW/C/LBR/7-8, Seventh/eighth state party report, p. 19

[5] UN Mission in Liberia & UN Office of the High Commissioner (2015), An Assessment of Human Rights Issues Emanating from Traditional Practices in Liberia, para. 53

[6] 4 January 2011, A/HRC/16/3, Report of the working group, paras. 77(4), 77(5), 77(9), 77(10), 77(18), 77(50), 77(67), 77(68) and 77(69)

[7] 13 July 2015, A/HRC/30/4, Report of the working group, para. 100(149)

[8] 25 September 2015, A/HRC/30/4/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum

[9] 1 October 2015, Future A/HRC/30/2 Advance unedited version, Draft report of the Human Rights Council on its 30th session, para. 562

Child population

2,203,000 (UNICEF, 2015)

National and regional advocacy for law reform

No known campaign for law reform

Forthcoming treaty body examinations and UPRs

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): 2020, session 36, deadline for briefing tbc

Human Rights Committee (ICCPR): Date of examination tbc, deadline for LOI briefing has passed (10 April 2017)

This is an automatic translation service. Extracts from laws, treaty body recommendations and Universal Periodic Review outcomes are unofficial translations.