Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages

UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)

Executive summary

Children living in Liberia’s orphanages are denied basic rights – ranging from the right to development and health, to the right to identity, family, education, leisure and participation in cultural activities. The concurrent denial of this range of rights – economic, social, cultural, civil, and political - has an incremental and lasting effect on the children.

The UNMIL Human Rights and Protection Section (HRPS) considers the situation in orphanages to constitute a major human rights problem in post-conflict Liberia. It has therefore produced this report, following a nationwide survey of the conditions in orphanages. The aim of the report is to review international human rights norms as well as Liberian legislation, and to assess the compliance of orphanages with those standards. The report also considers inter-country adoption of Liberian children, and makes recommendations to the Government of Liberia (GoL).

The key findings made in this report are:

  • The quality of care and protection provided to children in most orphanages is sub-standard, and not carried out in accordance with the best interest of the child;
  • The great majority of children in the orphanages surveyed have living relatives from whom they have been separated;
  • The Policy Guidelines for Minimum Conditions and Standards for Social Welfare Institutions (1999) and the draft Minimum Standards on Operating Orphanages, developed by the MoHSW are often not adhered to. Recent trainings coordinated by the MoHSW to increase awareness must be continued in order to ensure internalization and implementation of the standards;
  • There is no official or systematic screening of orphanage staff. This puts children at risk of abuse;
  • There are indications that the education provided in many orphanages is substandard as teachers are not trained and resources are scarce;
  • There is no independent mechanism to which children in orphanages can turn for advice or to address abuse in orphanages;
  • The MoHSW has limited capacity to monitor the protection of rights of children in orphanages, and has so far been unable to bring about significant improvements of conditions in orphanages;
  • Despite efforts by MoHSW and its partners (UN and NGOs), they have failed to close sub-standard orphanages that were recommended for closure in 2004;
  • Mechanisms in place to ensure the protection of the rights of children who are adopted internationally are weak and need to be strengthened, including through the ratification and implementation of international standards.