An Exclusive Interview with Liberian’s Public Interest Lawyer for Child Protection: Foday M. Kawah


Mr. Foday M Kawah is a Liberian Lawyer by Profession and have had over 20 years of professional working experience in Child Rights and Protection, Child Trafficking, Juvenile Justice, Gender based-violence, Promotion of Women Empowerment, and the Rights of girls, promotion of birth registration, etc. He also obtained a BSC. Degree in Economics, LLB.Degree in Law, and a MA candidate in the Master of Advanced Studies in Child Rights program at the University of Geneva.


Foday is the Executive Director and head of Defence for Children -Liberia where he is  responsible for oversight and coordination of support activities for all program implementation at the Local, National, Regional, and International levels.He is also responsible to implement policies, coordinating programs, and seeking funding for the organization. Other related jobs are field staff supervision, and coordination with relevant organizations and agencies, including local government representatives. This position requires flexibility for all DCI-Liberia staff at the National level. Foday is currently serving as Chairman of The Liberia Child Rights NGO Coalition; his duty requires a significant change to reflect the whole child protection operations in Liberia as it relates to the UNCRC and the African Chartered on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Foday has benefited from 4 days (March 5th-8th, 2012) of Certificate training in Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice Conducted by the INSTITUT UNIVERSITAIRE KURT BOSCH IN Geneva, Switzerland. He obtained a TOT Certificate training in Gender-Based Violence in 2005. This training was focused on an in-depth understanding of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Including its causes, consequences, and common survivor responses; to underscore the importance of promoting Women’s Rights as human rights; to fully comprehend the roles and responsibilities of being a GBV advocate, and to gain the key skills necessary to conduct effective case management with GBV survivors. (Organized by Christian Children Fund-Liberia).


Mr. Foday is currently one of the 12 public interest lawyers supported by the Global Child Law Fellowship Program run by the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center, and we took the opportunity to interview Mr. Foday to learn more about his and his organization’s work in protecting children’s rights in Liberia, the current state of child protection in Liberia, and the progress and challenges faced by the Liberian government in promoting child protection.  Mr. Foday also shared with us the significant impact and change that his participation in the Center’s programs and activities has brought to him and his organization. The full interview is shared below!


1. You have been working in child protection for more than 20 years and should have many stories to share with us. Could you please tell us how you started your child protection work and what was the most impressive event or moment?


I started my volunteer work in Child Protection as a Liberian Refugee residing in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1991 with support from the Church of Sweden Mission. We were responsible to traced all Unaccompanied Liberian refugee children that were sleeping in the streets, abandoned homes, the Cinemas houses, Market Buildings, Beaches, entertainment centers, etc., and reunifying them with their biological parents in Liberia or the Waterloo Refugee Camp based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. “I am always thrilled with excitement when I make the match and bring children home to their biological parents”. That has been one of my most impressive events or moment as a social worker responsible for Family Tracing and Reunification.


Upon my return to Liberia from the refugee camp, I got employed with Christian Children Fund-Liberia in 2004. At CCF-Liberia, I rose from the rank of Social worker, Economic Reintegration officer, Legal aid officer, Senior Reintegration officer, and Field coordinator. I have had over 20 years of working and Training experiences both as a volunteer and employed staff in the field of Child rights/ protection, Gender-based violence, community development, etc.


2. Child protection work in Liberia has become more difficult and complex because of the severe impact of the civil war and the Ebola virus. What do you think are the main issues and challenges facing child protection today?


The main issues and challenges facing the Child Protection today are as follows:
·      There is a high level of local prejudice against human rights work in our targeted communities indicating that we are attempting to incite children against their parents or elders under the disguise of being a child rights advocate.
·      Most Police officers and Magistrates are not trained in the administration of Juvenile justice.
·      In most instances, the Parent of the child offender deliberately refused to identify with them in the face of Diversion
·      Prolong Pre-Trial detention of Juvenile in the Criminal Justice System in Liberia
·      There is one Juvenile Court in Liberia that attends to all Juvenile Cases.
·      There is no remand home or separate detention facilities for a juvenile offender.


The administration of Juvenile Justice in Liberia still falls far below minimum international standards. A Diversion Review Board (DRB) is yet to be set up to operationalize the national diversion framework. It aims to review cases of children who come into conflict with the law and assess the progress of diversion programs, review data, and suggest ways to improve such processes. Yet, as of today, it is still a work in progress.
According to the findings of the newly developed National Strategy /Roadmap on Child Justice in Liberia (2020-2024), There are no specialized structures or juvenile units within the Prosecution Office, Legal Aid, Probation Service, Detention Centers, and Parole Board, and no specialized open institutions that offer residential care and treatment for boys and girls in conflict with the law. Only a very few CSOs/NGOs are active in the administration of juvenile justice. An effective coordination mechanism for the activities of all specialized and non-specialized units, services, and facilities is lacking. Partly child-specific SOPs on dealing with child offenders have been developed for the WACPS and child-specific guidelines on diversion have been developed for the social worker of the Ministry of Justice. SOPs/guidelines for prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, prison staff and social workers/probation officers are missing. Systematic, continuous, and sustainable capacity building for newly appointed professionals handling cases of children in conflict with the law is neither developed nor organized.


3. As the Executive Director of Defence for Children International – Liberia, what do you think are the unique characteristics or strengths of the agency in addressing these issues and challenges?


DCI-Liberia was established in March 2009 as a child right based institution with a mandate of serving as a watchdog on the government for promises she made under National, Regional and International instruments towards the promotion and protection of children’s rights in Liberia.


DCI-Liberia develops its programs according to Liberian children’s needs and priorities. She is registered by the Liberian NGO Law and has 13 years of professional experience in preventing and responding to Child trafficking, Separated Children, and conducting Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) of Unaccompanied Children including Sierra Leonean and Guinean Children, etc. in conflict and contact with the Laws in Liberia; as well as Conducting Family Tracing and Reunification with Liberian Children who are a victim of Child Trafficking and other forms of Child Rights Violation within the justice system.


Programmatic areas include Child Protection, Child Trafficking, Juvenile Justice, Promotion of Birth Registration of all children in Liberia (UBR), Protection of Children/women against Sexual Gender-Based Violence, Promotion of Women’s Empowerment, and the Rights of girls. DCI-Liberia, a strong advocate and lobbyist for the passing of 2011 enacted Children’s Bill into law, aims to strengthen the development, implementation, and enforcement of all policies and laws to protect children’s rights.


DCI-Liberia currently chairs a coalition of Civil society organizations known as the Liberia Child Rights NGO Coalition (LCRNC) that periodically submit CSO complementary reports (shadow reports) to the United Nations Expert Committee on the Right of the Child and the African Experts Committee on the Right and Welfare of the Child (ACREWC) on the prevailing human rights situation of children in Liberia.


4.Having talked about the issues, we can talk more easily about the progress Liberia has made in child protection in recent years. We know that the Liberian government has responsibility for implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, what progress has been made in legislation, justice and policy?


The Government of Liberia (GoL) recognizes that children are among the most vulnerable groups in the country and has been making efforts to promote and protect their rights in several ways. Since the war, rebuilding the child protection system has been part of the priority agenda of the government’s reconstruction process.The GoL has made child protection one of the main cross-cutting issues that shall be mainstreamed across all sectors for society’s overall productivity and well-being.


In addition, many laws and policies have been adopted to provide for welfare needs and protective environment for children and their families, including the Children’s Law, the Education Reform Act 2011, the Act to amend the Penal Code chapter 14 sections 14.70 and 14.71 and to provide for gang rape, called the Rape Law, the Anti-trafficking Law 2005 and its amended version on September 27, 2021, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights Act, the National Health and Social Welfare Policy and Plan, the National Plan of Action against Trafficking, the National Youth Policy for Liberia, the National Youth Action Plan, the National Health and Social Welfare Policy 2011-2021 and the National Social Protection Policy and Plan. Major institutional reforms have also taken place and specific mechanisms, such as the Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberia National Police, have been established, particularly to address matters, of children and women.


Despite these efforts, the laws, policies, and institutional reforms mentioned above have not achieved the anticipated improvements in the welfare of children and their families. This is large because resources have been lacking to support the implementation of the policies, and GoL has not committed enough funding to the system.


5. What is the number of child protection lawyers in Liberia? What role have they played in participating in national policy reform and legislation?


In Liberia, we study general law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia. There are no Specialized Lawyers in Child Rights.Lawyers who are passionate about Children’s Law do obtain a certificate from Foreign/ local Institutions, NGOs, or through pieces of Training, etc. Most Lawyers that have the desire or interest in child rights may obtain a certificate or diploma in child Protection. More besides, Liberia has no granting degree institution in children’s Law.


6. Among the many projects that Defence for Children International – Liberia has undertaken, I am impressed by the project you have been conducting for over a decade to prevent and respond to child trafficking and separated children, can you tell us about how you have been doing this work? What have been the lessons of success?


To prevent and respond to Child Trafficking in Liberia, DCI-Liberia is currently working in collaboration with the National structures such as the Trafficking In Person(TIP Task Force), Girls-led group, Children Clubs, Parent Teacher Association (PTAs), and the Child Welfare Committee, Police, Immigration, Driver Unions, and the Bike riders, etc. The task force and the Child Welfare Committees are government-driven Structures that are supported by service providers for sustainability to take ownership of the project for preventing and responding to Trafficking. During the project implementation, Capacity-building Training for the above structures to increase their outputs towards the prevention and Response of the growing situation of Internal and crossed-border Child Trafficking was enhanced. The training was provided to develop their skills and knowledge in identifying the elements that constitute human trafficking, and how to Coordinate networking among duty bearers can be improved in the prevention and response measures. The training also focused on information dissemination among duty bearers for an effective response within the Reporting Referral Pathways. In addition, the training also highlighted the lack of commitments on the part of Duty Bearers that usually results in the compromising of Trafficking In Person cases within the Transport Sectors that greatly involve the facilitation of potential traffickers from one destination to another through financial inducements.


It was predicated upon this capacity training, cases of Trafficking among the many instances of cases been reported at DCI-Liberia Sub-offices across the three counties. During the period in review,  there were 22 cases of human Trafficking identified through the court that was reported from Gbarpolu County. They included 15 males and 7 Females respectively.


7. In 2018, you participated in the “A20 Global Child Care Social Leadership Summit” organized by the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center in Beijing, and in 2021, you participated in the “Global Child Law Fellowship Program” organized by the Center. How has the cooperation and exchange with the Center influenced and changed your work and that of your organization?


In 2018, I participated in the “A-20 Global Child Care Social Leadership Summit” organized by the Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Center in Beijing, and in 2021, am currently participating in the “Global Child Law Fellowship Program organized by the center.


The Cooperation and exchange with the center have provided me the opportunity to upgrade my skills and expertise in the best practices of Child Rights. It has also enabled me to also resolve those myths and beliefs from my professional colleagues across the globe on Juvenile Justice as they relate to the Children in contact and conflict with Laws as well as abiding by those principles and standards enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights of the Child and the Liberian Children Law. The Center has influenced and changed my work as it relates to building National, Regional and Global networks on Child Rights issues in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I am highly motivated by the new program strategies and techniques on topical and global issues on International Children’s Rights Law, child protection Strategies and Policies, Children’s rights and criminal justice, Child labor, Children’s Rights Policy Implementation, and Monitoring.


The center has influenced and changed my work and my institution by providing the below legal services:
·     Provide legal representation for juveniles in contact and conflict with the law in the criminal justice system;
·     Establish close working relationships with Magistrates/ Judges, correction officers, probation officers, and DCI-Liberia Social workers;
·     Attend and/or participate in regular (monthly) coordination meetings to increase advocacy on legal issues concerning children;
·     Work with parents of Juveniles to provide legal aid information and legal representation if appropriate;
·     Assist clients in completing necessary documentation for legal intervention on juvenile issues;
·     Awareness engagement forums with correction officers, and probation officers about human rights protection in prison and detention sites.


(By Li Ping)

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