Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Friday, 29 July 2005 17:57 UK

Getting tough on Liberian rapists

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC News, Monrovia

Liberia's president, Gyude Bryant
The president said rapists were "heartless criminals"

A new bill in Liberia calling for tough penalties for rapists has been submitted to the president.

The Female Lawyers Association want their draft bill to replace current law, which is vague and has allowed rapists to go unpunished.

Under the new proposals, those found guilty of raping someone under 18 years old would be jailed for life.

Rape is on the increase since the end of the 14-year civil war in 2003 which saw widespread sexual violence.

There are currently 80 rape cases documented at the national human rights commission.

Changing beliefs

Under current Liberian law, rape is defined as the unapproved penetration of the vagina by the penis, but the new law seeks to add other orifices.

Liberians are recovering from a 14-year civil war

Unlike the old law, anyone suspected of raping a minor would not be granted bail pending their trail.

The proposed legislation states that if the rape victim is 18 years or above, the perpetrator should face a maximum sentence of 30-years' imprisonment.

Gang-rapists should face the death penalty or life imprisonment, the draft bill says.

'Heartless criminals'

It also calls for consensual sex in marriage.

Forced sexual intercourse between a married couple will be considered a sexual offence, carrying the penalty of up to 10 years in jail, Lois Bruthus of the Female Lawyers Association said.

These provisions clearly seek to abolish the customary and traditional belief in Liberia that sexual intercourse between a man and his wife should be at the unconditional will and pleasure of the husband.

Transitional President Gyude Bryant said rapists were "heartless criminals" and is due to forward the draft bill to parliament for debate and consideration.

But human rights advocates believe the new bill will be effective only if the judicial system is strengthened.

Do you think rapists should face life imprisonment if convicted? Would this serve as an adequate deterrent? If not, what would you suggest? Is it right to legislate against rape within marriage?

Let us know your views using the form below.

A selection of views will be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 30 July at 1700GMT.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received so far:

Rape is rape, whether it happens within or without marriage. Whatever way, it should carry the maximum sentence of castration for men and life imprisonment for women (given that women can also be rapists).
Paa, USA

I believe a rapist should face life imprisonment if convicted by a jury of his peers. Rape is a heinous crime and the punishment should fit the crime. We as people should never let a perpetrator free to walk on the streets and endanger innocent women/girls that are going about their business.
Ali, Somali in the USA

Well, we all know that rape is a heinous crime but to serve a life terms is unjust and this applies to some other crimes as well. We are suppose to rehabilitate them, not condemn for life.
Garland, Benin, Nigeria

Enforcing these new laws will prove challenging in a society dominated by the patriarchy, but I believe these laws are necessary, not only in Liberia, but in all countries of the world. No woman should fear her husband, boyfriend, or friend. The ability to have and enjoy sex was given to both males and females, but in countries like Liberia, only the males get satisfaction while the females live with the shame and guilt that is attached to the stigma of rape.

The punishments suggested in this bill are the very least of what should happen to a man who commits rape. It is a despicable act that taints a woman's life forever, long after the man has forgotten her name, face, and existence.
Rhonda, Sacramento, CA, USA

It is wrong to legislate against rape within marriage. Marriage is a mutual consent by both man and woman at the altar before God and witnesses with vows to uphold same. What happens in the bedroom is her word against his; who knows who is telling the truth?
Rt Rev Dr W Nah Dixon, New York, USA

The new bill has good intents and hopefully would help curb rapes. However, I am worried the aspect of the bill as it relates to married couples may need some 'tune-up'. Laws must be made with the culture and tradition of the people in mind. I see a situation where an unhappy wife may use this law to get back at the husband especially if the man cheats.
Azu Okoye, New Paltz, NY USA

Yes, this would only serve as a deterrent if the judicial system is strengthened and having no interference by the executive branch of government. It is also right to legislate against rape within marriage thus enabling partners to be faithful to one another and reducing the risk of HIV/Aids in Liberia
Alfred Brownell jr, Liberia

Rape is a heinous crime and I support stiff measures such as life prison terms. While I am of the opinion that this will serve as a deterrent, I think that some thing radical should be done about the legal evidential proof for the crime of rape in many African Countries especially those with Anglo-Colonial antecedents. Efforts should be made to ensure that the victim is not put on trial as regards the degree of penetration when there is medical evidence to this effect.
Emailer from Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Life imprisonment will only put undue financial pressure on the Liberian government (as the government will have to cater to inmates) at this time when the country needs funds for much more important reasons. Rapists in my view are sexual psychopaths who virtually cannot do without sex. For punishment, it will be better to have the convicted castrated, making them 'useless' as men.
Melvin Chineh, Nigeria

While we make a list of punishments to be accorded to rapists, I think it will be fair and rational to equally pass legislation that makes some provision for decency in dressing amongst some members of the female folk. For I think in such a way the vile crime of rape will be drastically curbed. Dressing code is thus imperative.
Israel Ambe Ayongwa, Cameroon

Rape is rape whether you are single, married, divorced or widowed. Husbands do rape wives and therefore the wives should have protection from this. Just because you marry someone doesn't mean that they have the right to force you to do ANYTHING against your will.
Naomi, UK

It's this kind of story that gives me hope for Africa. These women are trying to move towards a society that recognises that sexual abuse is WRONG, that it can't be justified on the grounds of culture, tradition or some notion of 'rejecting imperial Western values'. Liberia's daughters will surely be grateful to you ladies!
Liz, UK

Rapists should be made to pay dearly for their actions. Rape is an act that emanates from a deranged-person, who does not qualify to live in a civilised community, hence, they should be consigned to the dungeon.
Michael Peter, Nigeria

I think the 30-year jail sentence for rapists whose victims are over 18 years is alright. However for rapists whose victims are children they must also be castrated after counselling. As regards marital rape, I think it's odd, unethical and untraditional. Even the Bible does not talk about marital rape. Men, why do this to your women? Such legislation needs to find out the reasons for the many rape and defilement cases. If they don't, I want to tell such persons that it is because of the wives who refuse sex that forces weak-willed male partners to indulge in rape and defilement.
James Ackah, Ghana

Why should a man who has raped a woman, walk free, when he has ruined a life? This seems to be the norm in this patriarchal world. Often rapists seem to have more rights than their victims. It makes me wonder, who should be running the world - women?
Bernie, South Africa

Sexual tyranny against children is sin. Life imprisonment for a rapist is not right - it should be the death penalty. This is because, in my opinion, the state should not spend money on rapists. While I am for the punishment of the rapists, I may appeal to the legal systems of every country that law should not be misused by wicked women.
Sujata Mishra, India

What are the safeguards against false accusations and miscarriages of justice? What about the grey area of "date rape"? Where are the trained and professional police and forensic personnel to investigate any allegations? And how would the law protect the poor who would not be able to afford clever and high profile lawyers? I suppose, what I'm getting at is: does Liberia have the political leadership and resources to implement these laudable measures?
UE, UK/Nigeria

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