MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and thousands of citizens marched through the main streets of Monrovia Monday to denounce rape which has remained a problem in the West African country since the civil war ended 10 years ago.
Sirleaf, dressed in a purple suit, told the Associated Press as she marched that she and others were "marching for a purpose, to stop violence against women. We are marching for a cause."
Thousands of people lined Monrovia's main Tubman Boulevard as the march brought the center of the capital city to a standstill.
Gender and Development Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell said that rapes are going on all over Liberia.
"Last year five children died from rape and in this year alone, we have 10 that have died; and their ages are from three to 13 years old," she said. "The number of children that are dying because of rape in Liberia is an emergency. It should be declared an emergency."
She said if the Monrovia area, which is accessible to law enforcement agencies, currently has "over a thousand rape victims, it is certainly worse in rural places"
Patients returning from the country's largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center, waved as the president and the marchers passed by under the sounds of drums and brass bands.
Anti-rape campaigners wore T-shirts, and caps and carried placards with inscriptions such as "Stop rape" and "Report it".
The march had the theme "No Means No," and the head of the fraternity that organized it, T. Nelson Williams, said the message is that "if a little girl tells a man no, that simply means no."
Williams said, "A lot of our young girls and little boys are being raped, they are being abused and it's scarred them for life. That's why we are here marching today. That's why you see thousands of people marching."
Musician and teacher Miatta Fahnbulleh joined the anti-rape march with a group of girls from her all girls school saying that as a mother and grandmother who has daughters and nieces she "would be totally devastated if any of them were raped to the place where they died. This is a trend in our society that we all should be concerned about."