An 8-year-old Liberian girl who was abandoned by her family after she was raped by neighbourhood boys in the US is receiving wide international sympathy.
The girl is under the care of the Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) because her parents said she had shamed them, and they did not want her back.
AdvertisementPhoenix police said the girl's parents criticised her after the attack and blamed her for bringing shame on the family.
"The father told the case worker and an officer in her presence that he didn't want her back. He said, 'Take her, I don't want her'," police Sergeant Andy Hill said.
Hill cited the family's background as the reason the family shunned the girl. All five children are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia.
In some parts of Africa, women who are raped are often blamed for enticing men or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"It's a shame-based culture, so the crime is not as important as protecting the family name and the name of the community," said Tony Weedor, a Liberian refugee in Littleton, Colorado, and co-founder of the CentrePoint International Foundation, which helps Liberians resettle in the US.
A 14-year-old boy was charged on Wednesday last as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said. He appeared in court yesterday and is being held without bail; he does not yet have a defence lawyer.
The other boys - ages nine, 10, and 13 - were charged as juveniles with sexual assault. The 10- and 13-year-old boys were also charged with kidnapping, the office said.
Phoenix investigators said the boys lured the girl to an empty shed on July 16 under the pretence of offering her chewing gum. The boys held her down while they took turns assaulting her, police said.
"She was brutally sexually assaulted for a period of about 10 to 15 minutes," Hill said.
Officers responding to an emergency call reporting hysterical screams found the girl partially clothed and the boys running from the scene.
"This is a deeply disturbing case that has gripped our community," Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said on Thursday. "Our office will seek justice for the young victim in this heartrending situation."
The news has led to sharp criticism of the family from the President of Liberia and the country's ambassadorial staff in the United States.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is outraged. In a telephone interview with CNN, Johnson-Sirleaf said:
This is not a question of shame on the family. It is the question of an assault on a young child. That cannot be tolerated. We are so saddened. We are deeply distressed at this behavior on the part of our young Liberians and very saddened at this 8-year-old child who has been so victimized
In 2005, Johnson-Sirleaf became the first female to be elected head-of-state in an African country. She was President when rape was finally outlawed in Liberia in 2006.
Johnson-Sirleaf said the victim's family should receive counseling to help them overcome the belief that what their daughter had been through had somehow brought shame on them. She also said the attackers should both be punished and counseled so they can become "useful citizens, not only in the United States but when they return home."
Milton Barnes is the Liberian Ambassador to the United States and said all efforts will be made by his staff to ensure the welfare of the young girl is attended to. His deputy, Edwin Sele, also spoke of his own personal outrage at everything that had happened, saying that in Liberia the family and authorities alike would be "embracing the victim."
Sergeant Andy Hill of Phoenix Police has confirmed the girl's family will not face prosecution for their decision to disown their daughter, as they did not actually abandon her - they merely failed to support her. However, he was also able to report that offers of a new home for the girl and pledges of money had been flooding in from up to nine different U.S. states.