A Kids Rigts Initiative

Lifestory Abraham M. Keita

Meet Abraham Keita
Keita fights for justice for children who are victims of violence. In doing so, he has shown that he can identify violations of children’s rights, and take action to call the perpetrators to account. Above all, his fight for justice is peaceful and powerful.

Growing up in Liberia
The west African country of Liberia faces massive challenges. 83.8% of its people live below the international poverty line, hungry and vulnerable to disease. Corruption is endemic, and the incidence of sexual violence – largely the rape of teenage girls – is among the highest in the world. Children suffer violence on a daily basis, and the law turns a blind eye.

Into this world, and between two brutal civil wars, Abraham Keita VI was born. During the first years of his life, the country ripped itself apart, both sides using child soldiers on an unprecedented scale. Keita’s father was killed while working as a driver for a humanitarian organisation, leaving the five-year-old boy, his mother and siblings to fight for their survival in the capital city’s largest slum.

A passion for justice
Life in West Point was harsh, but Keita managed to go to school. His hunger for justice was awoken at the age of nine, when a 13-year old girl was sexually abused and brutally murdered by her foster parents. The government, failing to protect children’s rights, had to be called on to hold the perpetrators to account. Keita joined a child-organised demonstration demanding legal action, and made an impression on his older peers. They invited him to join the Liberian Children’s Parliament, and so began a life of passionate advocacy.

Since 2008, Keita has played a leading role in the Liberian Children’s Parliament, organising peaceful demonstrations and petitions, and lobbying successfully for children’s participation to be funded directly from the national budget. He continues to lobby for free quality primary and secondary education for all. 

Perhaps most importantly, Keita pushed for national legislation on children’s rights. In 2012 Liberia became one of the first African countries to adopt comprehensive legislation for children, the Children’s Law, incorporating both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter. 

The passing of the Children’s Law was a great step forward for Liberia, but it has yet to be put into practice. The country’s children remain vulnerable to violence, and their attackers still escape prosecution. Keita, now 17 years old, refuses to stand by and let this happen. “Justice is not for the poor in Liberia,” he says. “Justice is only for the rich. Justice must be given to children.” He has forced the government to act on numerous occasions, to prosecute criminals and compensate child victims. 

A 15-year old boy was shot dead last year, during a peaceful protest against the blockades introduced around Keita’s own area of West Point to contain the Ebola virus; the bullet was fired by the Liberian Armed Forces. Angry at the government’s silence on the issue, Keita organised a protest march which sparked national debate. As a result, the government finally acknowledged their responsibility for the fatal shooting.

Sexual violence is rife in Liberia, and Keita has acted to address it on a national scale as well as in individual cases. He has prevented at least one child marriage from going ahead, and as part of a national anti-rape campaign in 2014, he started his own project to focus on the rape of children, demanding justice for the many young victims of sexual violence.

Justice for children: a role model
Through lobbying, speaking out and writing articles, Keita has attracted the attention of humanitarian organisations, policy makers and educators. Justice for children who are victims of violence means, at the very least, prosecution according to the rule of law, ensuring that all perpetrators of violence are brought to account for their actions. The needs of child victims should also be acknowledged, with compensation and services for recovery and rehabilitation. 

Unfortunately, justice for children is not a given. Across the world, hundreds of millions of children are suffering from violence in some form. They are being hurt in every country, but those in the most disadvantaged communities and countries are disproportionately vulnerable, especially in areas affected by conflict. Children often lack the means to report abuse safely or in confidence, and police and justice systems lack the training and structures to respond appropriately for their age. The fact is, justice remains out of reach for most children who are victims of violence – especially when they are poor. 

Keita is determined to keep on fighting for the rights of the children of Liberia. “I will remain a referee to ensure that Liberia becomes a country where the rights of children are respected and promoted, where opportunities are provided for children. This is the hope that I work with.”

Children all over the world must feel empowered to stand up for their own rights and for those of other children, and Keita is doing just that. He is a role model for children everywhere, showing the world that justice can and should be served. 

Keita was nominated by SURE Liberia

2015 winner Abraham M. Keita

Name               Abraham Keita

Nationality       Liberian
Year of birth   1998
Residence       Monrovia
Winner in         2015
Subject            the right for justice for children who have become victims of violence

Where does the winner live?