Opinions Fri, 5 Aug 2011

Bridging the Gap: Child Welfare and Protection in Africa

Bridging the Gap: Child Welfare and Protection in Africa, its Challenges and Failures as Compared to Child Protection and Welfare in Ontario Canada

By Percy Konadu Yiadom BSW, MSW

After experiencing and witnessing the various traditional measures employed in child protection in Africa, I am absolutely convinced that these measures have its merits in terms of the rich cultural elements which help in shaping the behaviours of the average African child as evident in the way they conduct themselves before their parents and older people in their communities.

Nevertheless, these African systems of child protection and welfare have their devastating setbacks as evident in the crude traditional forms of discipline as well as the numerous rites and passages that the average African child endures before their transition into adulthood. The average African child has no right in terms of any decision making. Children in African depend on the mercy and instructions of their parents, siblings, community leaders and the general community as a whole. Children can be subjected to any form of punishments or disciplines by any elderly member of the community whenever any of their actions are deemed wrong or contrary to the strict African cultures and practices. Children are the ultimate helpers in their parents’ farms, endeavours or any daily activity considered income generating for the family. In the rural African communities, children walk miles barefooted to fetch waters from the streams, walk miles to farms and return home with loads of foodstuffs, firewood and other farm products for the whole family to depend on. Children are also subjected to inhumane practices such as female circumcision, facial tribal marks where various tribal marks are inflicted on children’s faces using painful and crude methods. Children are randomly spanked depending on their conducts in the traditional African home or community.

In Canada, the reverse is the case; children are considered vulnerable and defenceless. The child and family services act clearly stipulates how children should be protected and redeemed from the harms way. Under this act any inhumane action against a child is punishable by the law and perpetrators will face the full rigours of the law. Likewise any intention or action likely to harm or has the potential to abuse a child is equally punishable by the law. Children are well cared for and protected in Canada, the various structures including the ministry of youth and child services, the various children’s aid societies, the police systems and the general public all play very significant roles to ensure and guarantee the safety of all children in Canada. Nevertheless, just like every system has its challenges and failures, the Canadian child protection system has its own challenges and flaws. However, children in Canada are well cared for, supervised and protected than the average child in African and other less developed countries and continents.

Having realised the numerous challenges and roadblocks that child protection in Africa has to go through before the dream and even the thoughts about child protection can be a reality, one has to navigate and dissect the real causes of child abuse and maltreatment in Africa. Recent international realisation of child labour and extreme child abuses across various African nations was an action in the right direction and a wake-up call. The escalating cost of living and ever increasing poverty across Africa has made some African parents and individuals nothing but opportunists with no sense of humour and mercy and therefore sell their own children or abduct other children and sell them for meagre sums of money or services into child labour. The girls from these unfortunate and inhumane trades end up into prostitution at early ages whilst the boys end up into farm labourers and other unprofitable professions. These tragic practices have deprived numerous African children their God-given destinies and talents and have fallen through the cracks into eternal sufferings and doom.

The question which simply emerges in people’s mind is: How can children be safely protected and cared for in Canada and other civilized worlds but cannot be protected in the same manner in Africa and other developing parts of the world? It’s undoubtedly realistic and factual that most African leaders were schooled and trained in the developed or western world, and Africa continuously receives numerous grants, aids, loans, logistical supports and what have you from these western nations but have still been unable to transform our world and let alone devised an efficient system to protect and ensure the safety of our own children.

In conclusion, being an African and having resided in both worlds and witnessed both systems of child protection, I can comfortable conclude that in terms of child protection and welfare services, the average African nation has a long way to go. Because the same African leaders who were educated and trained in the western world have refused and forgotten to imitate the western lifestyles of community developments, community wellbeing, love and care, humanity and civility and have resorted to the unfortunate lifestyles of greediness, selfishness, tribalism, favouritism, dictatorship to mention but a few, and not until these unfortunate lifestyles and behaviours of our leaders are totally reformed and totally disbanded, all the numerous efforts and initiatives from the international communities, philanthropists and well wishers will be nothing but a nine day’s wonder.

Columnist: Yiadom, Percy Konadu