Opinions Mon, 14 Jul 2008

Child Brides and Sexual Exploitation: Ghana’s Shame!

Adzo Kekeli was a pretty, light-skinned and adorable 15-year-old girl who loved her family, her junior secondary school classmates and her fellow Presbyterian Church choristers in this small community tucked away on the fringes of Ho, the capital of the Volta Region. Many in this small town of 800 people generally lead simple lives: the men enjoy being predominantly farmers; the women love petty trading; and the wide-eyed, jovial boys and girls see themselves as the custodians of the region’s culture, which means that they are expected to attend school, at least to the senior secondary school level. Without a doubt, the more ambitious ones would tell any visitor who cared to listen that they had dreams of going to the university. Adzo Kekeli belonged to this latter group, her ambition undimmed by the grinding poverty that had plagued her family for a generation or two.

Adzo Kekeli was in her final year in this small town’s only junior secondary school; she had hoped to continue on to the only senior secondary school located three miles away that served the larger community. Because her family’s financial situation made it difficult for her to take the bus regularly, Adzo Kekeli had pledged to her parents that the six-mile trek to and from school five days a week was a small discomfort, as Adzo Kekeli’s overarching desire was to become a nurse someday and then return to work at her town’s only health center, a government facility.

Yao Nubada, a man almost three decades older than Adzo Kekeli, had just returned to the town after a prolonged sojourn overseas. Yao Nubada had acquired a teaching degree from one of Ghana’s universities before he left the country; he had hitherto made a small fortune in his line of work in this foreign land, but had returned to Ghana to teach in his community’s only senior secondary school. Yao Nubada was well-respected in this small community ? adoring the learned is still the norm in small towns across the country ? for being an educator and a person who could speak and write the Queen’s language with ease. Adzo Kekeli, a distant relative of Yao Nubada’s, was one of several honest admirers of the latter, but as fate would have it, Yao Nubada had had his eyes on Adzo Kekeli for a while, and things were about to turn gloomy for the entire community.

Here are the events as narrated by Nutefe, Adzo Kekeli’s 19-year-old brother: “Adzo was bright and sweet, and as my little sister, it was my duty to protect her. For a while I kept an eye on her, but I knew it was impossible to monitor her whereabouts every minute of the day. Before Adzo passed away, she confessed to my parents and me that it all started when Uncle Yao invited her to his house the previous summer and Adzo, not sensing any danger, went to visit Uncle Yao gleefully. Once there, Uncle Yao coerced her into having sexual intercourse with him, after which Uncle Yao lied to my little sister that he intended to marry her, in an effort to keep her from talking about her ordeal.”

Nutefe continued: “Months passed and the affair went on, but Adzo did not have the courage to confide in anyone. Then one day, my sister missed her period but she still did not tell anyone about what was going on in her life. Because Uncle Yao never really planned to marry my sister ? Uncle Yao allegedly had a stream of young girls that he regularly messed around with; he was not about to make any one woman his official partner ? he convinced Adzo that she needed to have an abortion to both prevent people from knowing their business and to not disrupt Adzo’s education. What did a 15-year-old really know about the dangers of an abortion? Like a blind sheep, Adzo went along with Uncle Yao’s evil plan and ended up losing her life in the process! I am still very angry, even though it has been two years since my sister passed away. To make matters worse, my sister has been denied justice so far, as Uncle Yao continues to enjoy his freedom while my parents and I continue to wonder what Adzo could have accomplished in the future, had her life not been cut short so abruptly by this wicked man.”

Adzo Kekeli’s tragic story is a blotch on a nation’s conscience. And Adzo Kekeli’s tragic end should serve as a stark reminder of the atrocities that young girls continually endure in many parts of Ghana today, with very little help from those elected officials who have the power to bring about the necessary reforms and criminalize the sexual exploitation of children. How long will Ghanaians sit idle while the dreams of young girls are being taken away by dangerous men who prowl neighborhoods in search of virgins and the innocent to destroy? What exactly has the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs done so far about the exploitation of our young daughters and sisters?

Another compelling social issue is the giving away of young girls as brides to men old enough to father these would-be brides! When will African governments call a spade a spade, in this case call this type of criminal activity by its proper name ? pedophilia? I believe that it is time for the government to raise the age of consent to 18, if it has not done so already. Such a move will, in effect, make it possible for girls to stay in school, a necessary condition for the eventual enrichment of the nation’s human resources pool.

Many lives have been ruined and destroyed by “rampaging” men who lack the ability to control their raging rods. How can 40-year-old men sleep well at night after spending the entire day looking for 12- and 13-year-old girls to deflower and abuse? Does anyone else feel my rage? Members of a civilized society must not permit such crimes to flourish in their midst, as everyone must be allowed to determine his or her own future. The mental anguish a child bride endures is equivalent to the pain of slavery, as these girls are simply not old enough to make informed decisions about their lives. Will any society tolerate slavery in contemporary times? The answer is a clear no, so we must all work together to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us, for we are only as strong as the weak among us.

Without education no society can truly advance, which is why fathers who give away their young daughters out of greed should be prosecuted and locked up. Yes, there are the dodgy arguments made by proponents of the child bride concept that giving a girl away reduces a poor family’s economic difficulties, protects the girl from getting pregnant outside of matrimony, and slashes the risk the girl faces from sexual assault, but these are not necessarily cogent reasons to trap a young girl in an environment of abuse. More importantly, we must all realize that a child bride may never receive an education, has a greater risk of dying during childbirth, and will likely face physical abuse from a husband as old as her own father, if not older (UNICEF, 2008).

I do not want to come across as a man who lacks compassion for those whose lives are enmeshed in the linens of poverty, but do these families gain anything really by giving away their precious daughters for a tiny sum of money that may not even last a year? If these fathers sat down and considered the devastation that they brought on their daughters by giving them away to unscrupulous and undisciplined men, they would have realized that, despite what local traditions maintained, such a practice ultimately entrenched poverty in a family, rather than doused it.

We must give the same opportunities to the nation’s boys and girls, if we are to have a balanced society where women are empowered to make their own decisions in life. Has anyone really thought about the explosion in Ghana’s population, some of which can be attributed directly to the large numbers of children these child brides are forced to have for their morose and insane husbands who expect nothing but total submission from their prized “possessions,” or wives?

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.
Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.