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You may not have to be well schooled in law to realise that children deserve some special rights and treatment[s]. Certainly so in this complex world of today when poverty and some calculated attempts by greedy ones who in their attempts to load their pockets disregard the destruction to the evergreen ecosystem for their selfish ends than a decent place for the posterity. Besides, diseases like HIV/AIDS, the six-childhood killer diseases, discrimination, alienation, and certain circumstances like war, litigation, etc can result in hundreds of deaths of innocent children. For each day in this global environment children are prune to the utmost harsh realities life and the consequences for them need not be repeated to draw the plea for their protection.
At the eve of 2003, and precisely on 27/12/2003, this writer in his article entitled, “In the Face of Public Humiliation, Ridicule and Justice” (see this link for a copy of that article http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=48917) decried the treatment meted out to Ghanaian kids with the highlight of the story on Julian Yeboah. Now 14 years old, Julian miraculously arrived in US in 2000 only to be held by officials for unlawful entry to US. Three years in detention, he arrived in Ghana on Wednesday (Joyonline News 22/01/04), after the US court approved of his deportation to Ghana.
Ghanaweb carried the headline again on Wednesday, 21 January 2004, “Girl, 11, dies after being defiled by 30-year-old farmer”. The story in summation reports that the 11-year-old pupil of “Akpafu-Odomi in the Hohoe District of the Volta Region, who was allegedly defiled by a 30-year-old farmer last week, has died at the Ho Regional hospital. According to a police source the report says, the farmer whose name is being withheld is on the run”.
Yes the little girl in question is dead. She has lost her dignity as a child brought into this complex world with virtually no limits. The little girl in question has lost her education, love from her parents and siblings, classmates, life’s opportunities and finally her life. The innocent girl, perhaps, endowed with skills and ideas to help in the reconstruction of the disintegrated socio-economic fabric that cloths Ghana in the future, is dead. What is most worrying is that the life of the little girl has not ended even to curtail the usual controversy. Her family tried as the report claims, to settle the alleged rape case at home. Now, the family is helping the police in the investigation while the perpetrator has absconded, breathing freely until arrested.
It is worth noting also that the little girl did not benefit or had the protection from the UN Convention on the rights of the child. Not Article 12 of the convention which states briefly, “children and young people have a right to express an opinion, and to have that opinion taken into account, in any matter affecting them”. Besides, Article 6 of the convention saids:
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. (www.unicef.org)
Ironically, Ghana signed the UN Convention on the rights of the child on 24 September 2003 thus becoming one of the 115 countries to have signed the convention while some 63 other countries have ratified it. Since Ghana has signed the convention she is enjoined to seek justice for the little girl and the writer does not hold brief for the law.
It may not be right to say that children in Ghana are really unfortunate but circumstances make it feasible to classify them so. There are no specific steps to implement the laws, which protect them from the daily threats in the Ghanaian communities. Even though the constitution guarantees such rights, not many of the adults (parents, elder brothers and sisters) are fully aware of such laws and to follow/obey them as such.
The government of Ghana and the Police Service established the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU www.ghanapolice.org/waju) in October 1998 as a response to the increasing abuse of women and children. WAJU has been helping in dealing with matters related to children and women but that has not solved the incessant humiliation, hovering particularly, on the entire life span of Ghanaian child until adulthood. They are abused at their homes and in the public by stressed parents, siblings, friends, average citizens and criminals.
In the rural communities in Ghana, children commute on narrow paths through thick forests, cocoa farms, wade through flooding and flooded waters (streams and rivers) carrying tables and chairs to school. They endure the torrential raindrops, walking bear footed and not knowing whether the next step will land on slippery surface, sharp edge or venomous reptile. The Ghanaian child does not have any specific child policy for their care on health insurance services and transportation. Few are those who get the chance to have Medicare (usually in the big cities) but they (children) end up sleeping on the floors of the hospitals in such cases where somewhat medical services await them. Not even in Ghana’s top-most hospital, Korle-Bu spares them of that scenery where days old kids and mothers sleep on the floor at the children wards. At lorry stations, children are heckled, shouted, humiliated and insulted while they struggle to use public cars and to pay for the service.
Rape cases have been rampant these days as much as criminality has engulfed the environs and the social fabric of Ghanaian life. And as usual the victims have been the children. In 1996 alone Yaw Dagarte physically assaulted his 12 year-old son beating him to death. He alleged that he (his child) stole his ?24,000. John Awudu raped 10 and 14 year old girls in Feb. and March in Kaneshie. 3 women in Sekyidumase in the Ashante region brutally killed 6-month-old boy. Mr Freeman Aikins, the proprietor of Normal Technical Institute was alleged to have raped 10year old girl and a pupil of the school in Korofidua. In the Volta region, Mr Billy Awitor, a 48-year-old teacher was asked by the court to marry the 12year old class five pupil he impregnated and which he had accepted the responsibility. And in Kasoa, Central region, Mr. Ayeple Ziga also physically beat his 2-year-old son to death for disobeying his instructions (see www.newrunner.com).
Children in Ghana are simply defenceless but their sufferings are NOT treated as a matter of urgent concern. Why should it be an urgent matter for parents and the government? Well, deplorable economic issues in Ghana may be of a greater priority, which transcend any other thing including perhaps, a child’s life. Each day, mothers with their kids at their back, meander their way thru to the noisy markets to make a living by selling petty items like candies, banana and peanuts. Some carry and shout over plastic items with unimaginable profits but all is part of the struggle to survive in a country like Ghana, formerly Gold Coast! For the government, transacting loans and credits, receiving foreigners and advocating for investments and assistance which never arrive anyway, is of greater importance than policies and support which NGO’s need to offer help (in time and care) to these children.
In creating and setting priorities, the country has done a fine job, building a vacuum for the fittest to survive. That is, a family’s ability to stay in Accra and any of the big cities is a plus; and gaining polity notice and subsequent appointment for political position in any ruling government is the deal. Being in the rural area as a farmer with one’s family is a choice. Deciding to let one’s child roam in the forest, each day with threats from criminals and the bullish environment is a choice. But if you do not understand, be informed that the Cocoa Clinic, specifically a hospital by name for cocoa dealers in Ghana is in North Kaneshie, Accra where cocoa is not grown. But majority of cocoa farmers and their children may not even know where Accra is, let alone visiting the Cocoa Clinic.
The country and many people who think they have found children in Ghana as defenceless are hugely mistaken. For the start, there are international laws, which have been promulgated for the safety of children and their participation in discussions on issues, which concern them. There are specific guarantees and programs by the international community and bodies like UNICEF, UNESCO and voluntary organisations like INCADEGA working or are ready to work to pursue and rescue the dignity, care and love for the child.
Ghana, has done well enough to shatter the hopes of thousands of children who are born or to be born, mostly so in the rural areas. Not much of safety exists for those living or to be born in the big cities either. Nonetheless, children of Ghana are innocently aware of their limitations on opportunities comparable with children elsewhere. So as they struggle all their way each day, they are optimally gathering and building a future by themselves if the society cannot help. They are determined to wear the tattered clothes and walk over distances carrying their tables and chairs to school for the little education they can get. They simply need peace and time to have their lives changed one day.
Sadly, the solemn conviction of these children is meaningless to some rogues who persistently, threaten, insult, rape and kill these children. Such people simply fail or stubbornly refuse to understand the already horrible plight of Ghanaian children. For such people, they see these children walking and struggling alone. But in the silence and not sighted, are many individuals (like this writer), groups and organisations who will defend them to whatever limit there be.
Ghanaian children have been troubled enough and it is the hope of many that the little breathing space for them in their solitude may be appreciated and not taken advantage of as defencelessness. They deserve a break please! But you choose otherwise and incur the wrath of the law and angry individuals, groups and organisations which care to respect these children, their rights and to love them as they deserve. But that is exactly what the Ghanaian society woefully disregards.
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