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Opinions Thu, 8 Dec 2011

The Tragedies of African Democracies – XXVII

“Facebooking” and Pedophilia

Today with facebook, some of these pedophiles do not necessarily have to make the pilgrimage to emerging tourist destination with lax child protection laws to initiate communication with their victims. Users of Facebook would agree that by the click of a button, anybody in any part of the world can connect with anyone wherever the network extends, so are sexual perverts and pedophiles exploiting this exponential ease of Facebook to establish unscrupulous relationships with their unsuspecting victims and then follow-up later to exploit them.

Imagine an African child who first discovered the way to communicate with an America, British, or individuals from the developed world as a pen friend. There is joy, not as a result of the newly-found friendship. It is symbolic of status attainment among peers and the community in general. The social networks are no different. Many of us must have friendship requests from individuals unknown to us and have accepted some of these requests without consideration for the persona of whom we are accepting as a friend. It must be even more fascinating for some of these young children in developing countries like Ghana when they first break into this endless technological space or escape from the mundane world, the world they know too well into the fantasies of the unknown world.

This is what happens. A young child of 10 or so opens a Facebook page or account and start accumulating friends. He stumbles upon “a sweet man” in America. They start an endless communication that brings them closer and closer. He hears things nobody has ever told him in his entire life: “you are brilliant,” “you are handsome and adorable,” and a host of other accolades. This marks the first phase of the encounter. The young boy begins to make demands in the customary understanding that all Americans are rich and kind. He receives a football that is only available to endowed private schools either, where the rich and the powerful in society educate their children. Further gifts, which may amount to as little as US$20. 00, follow with the pledge: “I would do anything for you,” “God made us to meet on Facebook, so I can help you.” “One day soon, I would make you join me in America,” and so on. In a highly religious society like Ghana, where everything is explained in religious terms, instilling in the young, from childhood, the unreasoned justification for situations that have nothing whatsoever to do with God, he must be convinced he has found the angel Gabriel he read about in Sunday school. This is the settling down phase. At this phase, the two begin to communicate more frequently, with the pedophile nurturing the trust of this little one to a point where he is convinced beyond doubts that he has a secret he should not even share with his own mother.

The third and final phase is the phase of consummation. The initial phase of consummation plays back into the first phase, where he must have mentioned to his friends, brothers and sisters that he has met a new friend through Facebook. This phases dovetails into the second and third phases. At the latter phase of consummation, he tells his parents and friends about his Facebook friend who is visiting Ghana. I believe you can form your own opinion about what happens from then on.

In September 2010, Foxnews reported its search on Facebook which yielded dozens of pages devoted to the infamous North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBA), a known pedophilia fraternity. It was found out that the group uses Facebook to connect with its members throughout the world. As a medium, Facebook is used to target and hone children across the world in the three phase scenario described above. “Many of the pages featured numerous photos of unnamed boys, some of whom appeared too young for kindergarten,” Fox reported. This followed an international sting operation involving the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The operation brought down an alleged international child exploitation syndicate that operated via Facebook, netting 11 ring members.

The inference is that if even in developed countries such as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, these cliques operated behind the veil of technology to unleash their venoms both at home and abroad, then new tourist destinations such as Ghana must have offered some of these sexual predators a safe haven with laxity in child protection laws or the unavailability of it.

In order not to look so fixated on retribution for culprits and compensation for victims, there are a few policy options available for countries like Ghana. The United States, Canada, the UK, and almost all the developed countries have sex offenders’ register, as they call it. Any individual with a history of any form of sexual abuse is listed on this register for monitoring purposes. When they move to new neighborhoods within their own countries, they are required to alert the authorities. Failure to do so is a breach of the prohibitions placed on them.

But with visa free to offshore destinations such as Ghana, these individuals nurse these innocent children, pick their passports and jump on the next available flight and they are welcomed into the arms of their victims. I believe that while we need to encourage the improvement in tourism to generate income, we are equally duty bound to protect our societies from some of the fallouts from the activities of our visitors.

The first step toward the sanitization of the industry is the requirement from every visitor whose name is on the watch list as a sexual predator in his own country to declare his status. Anyone who has travelled to the United States or most developed countries before understand that you must declare your status as regard whether you have been involved in any arm struggle in your life or you are a terrorist and so on. This is in connection with what confronts America – terrorism. Many discount this initial piece of information, but they provide vital leads to a search on individuals. What confronts Ghana is child abuse and pedophilia and the Ghanaian effort must be directed toward that.

It would even be in order to require visitors, just any visitor whether visa free or not, to acquire a police clearance from their own countries showing their status with regard to whether they have bad sexual records or not. After all these countries require similar documentations from people entering their countries before they are offered jobs and so on. While some may argue that would slow the flow of traffic for tourist visiting the country, I believe that anyone with genuine intentions to visit would go ahead to meet this requirement and still visit. Visa application forms at the various missions abroad must be updated immediately to include some of these requirements. Where visas are not required from visitors, a document – police clearance - regarding the sex offenders’ watch list must be produced at any point of entry.

Operators within the hospitality industry must also be educated to observe and report very suspicious characters who lodge at their premises and use their facilities to advance their nefarious activities. It is an outright red flag to have an underage child or a minor visiting a tourist in his hotel room or any enclosure where only the two are left alone. This goes back to underscore the importance of national identification cards, as discussed earlier. Even at my age, I need to produce an ID card to buy beer or any alcoholic beverage from any shop in the United States, Britain, and Canada or anywhere in the West. Bypass the most basic development needs such as national identification cards and the chaos is in series, from one development failure to another. Where operators are found culpable, especially in connivance with culprits, facilities must be closed and operators hauled before the courts.

Parents and teachers must collaborate much more than we have seen so far. There is the need to take keen interest in what these young people do when they get hooked unto Facebook and other social networks and then start receiving unusual visitors. The details can be fashioned out in a ways that these issues might even form part of the child’s reading lessons to be aware of the dangers that lurk out there. But I bet, just as things were in 2006 when Kilpatrick was smoked out, so are they today or even worse with the social networks, and so would they be in the foreseeable future, if Ghanaians do not get up and demand it from leadership. These are the things that do not necessarily require loans and grants; they are purely issues of policy innovation.

In Kenya, a nationwide confidential helpline, which did not require millions of dollars to set up, had revealed the harrowing experiences of school kids between 12 and 15 who were tools for their teachers to satiate their lust. Anyone who followed the news about this development leading to the sacking of more than a 1000 teachers in the former British colony within a span of two years would concur that not all the issues that confront African countries require money. Policy innovation can make a huge difference. And Kenyan has shown the way in dealing with even the local sex predators. I hope Ghanaians are not waiting for a consultant from the World Bank to tell them what to do with these issues.

In concluding this sub-topic, I repeat the call by Wole Soyinka, in the Climate of Fear, that there has to be a guaranteed zone of the sacrosanct, a zone that, when breached, draws down sustained universal response. This is the zone of children and must remain beyond political expediency. Acceptance and inaction on the part of the state to act in response to or in the prevention of any such violations make moral cowards of us all, and leaves us in complicity with other cowards of any struggle who lay siege on the innocent, especially children.

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Blog: http://theafricanmessenger.blogspot.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao