Child Abuse in Ghana?

Many of us will celebrate Mass with African priests who come to the United States from various countries in Africa. While these priests are helping us and bring us the sacraments, at the same time many take advantage of educational opportunities in the United States with hopes to bring this knowledge back to their home countries. Father Francis Perry Azah, a priest from the Ghanaian Diocese of Ho, recently earned his M.A. in Pastoral Counseling at Fordham University, specializing in post traumatic stress disorder in children. From his dissertation research, Father Perry offers this encapsulation of some of the issues facing Ghana as it attempts to educate all of its citizens. The situation as it is encountered now is as follows, as described by the Bureau of International Affairs:

The majority of working children are unpaid and can be found on family farms and family enterprises. While traditionally, working on the family farm was seen as a means of training for adulthood, deteriorating economic conditions have led to an increase in the number of children working on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves or supplement family income. These children either forgo an education or combine work and school.


Deteriorating economic conditions in rural areas and conflicts in northern regions of the country have led to increased migration of children into urban areas, particularly Accra. This migration has reportedly led to an increase in the numbers of street children and working children in urban areas.710 In August 2000, Ghana’s Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare reported that out of 800,000 children working countrywide, 18,000 children were working in Accra. Seventy percent of these urban working children are estimated to receive no schooling, while 21 percent complete only their primary education.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report that children as young as 7 years old work as trolley and head porters, domestic servants, street vendors, rock breakers in quarries, small scale miners, farmers and fishermen. In May 2000, the acting executive director of the Ghana National Commission on Children (GNCC) expressed concern about the increasing use of child labor in inland fishing enterprises, especially in villages around the Volta Lake and the Volta River. Newspapers have reported that 10 to 12 year old boys often work for fisherman in exchange for a yearly payment to their families. This practice was found to be rampant in 156 fishing villages along the Afram River and in settlements along the Volta Lake in the Afram Plains. Small children are used to dive down to the riverbeds for oysters, and there have been a number of reports of children drowning.

While some of the situations above may be abusive ipso facto by Western standards, many of the children must work by necessity to support themselves and their families. A solution here will not come overnight, nor will it come through sermons and pronouncements, blaming or handwringing. Global education and discussion will hopefully bring about more awareness from which helpful approaches might be gained.

In the developed world, there are effective approaches for treating post traumatic stress disorder, and hopefully persons like Father Perry will be bringing these to Africa for application. However, the depth of the problem is woven into the culture in Ghana itself, where psychological interventions may pale in the face of the economic, social and cultural changes that will need to occur to create a better life for children.

For the past several months, the topic of economics has been debated interest on the blogs here. I bring this situation in Ghana to everyone's attention here and hope a discussion can ensue of possible ways to help raise the education rate in this country. There is no doubt that foreign aid alone will not be the solution; forces within Ghana will need to coalesce to generate a higher standard of living for everyone to protect the livelihood of all children. Ghana is rich in natural resources, but the politics are tricky. Do they need capitalism, Christian socialism, or some other system to create a working economy?

Father Perry and I together will answer questions about Ghana below, and I will attempt to guide any discussion of economic or politics which may be relevant, noting I am interested in how these relate to Ghana but lack technical expertise. In the Spirit of Blessed Newman I will take a leap in developing my own knowledge base with the assistance of more competent readers.

William Van Ornum


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7 years 7 months ago
I don't know diddly squat about economics and I'm not politically astute but I am familiar with child welfare/child abuse having worked many years in the field.  Your title, Bill, with a question mark:  "Child Abuse in Ghana?" is a good one.  Even in our advanced country, the concept of child abuse has been and still is, an evolving concept.   How it is defined and how it is deal with are continually impacted by the economic and political realities of the time.  Federal child labor laws were enacted during the depression when adults needed the jobs that children were doing.  Regarding child abuse there was no federal law until 1974 when the Child Abuse and Prevention Act was enacted,  The law identified a minimum set of acts and behaviors that define child abuse and neglect; each state is responsible for providing its own definition within its own legal contexts.  There have been at least 24 subsequent acts and amendments and the federal government has some leverage by tying grants to state compliance.  There is still wide variation in states' implementations.  Again depending on local economic and political realities.

Changes and advancement in protection of children often originated with grass roots organizations.  A group in Minnesota consisting of an extraordinary judge, Archie Gingold, and a group of social workers and attorneys were pioneers in bringing physical abuse to the forefront of attention that led to the 1974 Act.

Father Perry, in Ghana we are of course talking about a much more complex situation for children, but is there anything in the American experience that would be of help.  Are there any grass roots organizations,  are there influential leaders in the government and church?  I'm especially interested in what the Ghanian bishops are doing as well as Catholic Relief Services.   As education is the key, has any thought been given to using Greg Mortenson"s Cental Asian Institue as a model?  Under his leadership, many many schools have been built, supplied and staffed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He has no governmental ties.  All funding comes from voluntary contributions.  They are dealing with wars, insurgencies, floods and earthquakes.  He is a white Christian who has been extremely sensitive to the fact of his presence in a Muslim country.  He learned the many diverse customs and languages of the various tribes.  He shows that much can be done when conditions seem almost hopeless. 

Fathe Perry, we appreciate the help that the African priests are giving us .  Through the African bishops please let us know what we can do to help African countries. Blessings to you in your work!!
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Ghana continues to issue communiqué in condemning child abuse. They condemned certain social crimes such as pedophilia and all forms of child abuses in the country. They continue to create awareness through the various parishes of what these abuses can have on society at large. The Bishops (through Catholic Relief Services) in conjunction with some NGOs are given skill/vocational training to some of the street children in order to equip them for their future sustenance.
To curb this menace in the country the government of Ghana has established a new ministry called the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. It is the responsibility of that ministry to formulate laws based on international conventions on the rights of children and also protecting them from the perpetrators of the various abuses these children suffer.
There is also a division in the Ghana Police Service known as Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DVVSU), the Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA), and some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who are fighting these crime against our children.
On a personal note I am trying to send some of these children whose parents cannot fend for them to school so that they can acquire some level of education in my limited way. But with the scarce resources at my disposal I am not able to do much. It will be much appreciated if some of you would like to pay the school fees of some of these children to brighten their future. I would be glad to provide the names of some of the children and how to contact them. Janice, I thank you for showing much interest in the affairs of these children. 
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Brother, Father Perry:

I'm intrigued by Janice's suggestion of Greg Mortenson's Central Asian Institute as a model: how much money from charities flows into Ghana from around the rest of the world? Is this model relevant to Ghana?

If you don't mind, I have a couple of other questions:

1. It appears that the Ghanaian Bishops as well as the DVVSU are following the Western World's conceptions of children's rights and women's rights. Do the other religious faiths in Ghana (Pentecostals, etc.) share the "Western" conceptions regarding child abuse and the abuse of women?

2. How do you think Ghana's soccer team will do next year?

Francis Perry Azah
7 years 7 months ago
Thanks Bill, for the questions. Since child abuse is a universal phenomenon, I think a solution in one part of the globe that is working well can be inculturated into another society. Even though there is no such project as the Greg Mortenson’s Central Asian Institute in Ghana, I strong believe that a similar institute can effectively work in Ghana. As one of the renowned scholars of Ghana puts it; “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a nation”; this shows all nations in the world need to take serious care in the education of the girl child. There are lot of girls in most of the remote villages of Ghana that are not fully benefiting from the government’s Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) program of seeing every child of school going age in school. A program like that of Greg Mortenson in Ghana would a thing in the right direction. I hope people of good-will; celebrities and corporate organizations who are interested in the affairs of these unfortunate children are cordially welcome to assist these children in Ghana just like what Greg Mortenson is doing in Central Asia. I will be ready to avail myself in assisting in whatever means to get in touch with these less-privileged children. With regard to the amount of money that flows from charities to Ghana for such children I am not in a position to delve into it.
There is collaboration between Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Ghana Christian Council in fighting the canker of child abuse in the country. They most often write joint communiqué and other relevant programs on this matter. Similarly, people of other faith commitments like Muslims are also in the fight against child abuse. It is a societal problem that needs to be eliminated by all.

As regards the Ghanaian soccer team the Black Stars, I hope they will reach the Finals in the next season of the World Cup. I pray that we shall meet the USA again and repeat what happened in the last two World Cups that we played with them.
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Father Perry,

It is heartening to learn how actively and aggressively the Church through the bishops and CRS are combating child abuse in all its forms in your country.  I'm impresed , too with the country's formation of a ministry for women and children and the police department having a section devoted to domestic violence.  In the county where I reside it has only been in the past 20 years or so that there has been a coordinated program  between the police and social services to deal wth domestic violence.  You must have some strong leadership in Ghana, both in the Church and government.
I would lilke to help a child, even in a small way, in his/her education, through you.  Would you please give me the info I need.  Thank you for all you do for our brothers and sisters! 
Dean Goddard
7 years 7 months ago
My best friend is an older gentleman who grew up in Ireland where Catholisism was then the nationalized religion, and education was also a nationalized institution provided by the now defunct and scandalized Christian Brothers.

In the last 25 years since we have become friends our conversations frequently turn to our experiences growing up as Catholics and while we are almost a generation apart there is congruity in our experiences, some humerous, some sinister.

We share similar experiences from our childhood as we were preparing to receive the first sacraments or later, confirmation. While we are almost a generation apart, there are commonalities in our experiences including violence where, for him it was being struck on the head by a cleric, and for me it was being struck on the back of the head by a nun. I never thought too much about my experiences as being overtly violent since this type of occurance was common back then as most boys at one time or another where caught talking in a sea of boys sitting bored and intimidated in the church pews.

His experiences as a child in Ireland though, were much darker than mine and I consider myself more fortunate since my mother, a lifetime Catholic, took the initiative to ''counsel'' members of the clergy who were behaving in a manor deemed inappropriate, especially where children were concerned. The stories of violence against both boys and girls of Ireland as the norm where his sisters were slapped across the face in front of their classmates for some minor indiscretion, but the brothers, one brother in particular, suffered far worse.

Imagine, if you can, what it must be like to see a younger brother barely a hundred pounds struck on the side of the head by a Christian Brother faculty member so hard that his ear bled causing him to be deaf in that ear for life.

The Catholic church is in no position to be pontificating about child abuse or violence against children in any way. And, I will remind you of its recent history where the Catholic Church is at the center of these scandals in every country where is has a presence.

Religion, particularly Catholicism, has a lot to atone for in this world, and all I have heard for most of my lifetime is denial and disguise of truth in the forms of piety and nausiating hubris.

Now, I know that you will not be printing this response but ask that you try to atone for the sins, no actually crimes, commited by the church and the Vatican as a whole over the last century or so against humanity, particularly, our children.

Dean Goddard
Upstate NY

Francis Perry Azah
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Janice,
Thanks for the concern you have shown for these children. In a greater level I appreciate your interest of helping one child in his or her education. I hope this gesture will go a long way to change the history of that child. You can contact me through this e-mail address for any other correspondence. May the Lord bless you in your endeavors. Our collective efforts will be of greater help to the numerous children who through no faults of theirs suffer from the hands of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes all over the world.
Francis Perry Azah
7 years 7 months ago

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The prospects of a future peace and prosperity or of violent conflicts and poverty will largely depend on how the needs of childhood are met appropriately. A traditional approach to preparing children for the future societal roles was located in informal and non-formal education – systems of education that blended practical work and instruction. Thus, appropriate child up bringing was synonymous with practical work, head, heart and hand, no matter what consequences for the child’s mental, physical or social health. Child activists are now paying holistic attention to what happens to the child, under the guise of training for the future, especially in the dual system of informal and formal education. This close monitoring has brought forth several issues such as child labor in its all forms and the right of the child.

Children represent cheap labor in Ghana and the fight against child labor remains a daunting challenge. A number of children aged 5-17 years are trapped in hazardous work all over the country. Hence, continuing efforts to reverse this unfortunate situation and to provide appropriate social environment for the child’s proper growth and development is imperative.

The girl today is the woman tomorrow and the boy today is the man tomorrow. This popular conception is largely enough bases to guide everyone who has the responsibility to bring up a child. The future sustainability of any community is seen in the level of knowledge being demonstrated by its young members. Hence even people and organizations that do not have responsibility of daily child upbringing but yet, conscious about the future of the community, often show concern for children’s general welfare, growth and development as such, play advocacy roles to that effect. Thus societal arrangement generally is to ensure that enabling environment is created for the child’s smooth transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

Therefore I strongly believe that children should be treated equally all over the globe. The educational system in Ghana is almost the same as you have here in the USA. Children are kept in the classroom for twelve years from the basic to the senior high level of education. For that child to properly work, he/she has to continue to training colleges or any of the tertiary institutions in order to enter working force.
Francis Perry Azah
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Dean,

It is rather unfortunate that you and some of you friends and siblings suffered from the hands of some of the clergy and religious brothers and sister as children. In order to carry out their duties as church men and women, some of these men and women of God went to the extreme of causing harm to innocent children. I am really sorry for what you and others suffered, and I hope you also because of Christ forgive those who meted out the hardship on you. To err is human but to forgive is divine. I believe the Holy Father, Pope Benedict in all his messages continue to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Church and that is what we need to heed.

The fact that some elements of the leadership of the Church perpetrated these atrocities to our children does not mean that other genuine men and women of God should not talk about it. It is imperative on us as men and women of God to speak the truth and form the consciences of all to do the right thing at the right time. We all need to protect our children in all forms and also nurture them for the future. As a man of God that is what I am trying to do in my small way to bring the message across.  

My brother Dean, you stand tall to join us in the creation of this awareness. Once again, on behalf of the Catholic Church and on my own behalf, I warmly ask you to forgive those clergy and religious men and women. Let us rather build our future and that of the children who are out there together and I believe the world would be a nice and peaceful place for us all to live in. May the peace of the Wounded Christ Jesus be with you.

we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Dean:

Thank you very much for your posting and your thoughts. As a clinical psychologist I have called in many reports to the authorities concerning child abuse and neglect and have worked with many of it s victims. I do not feel a need to depict all the heirarchy of the Catholic Church as deniers, etc. and therefore unworthy of speaking out against child abuse anywhere. if we were to use this type of generalizing in other instances, I'm afraid we would be censuring entire families, religions, and nations. The word for this is "bias" and "prejudice" and then many good bishops and priests of the Church who have had no connection to hiding abuse or abusers do not deserve to receive this kind of prejudice nor do they deserve to have their reputations besmirched. In the USA they continue to retain their First Amendment rights of free speech, and I believe it is unfair to try to censor their speech because of what others have done.

I don't expect you to agree, nor do I expect you to forgive, since one person cannot coerce another to forgive anyone, and my own thinking differs from Father Perry's a bit in that I think some grievances toward persons are so egregious that even God will understand if they are unable to forgive someone who has hurt them deeply. If you want to discuss this further, we will print your response, as you yourself retain precious rights to Free Speech, just as do others such as bishops and priests who wish to speak out against child abuse and other moral issues. You can also write me at

Thank you for writing directly and honestly.
7 years 7 months ago
Imagine a family surviving on the father making 25 cents an hour in wages. Imagine working long hour days and living in company housing. Imagine having one meal a day, that being rice with maybe a tiny red pepper to spice it. Imagine that this father, this family, is considered well-off and middle class. This was Liberia, a country next to Ghana, when I was there. Children working is not necessarily abuse, it is often laudatory, it is usually survival for the family. It is only abuse when it reaches a level that can be called abusive. I disagree with the writer that thinks w. van ornum, ph.d presented a timely and right title to this post. Catholicism is not wide-spread in Liberia, the main Catholics being Fanta fisherman from Ghana. The whole family works smoking fish. At sea, on the land. This is life, this is survival, meager as it is. This scene is huge corporations from Europe and the US sucking out the resources of countries and paying as little as possible. This is about abuse of whole peoples and populations. How petty and disgusting to bring up here that religious and hierarchy are abusers of children whenever the opportunity to interject this into a conversation presents an opportunity. I went thru grade school and high-school and 8 years of Catholic Universities and never was abused or saw any abuse or heard of any abuse physical or mental. Sure, a chemistry teacher in a Catholic boarding school thumped me on the head. Hey, I deserved worse for endangering the whole class. Sexual abuse, never. It didn't exist. Not myself, not anyone I knew.  Abuse was rare, sexual abuse rarer. I witnessed neither, ever. The real abuse  of peoples is on a scale so large that it is like the sky over our heads and we can't even grasp it. Try the trillions of dollars spent on weapons and destruction by this country alone and imagine what good this energy and and resources could have done to the world, and then maybe you can imagine real abuse of humans by other humans.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago

Thanks for your observations. I am going to ask Father Perry to comment on the way that corporations and Western powers have "appropriated" (David, perhaps this is a euphemism and the wor d "plundered" might be more apt?) for themselves some of of Ghana's rich natural resources, particularly gold. Father Perry? And I'm glad you addressed the issue of families working together-something you've seen and in which you are able to point out positive elements. We do have to be careful about imposing our own Western values, methinks, and there needs to be more discussion of this everywhere. best, w. van ornum, ph.d.
Francis Perry Azah
7 years 7 months ago
Dear John,

Thanks for you thoughtful comment. It is true that children in Ghana (and Africa as a whole) assist their parents in working either in the farm or in the fishing industry. Personally, I helped my parents in the farm as a child as a means of survival of the family which I did with joy. I did not see that as an abuse from my parents. It is also a means of teaching children to learn how to gain those skills in the farms in order to be on their own in the future. This is mostly done at the weekends or during the holiday seasons and not during school hours.

We are talking about parents or care-takers that go to the extreme of using these children as farm laborers or working in other industries like fishing, quarry, or porters while their peers are in the classroom. Some of these children suffer physically, psychologically etc. while working in these fields. Some even die due to the hazardous nature of these works.

I totally agreed with you John, on the nature of how the corporations and Western powers who continue to “plunder” our countries in the Third World. Ghana is well blessed with a lot of natural resources including gold, bauxite, manganese etc. and now crude oil. We are also the second largest producer of cocoa in the world. Despite all these blessing Ghana is still among the poor countries of the world. This is because of how the industrial nations continue to “abuse” us, taking our riches in order to enrich themselves. They determine the prices of these products and if you do not agree, then they “tighten the belt for you to suffer.” In doing that the rich nations put majority of the people in our country (Ghana) to continue to be in perpetual poverty, and those who suffer mostly are children and women. We need to fight this form of “abuse” in all its forms. If all the rich nations that are “abusing” us would give ten percent of their riches to the poor nations, and the poor nations also will put it into good use; I believe poverty will be a thing of the past.



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