Child Abuse in Ghana

A recent study by the Rev. Francis Perry Azah, a priest from Ghana and a doctoral-level pastoral counselor, offers a clear and wide-ranging view into situations of child abuse in Ghana. Titled Wholeness of the Abused Children and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Psycho-Pastoral Perspective, the study features many of situations that are unknown to us in the Northern hemisphere. Of course, physical distance is one factor here; sadly, another is that the level and varieties of abuse are terrible, with some difficult to imagine. The election of Pope Francis and the evolving concern and evolution of church resources from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere makes Father Perry's book especially compelling. He writes:

The problem of child abuse is widespread in many developing countries and Ghana is no exception. Despite efforts of the Ghanaian government to halt the exploitation of its children, Ghana remains a major source, transit point, and destination point for child trafficking, and a variety of forms of child slavery and unthinkable child abuse. This pernicious problem, though profitable for a few, harms the social fabric and obstructs it from real development.

Quite often, in addressing the problems of child abuse in Ghana as in other developing countries, policy makers and child advocacy professionals have adopted intervention strategies derived from research conducted in foreign or developed countries. The effect is that these foreign-based interventions have been ineffective in tackling child abuse in developing countries.

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Father Perry describes three forms of abuse, unique to Ghana, that are so vile as to challenge our ability to even comprehend. These are trafficking children in order to force them to work along the shores of Volta Lake, and to live under the tough conditions there; Trokosi or indentured female slavery; and Female Genital Mutilation. Perhaps Father Perry's specific and detailed descriptions of these abhorrent practices will lead to interventions by the Ghanaian government and the United Nations. He graphically describes these types of abuse as follows:

The depletion of fish stocks is one of the key reasons why children are needed as workers in the fishing industry. Children represent cheap labor and their small, nimble fingers are useful in releasing the fish from the small nets. Another task that trafficked children frequently perform is to disentangle the fish nets from the numerous tree stumps in the lake. Diving is a dangerous job that can have dire consequences for the children, from catching water-based diseases such as bilharzias, gastrointestinal disease, ear problems, and other ailments due to poor living conditions and improper care and guinea worms to death from drowning.

A pernicious type of slavery known as trokosi is based on native tradition and patriarchal superstitions. This continues in Ghana as well as in Togo, Benin, and southwestern Nigeria. According to this tradition, when a relative commits a crime, ranging in severity to petty theft to murder, the family must offer a virgin daughter, typically from eight to fifteen years old, to the local shrine, where she will become a trokosi, or "slave of the gods." The shaman takes full ownership rights over the child, beating her when she tries to escape, controlling her interaction with others, demanding labor and sex from here, and denying her education, food, and basic health services.

The circumcision of female children seems to be on the increase in the Bawku area of Ghana and its environs as parents are still carrying out the act secretly. One kind of FGM is Clitorisdectomy, which involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris. The second kind is excision, which involves the removal of the clitoris and labia minor, while the vagina is left unclosed. The third kind, Infabulations, involves the complete remoaval of clitoris and labia and a stitching together (with thorns or catgut) the two sides of the vulva. A small opening is preserved to allow for the passage of urine and menstrual flow. A fourth kind of FGM involves clitoral piercing and burning, and scraping or cutting the vagina and introducing corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina.

Father Perry's book offers suggestions for intervention based on Ghanaian law and pronouncements from the United Nations. He clearly describes potentially helpful Western therapeutic interventions and suggests ways to modify these according to Ghanaian culture. Throughout the book there is inclusion of healing spirituality from the psalms and Bible: "Though my father and mother forsake me, Yahweh will gather me up. Yahweh, teach me your way, lead me o the path of integrity because of my enemies. (Ps 27:10-11).

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Anne Chapman
5 years 4 months ago
My heart breaks whenever I read stories like this. Could you please tell us what we ordinary people can do? What (reliable) groups are working to end these horrors?
Francis Perry Azah
5 years 4 months ago
Anne, thanks for your comment. To begin with, it is an undeniable fact that many Ghanaian families are breaking down and children are being compelled to fight and struggle for their own survival. Family violence and divorce are on the increase among Ghanaians and society at large. Emotional and physical abuses of children and spouses as well as neglect of children (especially their educational needs) are becoming chronic problems in the community. I would suggest that as parents and pastoral caregivers we need to put our knowledge of child upbringing into action to save our kids from waywardness. The home could be likened to a greenhouse where children grow to their fullest potential under the care of wise and patient gardener. We are like the gardener who nurtures each plant in the greenhouse to come to flower as the Creator has endowed it. “Train up a child in the way he should go....” Proverbs 22:6. Also, it is unfortunate that there is very little or no support from the community to individuals, families and our youth. Though some Ghanaian community churches are trying to meet such needs in organizing family and youth programs/seminars their efforts are not enough. All churches and cultural associations must pay the needed attention to supporting our children. It could be argued in some circles that our youth exploit the laws of Ghana to their own detriment and find themselves in these abusive situations eventually, but the reality is that most youth are pushed onto these abuses by the negligence of their parents and the community at large. Let us remind ourselves that we cannot take our children past where we are. We must therefore, be good examples in both word and deed to our children. We need the support of all individuals and groups of people in ending these atrocities in our societies.
we vnornm
5 years 4 months ago
Anne, there is a great need for clean water in Ghana. for the past 4 years or so, Marist College has held "water drives." You might call School of Management (845-575-3000) to ask if one is currently being planned. Also, I think there is a Facebook page Marist Ghana Project. Hopefully this link will give you more info: http://www.marist.edu/management/council/pdfs/waterfortheworldbrochure.pdf We have a number of courses taught in Ghana where Marist professors travel with students in study and provide help in this country. bill
Francis Perry Azah
5 years 4 months ago
Last year an NGO called International Help of Missionaries (IHM) based in New York assisted the people of Atikpui, Ghana, with mechanized water which now serves about 4,000 people. This initiative was greatly appreciated since it cut down water borne diseases in the town. Women and children are also relieved from the labor of walking some miles to fetch water which was not even safe. Since water is life, I will encourage individuals and corporate institutions to assist Marist College in executing the water project in Ghana. Poverty is an ailment that all must help to eradicate in our society. Providing potable water for a community will definitely change the history of that community. Perry
Ocansey Philip
5 years 4 months ago
Child abuse is one of the serious drawbacks in modern African societies especially developing ones. I get so downhearted whenever I hear stories of child abuse. Children suffer various forms of abuse of all magnitude; children should be handled in a very delicate manner. Early parts of this year in Ghana , the news reported a child abuse horror: a child whose guardians dipped her buttocks in boiling water http://www.ghanacelebrities.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/The-burnt-buttocks-victim.jpg , simply because the child wet her bed. this news didn't make me a proud Ghanaian. I then asked myself " Are our laws not being enforced properly?or " Are the institutions charged with this duty not performing as expected?". From where I stand issues of Child Abuse should not be taken for granted as some people have. Some studies even show how child abuse impedes the development of a nation . In this regard child abuse should be curtailed if not expunged in the society. The question still remains: how do we strengthen our institutions in charge of this issues? i am glad Father Perry's suggestions in his book focused on intervention based on Ghanaian law and pronouncements from the United Nations. Kudos Father! We look forward to a better future!
Francis Perry Azah
5 years 4 months ago
Thanks Philip for your comment. It is really true that some parents need proper parental education; because one wonders why a responsible parent or caregiver will perpetrate such pernicious act on an innocent child. Ghana has so many regulations for curtailing abuse in our society but most of these laws are not being enforced. The institutions charged to enforce these regulations seem to be powerless because they are not well resourced. The government and other stakeholders as a matter of urgency, must fully resource the institutions responsible for the welfare of the vulnerable children in our world. They must stop paying lip-service to the Ghanaian laws and other pronouncements from the United Nations and other world bodies charged with the wellbeing of children. As long as these children suffer, there is little hope for positive development and the establishment of a just and peaceful society. The suffering of these children is the Ghanaian society’s suffering and its responsibility.
Moses Apreku
5 years 3 months ago
In exploring the tragic episode of child abuse in Ghana, Fr. Francis Perry in his study has done well by graphically presenting the true picture of this phenomenon. Not only that, but also the psycho- religious approach that should be adopted in restoring the victim to wholeness owing to traumatic stress disorders associated with this exploitation of innocent children. This problem as succinctly presented by William Van Ornum to give a bird's eye-view of Francis' study seems to be deeply rooted in the heathen religion of the people as acceptable traditional norm and cultural practices. On the other hand the question about sanctity of marriage also calls to mind. How is marriage contracted and what are marital values of the people understudy? How is human life valued? What about children? It is noteworthy that degradation of marriage certainly leads to breakdown in family ties, decadence in morality and the like social vices as a result of which children unjustly suffer. This study therefore must be an eye-openner to rethinking of possible means of arriving at lasting solutions to this canker.It is unacceptable in our times that with the successses chalked up by human right advocates, yet future leaders of the human race could suffer such fate. This is an attack on the dignity and integrity of humankind for which all efforts must be harnessed to halt this menace. I want to recommend that readers of this article should try to get copies of Fr. Perry's book for their intellectual curiosity and be abreast of child trafficking and abused children in Ghana. Should Francis Perry be supported to use his expertise to establish an advocacy group, to pastorally care for victims of child abused and to educate perpetrators in this regard, it would be great! Thanks, William Van Ornum and Fr. Francis Perry. Moses Mary Apreku
Moses Apreku
5 years 3 months ago
In exploring the tragic episode of child abuse in Ghana, Fr. Francis Perry in his study has done well by graphically presenting the true picture of this phenomenon. Not only that, but also the psycho- religious approach that should be adopted in restoring the victim to wholeness owing to traumatic stress disorders associated with this exploitation of innocent children. This problem as succinctly presented by William Van Ornum to give a bird's eye-view of Francis' study seems to be deeply rooted in the heathen religion of the people as acceptable traditional norm and cultural practices. On the other hand the question about sanctity of marriage also calls to mind. How is marriage contracted and what are marital values of the people understudy? How is human life valued? What about children? It is noteworthy that degradation of marriage certainly leads to breakdown in family ties, decadence in morality and the like social vices as a result of which children unjustly suffer. This study therefore must be an eye-openner to rethinking of possible means of arriving at lasting solutions to this canker.It is unacceptable in our times that with the successses chalked up by human right advocates, yet future leaders of the human race could suffer such fate. This is an attack on the dignity and integrity of humankind for which all efforts must be harnessed to halt this menace. I want to recommend that readers of this article should try to get copies of Fr. Perry's book for their intellectual curiosity and be abreast of child trafficking and abused children in Ghana. Should Francis Perry be supported to use his expertise to establish an advocacy group, to pastorally care for victims of child abused and to educate perpetrators in this regard, it would be great! Thanks, William Van Ornum and Fr. Francis Perry. Moses Mary Apreku

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