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General News of Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Source: The New Crusading GUIDE

UNICEF (Ghana) Silent Over Osu Home Abuse

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UNICEF (Ghana) Maintains Loud Silence Over Reported Cases of Child Rights Abuse At Osu Home.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas Reports from Osu Remand Home

Barely passed the candy-eating, poised and teddy bear-hugging years; boisterous and babbling with youth energy, Morgan prances and gambols about with a lot of cheerful bounce. A spring in every step, a tongue on the lips; the quintessence of child-like innocence, but soon will all these cheerful ingredients of childhood be consigned to history. Just one juvenile adventure leads to Morgan being stripped of all the joys and thrills that go with being a child; he is sentenced to jail at Osu Remand Home Cells.

They are banned and barred from the public, locked behind bars and left to survive in the dark rooms of the detention centre. Many of them are awaiting trial, while some have no opportunity for any hearing. As they wait, they are faced with various forms of ill-treatment such as food deprivation, manual labour and caning for disciplinary infractions.
Here, a juvenile escapade as banal as pinching a bottle of Coca-Cola is punished like the crime of aggravated burglary. Notorious criminals convicted for drug trafficking, armed robbery, even pedophiles and murderers who are serving their terms in maximum security prisons would be the envy of the juvenile delinquents languishing here in the Osu Remand Home cells.
And, it is a measure of the warped sense of justice pertaining here that little Morgan and other children from the Osu Children’s Home have been thrown into a den of rodents and mosquitoes, a cell whose stuffy air and damp floor have conspired to reduce the boy’s skin to a dermatological outrage.
But more worrying is the fact that, far from being just skin deep, the outrage seeps into the very heart and soul of the infant prisoner. Morgan’s crime? He had filched a bottle of Coca-Cola – just a bottle from several crates donated to the Osu Children’s Home. But perhaps, more importantly, he had been too audacious in outsmarting the caregivers who often cart away such donations to their private Homes.
“If you believe that punishment must ultimately reform rather than destroy convicts; if you believe that punishment must be equal to offence; if you believe in humane treatment for even a dangerous convict, then the Remand Home should be the last place you should go looking for these ideals”, says Steve Kintonga, a child rights activist, who has been visiting the Osu Remand Home over the past five years.
The Osu Remand Home currently houses a number of children who have been accused of crimes ranging from stealing, defilement, prostitution and disobedience to parents. These children are kept under lock and key each day, as they await the position of the justice system on their cases. As they wait, they are kept within the walls of a dark cell, where they live, move and spend their days. Formal education remains outside their reach as long as they live here.
This is the place where caregivers at the Osu Children’s Home keep children they regard as ‘difficult”. Some of these children are kept at the Remand Home as a form of punishment for minor offences such as stealing, staying out late and disobeying orders from the mothers. During the course of The New Crusading GUIDE’s investigations into the Osu Children’s Home, this reporter uncovered the disturbing trend of the indiscriminate detention of some children of the Osu Children’s Home in the dark walls of the Remand Home.
Eleven-year old Morgan was thrown into a month-long detention, after he was accused of stealing a bottle of Coca-Cola (soft drink). He suffered in silence till his illegal term had ended for his release back into the Osu Children’s Home. Morgan never had access to a trial lawyer or a fair hearing. Morgan returned to the Home with scars and rashes which he contracted while on detention.
Although the Osu Remand Home is a place meant to be a centre for custody protection pending court appearance as well as a place for treatment and rehabilitation of children offenders in the country; it has become a detention camp of abuse, which leaves most of the inmates bruised, brittled and unwanted.

While on detention, these children are denied access to basic necessities such as education, skills training and other psycho-social services which are vital to their development. They are left within the confines of the jail walls and provided with occasional counseling by volunteers.
While this persists, most of the children within the Remand Home fall back into crime, acquiring bad habits such as sodomy, cursing, physical abuse and reported cases of drug use. In one particular incident which we encountered, two boys within the boys unit of the remand home were caught engaging in sodomy. When they were confronted by this reporter, the following conversation took place:
Reporter: Was he the one who had sex with you through your anus?
BOY: Yes
BOY2: We really did that, It was not on the first day he initiated the idea of us engaging ourselves that act, he told me when we were alone in the room, he propose that we do it but I told him it’s bad because we will be punished should we be caught, it was early in the morning so the other boy left us in the room to toilet, we both entered the toilet after he came out, we both entered the toilet but I told him to first go out before I follow but he refused and then so started the act.
Another boy, who witnessed the act, recounted it to the reporter: “They entered the toilet together and locked it behind them after easing themselves the boy started having sex with him through the anus; the boy was later asking whether it was painful.”
There is a general lack of care for the children in this Home. According to Platinni Ashiagbor Christian, a child rights advocate who has worked within the home over the last three years, “there is no monitoring of their progress. What they teach them is nothing that can prepare them for anything”.
“When they get the chance to be taught by volunteers, it is basic literacy at all times for the children who are across many age groups. They are normally taught ABCDs and how to count numbers”, he added.
Although juvenile offenders are brought here to be developed and trained in a way that would steer them off crime, the situation within the remand home is one that leaves them with few options aside the degenerating lifestyles which had landed them in jail.
The absence of human developmental skills training for these children is disturbing, considering the amount of time most of these children spend in the Home while their cases are pending in court. “It normally takes two weeks before some of these children are charged by Police officers”, says Martin Kpebu, a legal practitioner with the Juvenile Justice project.
“This [trend] is generally tied to the lack of resources such as vehicles and other facilities that would enhance the speeding up of the trial process”, he says. As a result, most children leave the Remand Home with no vocational, technical or literary skills, making them susceptible to all forms of delinquency when they get released.

UNICEF (Ghana) plays a Merry-go-Round Gimmick with The New Crusading GUIDE
Among its many areas of operation, the United Nations Children [Emergency] Fund (UNICEF), is at the heart of building a protective environment for children by preventing them from violence and other forms of abuse which impede their development.
As such, The New Crusading GUIDE took significant steps to contact the Ghana offices of UNICEF for their perspectives in the light of the findings of our investigations. After knocking on the doors of UNICEF many times, officials we met refused to grant an interview to reporters from The New Crusading GUIDE concerning child rights abuses in the Osu Children’s Home and the Remand Home.
The New Crusading GUIDE first contacted Eric Okrah, a child protection specialist at UNICEF, who requested that we provide a questionnaire for them to respond to. After providing the questionnaire, Eric referred our reporters, to a communications officer at the UNICEF office. At the UNICEF office, our reporters were made to wait for the Communications Officer who was said to have gone to the hospital. After waiting for several hours, the reporters were advised by a lady, who had witnessed their plight of waiting, to come back later.
Following this incident, our reporters were further told by a UNICEF worker that a Board was supposed to sit on the letter to determine the answers to the questions of abuse, neglect and maltreatment which we wanted answers to. It has been over a month since the questionnaire was sent to the offices of UNICEF (Ghana), but no response has been received since.

“That’s all they do. They pretend they are helping just to spend our money from the United Nations. When you go for help, they never give help but end up giving you excuses. They use our money to organize workshops and drink milky tea, fat cakes and cheese in the name of seminars, look at the big cars they drive and think wisely”, was a comment passed by Fabian, a middle-aged man who witnessed our reporter’s situation at the UNICEF Ghana’s office.

In all, what The New Crusading GUIDE wanted to find out from UNICEF was their take on the cases that were unraveled in the paper’s investigations into the cases of abuse, death and maltreatment within the Osu Children’s Home. The paper also wanted to seek clarification on several reports we found, which indicated that UNICEF (Ghana) has over the years been alerted on the cases of abuse and maltreatment within the Home and had done nothing about it. The question is: Why is UNICEF (Ghana) keeping a loud silent over these issues that remain at the centre of its international objective?

The New Crusading GUIDE is still waiting for UNICEF (Ghana) to answer its questionnaire.

Stay Tuned.

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