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Opinions of Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Columnist: Abrefah, Kwame Attakorah

A Functional Child Welfare Policy

? The Missing Link In Socio-Eeconomic Development.

There is a strong belief among Ghanaians that God ordained the rampant corruption in the country, the general indiscipline, high level of violence, and irresponsible leaderships. Sadly, the increasing level of misery, poverty, civil strife and hopelessness on the black continent seems to strengthen this belief.

Despite the good intentions of our post-colonial leaders such as Revolutionarist Jerry John Rawlings, the ?Messiah? Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and ?Democrat? Dr. Kofi Abrefah Busiah, none of them was able to rescue our country from its constant misery and hopelessness.

Frankly, the reason our succeeding leaders have not been able to address the economic and a political problem in the country is that, we have been tackling the symptoms of our problems rather than the root causes.

The hope for overcoming the problems that face our country lies in a comprehensive child welfare policy that abolishes and prevents child abuse. This may sound silly to many people because for so long, the problems facing the country have been framed in terms of macro/micro economic mismanagement, unfair terms of trade, and corruption. However, the link between positive child development and social/economic advancement have been overlooked or at best, underestimated.

The goal of this article is to establish that there is a correlation between rampant child sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect in Ghana and the socio-economic deterioration in the country. This argument is premised on the general belief that, adult psychological adjustment/impairment is largely dependent on childhood experiences. In other words, leadership qualities such as emotional stability, tolerance for criticism, self-confidence, assertiveness, sensitivity and responsibility, which determines the capabilities of great leaders, are among others, the function of childhood experiences.

The question becomes, what is child abuse and what are the effects of child abuse? In what ways can child abuse have negative effects on the socio-economic conditions of our country? For want of simplicity, child abuse can be defined as mistreatment of children by their primary caregivers by way of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse is an infliction of physical pain or injury on a child. This includes, shaking the child, beating, pinching, etc. Depending on the age of the child, the frequency of the abuse, the nature of the child?s relationship with the abuser and resiliency of the child, the child may display some developmental handicaps such as over compliance, lack of curiosity, anxiety, aggression, and low frustration tolerance.

Others may become hyperactive; have difficulty relating to others, lying, stealing, withdrawal, drug and alcohol addiction etc.

Child neglect is the failure to provide the necessities of life such as food, clothing, medical and supervision. This also includes lack of provision of warmth and attention necessary for normal living. Neglected children are often malnourished, lack physical care and hygiene, and most often abandoned by their parents. Studies indicate that neglected children are significantly delayed in many developmental domains. For example, neglected children are often characterized as dull, slow, and placid and have poor academic performance.

Emotional abuse occurs by using abusive language and gestures such as yelling, name calling, belittling, criticism, indifference and teasing. For example, parental praise or appreciation of their children is an important source of self-worth and confidence for children. However, when parents constantly tell their children that they are good for nothing, belittle them, yell at them in public or at home, they destroy the children?s self-esteem, confidence and the psychological damage can be long term and severe. Studies indicate that emotionally abused children are often described as lacking empathy, low self-esteem, and depressed.

Sexual abuse includes wide range of sexual violations such as inappropriate touching, incest, fondling, rape etc. Child sexual abuse may lead to transmission of STDs, HIV and early pregnancy. The literatures on sexual abuse suggest that victims tend to display characteristics such as compulsive sexual behavior, prostitution, and confusion about sexuality, promiscuity, and mental health issues.


Child abuse is rampant in Ghana. Many people in Ghana believe that, if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. As a result, physical maltreatment such as beating, belting, canning, slapping are somehow acceptable. Again, to some extent children are considered as properties of their parents in Ghana. As such, many parents are not question or held accountable for the maltreatment of their children.

Another common child maltreatment that is engrained in our culture is emotional abuse. Insulting children, name-calling, teasing them, belittling them is so entrenched in the way we relate to children that, hardly do we question the psychological damage that children are subjected to by these humiliations. For example, in a ?compound? house, it is unusual for parents to call their children stupid, good for nothing or use some physical disability to insult them. Yet, the psychological effects of derogatory statements made against these children in the neighborhoods, at homes, in schools and communities have severe and long lasting impact.

To authenticate this assertion, many Ghanaians maintain that they prefer physical beatings as punishment to insults and scolding. In other words, many people find emotional abuse more painful and dreadful.

Perhaps the most painful form of child abuse in Ghana that requires immediate attention is sexual abuse. Because sex is still a taboo subject in many homes in the country, children who disclose sexual abused are often punished as having precocious sexual behavior. Sadly, the worst thing that can happen to a sexually abused child is to invalidate their disclosure. As a result, some sexually abuse children have rather become victims of static and archaic cultural norms and practices while the ?pedophiles? walk freely and continue to prey on our innocent and vulnerable children.


There are some popular sayings in Ghana that indicates long existence of indigenous knowledge about cause and effects. For example, sayings such as ?you reap what you sow? or ? like father like son, like mother like daughter,? suggest that many Ghanaians understand there is a correlation between parental attributes and the personality formation of children. In other words, because parents are the immediate role models of their children, they pass on their personal values and beliefs to their children. By the same token, if a child is beaten, yelled at, belittled, screamed at and always made to feel inferior, weak stupid etc, the child will develop conditioned responses to these abuses out of self- preservation. For example, a child that is denied food as a form of punishment or necessities such as clothes would steal food to eat and money to buy clothes etc. In many situations, these behaviors do not stop but continue into serious forms of maladaptive behaviors.

The chain will continue. For example, children with no any parental supervision would wander and pick up values from the street. They would usually end up as drug addicts, alcoholics and armed robbers. The cost of policing these children does not only divert resources away from viable economic ventures but also create general sense of insecurity in the country and scare of investors.

Furthermore, a child that is beaten, constantly putdown, made to feel weak and humiliated would end up with low self-esteem and pick on other people to feel superior and strong. Sadly, many military insurgences have been stage by people with low frustration tolerance, low self-esteem, temperamental and intolerant. Stories of childhood experiences of coup plotters in Ghana indicate that most of them were severely abused, neglected and bullied. While this is not justification for overthrowing democratically elected government, it explains the tough guy mentality and the desire for power by some elements in the country. The cost to the nation in terms of human rights abuses, economic mismanagement and cultural degradation are impossible to measure.

In essence, these sayings strongly suggest that our relational habits to children and our child rearing practices determine the kind of people we groom as future politicians, economist, scientist, lawyers and teachers.

Thus, if we teach children that hurting our fellow human being is wrong, our children will grow up to respect the value of human dignity. Again, if we help our children to cultivate strong sense of self-worth through positive reinforcements and praises instead of insults, we will be raising future leaders who are tolerant of criticism because of their self-confidence. We will also raise less corrupt leaders because stealing; machismo would not become survival and only known skills. In addition, we will be raising strong leaders who are assertive, intelligent and can negotiate with international institutions in the best interest of the nation.

Sadly, while we spend millions of dollars supporting democratic institutions in the country, we forget that children are our last hope for democracy and economic emancipation in the country. We continue to treat the most vulnerable members of society as properties and servants who have no feelings or intellect to understand their abuse. We pay little or no attention to the needs of our children by improperly enforcing the existing child protection legislations as well as enacting new ones to deal with the complexities of the situation. Rather, we wonder why so many of our youth have become alcoholics, drug addicts, indiscipline and our leaders have become corrupt, irresponsible, selfish and insensitive to the suffering of their people. The answer lies in realizing that there is a link between child abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) and adult psychological adjustment.


Indeed history has made it evidently clear that positive changes in social attitudes, norms and values are the pre-requisite for the socio-economic advancement of society. For example, the French Revolution extirpated the cultural norms and attitudes that supported ?the divine right of the monarchy? and unlocked new attitudes and beliefs about individual rights and freedoms. Similarly, the American Revolution gave birth to a Republican Government based on protection of individual rights and freedoms as well as cultural values that supported them.

Since independence, Ghana has tried without any success to develop economic and political system akin/cognate to the culture, the aspirations and the needs of Ghanaians. For example, we have experimented with the Single Party/African Socialist State to Military Rule and from Multi-party democracy to Military Revolution etc without any tangible success.

What accounts for such failures is our inability to make individual rights and freedoms the cornerstone of our political systems. Multi-party democracies have only entrenched individual rights on paper. Functional judiciary and cultural norms to support rights and freedoms are almost non-existent.

To cultivate the democratic culture and build on the gains made over the years, we need to recognize the rights of children and enforce them. To achieve this, we must fundamentally challenged and change the cultural norms and practices of child rearing. We also need to hold parents and governments accountable for violation of children?s rights.

Notwithstanding the psychological impact of child abuse and its effects in adult life, there is also humanitarian and moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of society. In our society, there is general belief that children are innocent, weak and incapable of protecting themselves. As a result, it is imperative and incumbent upon adults to protect and cared for children.


The scenarios and narratives presented here are meant to summarize, stabilize and give meanings to the complexities of parenting and child rearing. Additionally, they also suggest that, childhood is both the focus of and creation of individual personality. It is a life stage dedicated to the inculcation of social values into children as well as shaping their worldviews.

In essence, in order to understand ourselves as individuals, we need to go back in time to unravel our childhood experiences and the context within which they occurred to find answers to our emotions, temperament, values and relational dynamics.

It is also imperative to understand the social, economic and political factors, which influenced our development as children. Ghana is relatively a poor country. Many people live on less than $1.00 a day. This makes it extremely difficult for many parents to provide basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care and emotional support children need as a result of extreme stress some parents have to deal with in order to provide for their children.

Having said that, there are simple things parents can do to help their children grow and develop healthy. For example, parents can be educated to use discipline as an opportunity to teach rather than inflict pain and maltreat children. Parents can be taught to understand that simple praises and encouragement are instrumental and important for children to develop.

The economic difficulties in country have also enabled the government to absolve itself of any responsibilities to our children. Child welfare agencies in the country have not been adequately supported to receive complaints, identify and protect children who are maltreated or at risk of maltreatment. The government has also failed in its responsibility to provide preventative and supportive services to families incapable of providing the developmental needs of their children because of economic limitations.

However, the provision of adequate resources and legislation to protect and support the development of children should not be viewed as giant welfare system. Rather, it should be considered as social investment needed to train quality people. The benefits of such investment are immense, civil strife?s; spousal abuse, armed robberies, corruption and indiscipline will be minimized.

The government can begin to do simple and less costly things such as embarking on public education campaigns to educate families about the lifelong consequences of child abuse. For example, filmmakers in Ghana can be encouraged to make films about positive parenting and its positive outcome.

Additionally, the government must effectively enforce laws and customs that hold parents accountable for the upbringing of their children. This will stop sperm donors in our society and hold them to be accountable to be real fathers and men. It will also reduce the stress on women as primary caregivers in our society.

Finally, there is a need for a central child protection agency to protect the rights of our children. Children are too precious and remain the hope for future.

Kwame Attakorah Abrefah (B.A. Hons. York University Toronto, Master of Social Work, University of Toronto Canada.
Regional Social Worker.
Inuvik Health and Social Services Authority.
N.T. Canada.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.