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Opinions of Sunday, 26 February 2006

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Childhood?s End

Increasingly being violated by some negative aspects of their culture, Ghanaian teens appear helpless. ?A Year of Action on Defilement? by the Women and Child Ministry is the latest lesson in dealing with violation of teens? rights

In Sierra Leonean journalist-historian Lansana Gberie?s A Dirty War in West Africa teens recount how they are induced by their elders through certain elements of their cultural, intimidations, harassment, violence, and the ?ordinary men (that?s the ?Big Men?) whose motivations, as well as the conditions that made it possible for them (that?s teens) to play out their terrible fantasies.? The rot in the Sierra Leonean culture hold time and gravity constant, and the teens become the fodder for violations and atrocities. The Sierra Leone civil war that destroyed a reasonable number of the country?s teens by their Big Men who waged the civil war is not metaphysics of an over-romantic kind; this is physical reality that has created long-running trauma and other enormous problems for Sierra Leonean teens and their country.

Ghana may not have gone through a horrendous civil of Sierra Leone?s, as we read in Gberie?s highly analytical work, but some Ghanaian teens? rights are increasingly being violated by their elders, who mostly hide under their culture to violate the teens. The increasingly alarming degree of right violations of Ghanaian teens over the years has caused Ghana?s Ministry of Women and Children Affair to proclaim 2006 the ?Year of Action on Defilement.? To contain the increasing national agony and the challenges this posed to the country?s development process, a national information data base to collect and disseminate information on teen rights violation issues has been established. This is to raise alertness for stakeholders and society?s commitment to protect the rights of children.

Thomas Ampem Adjei, an innocent, fragile-looking 62-year-old farmer of Mpasaaso, near Ghana?s second largest city of Kumasi, the Ashanti Regional capital, was alleged to have defiled his 7-year-old biological granddaughter between 2003 and 2004. The defilement, which has left the granddaughter sick with offensive discharge from her virgina, has also left the granddaughter passing stool through her virgina. Adjei is currently remanded in custody by an Accra Fast Track Court.

Collins Secondary Commercial School at Agogo, in the Asante-Akim area of Ghana?s Ashanti Region, has for long trained secretarial students for Ghana. On February 6, the school?s calm atmosphere was shattered when Ruth Odame, a 20-year-old third year General Arts student was found dead. She had being raped, with her breast, tongue, and virgina cut off in a ritualistic manner. As if haunted by the ghost of Ruth, on February 13, the security officer (normally called ?watchman? in Ghana), Abu Doare Ziwore, 38, of the school went to the Agogo Police Station and confessed that he was the one who raped and mutilated Ruth?s sexual organs. Like Adjei, Ziwore has been detained while investigations go on.

In a country where people do not trust the police much and the culture sometimes protects teen violators, many of such teen violations are not reported. Ghanaians has always had a culture part of which protect teens. In Ghanaian culture the child is not only nurtured by the family but also the community: anybody in the community has the right to discipline the child. Now this positive value is increasingly being turned upside down. The Accra-based The Ghanaian Times in an emotional editorial said, ?Many families tend to think more of the shame and embarrassment to the family name rather than the welfare of the victim and the need to report to the police for prosecution or the importance of saving other potential victims. It also happens that offenders are able to bride their way either through family elders or other influential people, and go unpunished, making the victim and their family suffer a double assault.?

Teen violations are spreading like malaria, a key killer of Ghanaians, not just in Agogo and Kumasi but other cities and towns and villages as well. Though statistics is difficult to come by, officials at the Ghana Police Service?s Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVISU) say teens? violations have gone up and are increasing. The children of pre-independence generation are arriving at the crime-prone teen years, and too many of them are under threat from not only some elders of their society but also certain aspects of their culture. Criminologist and human rights experts predict more child trafficking, child enslavement, defilement, and other child abuses in the next few years as poverty and other social distress increases.

Why? Mute, above all ? children have trouble expressing themselves, especially in a culture that does not allow children to express themselves openly or participate in discussions even if it relates to them. Children are disconnected from future. It is to lay down a future where children do not live in fear of being violated and able to express themselves, especially in matters relating to them, that Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) is increasingly empowering Ghanaian journalists to take human rights issues as a serious national development process matter.



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