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Opinions of Thursday, 10 May 2018

Columnist: Kwame Kyakye

Getting trapped and suffocating to death: The harrowing tragedy of three Elmina Children

Children are normally welcomed at birth with joy and happiness and you normally hear midwives telling the expectant mother "congratulations, you have a bouncing baby boy or girl" and it's all smiles from the mother after the excruciating pangs of labour that might have lasted for between 8 to 15 hours.

Children are an integral part of every society and apart from the joy they bring the couple, they also ensure the continuity of the human race. One important element that possibly most people have lost sight of is that, the children we give birth to carry our DNA and genes and also perpetuate our blood line after we are dead and gone. Indeed in the Akan traditional milieu, if a family gives a daughter's hand in marriage, and for more than six months, there are no signs of pregnancy, the head of family could go and ask what the problem could be?

Society has moved on and the Akan traditional values and ethos have evolved and also some of our values and ethos have been badly damaged by acculturation and so called modernity. Due to these challenges of our modern society, the head of family's power has waned over time or possibly current head of families in the Akan setting either do not know what is expected of them or have just allowed certain aspect of their responsibility to die down all in the name of societal evolution. This evolution we have allowed to happen with it being hinged on our values and ethos and gradually the extended family which use to be the fulcrum around our society revolved is gradually breaking apart.

The joy of having a baby is inexplicable, unless you experience it yourself.

The pressures of modern life and the breakdown of our social living especially the family is having a great toll on how our children are cared for. Now, the upbringing of children which hitherto was a communal responsibility has now become the burden of parents and teachers when the kids are in school, in between no one cares. The kids must manage themselves. And I'm very sure this has accounted for the loss of three precious lives in Elmina on Sunday and were discovered on Monday 16th April, 2018 in the morning when the car owner only got a shock of her life, when she found three lifeless bodies in her car parked in her house.

The story as reported on Radio Central's morning show and also read from the dailies on Tuesday 17th April, 2018 recounts that the three children were left to attend church (which is about 400 meters) away from their home and never returned. The ages of the children are given as Maame Akua, 6-years; Fii, 5-years and Nana Yaw, 3-years.

This situation begs a lot of questions as to how the children lost their lives whether before or after church service.

The real questions are;

1. How come their parents allowed them to go to church unattended to?
2. If the parents didn't want to attend church, why not allow the kids to stay home with them?

3. Is it that, the parents of these innocent children wanted the kids out of home so they could have some time for other things?

4. Could it is it also be that, the penchant to appear training the child to know God might have accounted for this tragedy?

Apart from the Elmina tragic death of innocent children being trapped in a car, these are some few examples of similar incident involving children being trapped and dying under similar circumstances.

On January 16th 2014 which was a Thursday, and as reported by Ghana web, two children, aged two and four, lost their lives through suffocation after they were trapped in their father’s car at Asofa, a part of Achimota in Accra. Another sad moment was reported by myjoyonline which quoted Daily Guide has the headline "Four kids trapped to death in refrigerator" and this occurred on the 16th day of October, 2014. This tragedy struck a couple at Bechem in the Brong-Ahafo Region Tuesday afternoon when all their four children were found dead in an abandoned deep freezer in front of their house. The kids are believed to have been trapped in the refrigerator and suffocated to death.The deceased children, namely, Tanko, 12; Isaac, 6; Arafat, 6 and Atika, 2, were found dead in the mini unserviceable freezer after they were reported missing by their parents.In that same year on the 18th February, two kids were also trapped to death in a car at a mechanic shop at Labadi in Accra. Two years later on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2016, Ghana web reported another harrowing story where two children were burnt to death at Agormanya-Blotsi in the Lower Manya Krobo Municipality of the Eastern region.The incident occurred at about 9:30pm on Tuesday. According to an eyewitness, the two children were trapped in the blaze whiles their parents were away from home.

From the above sighted cases, it can be inferred that all the children who lost their lives under such circumstances were on their own without any care given or were out of home playing. If that is the case then how do we place these Biblical injunctions on us as believers? "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. Psalm 127:3-5.

If children are a heritage from the Lord, then how come we allow them to die needlessly? More so, in the book of Proverbs 17:6 "Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children".

“...kill not your children because of poverty - We provide sustenance for you and for them”. (Quran 6:151). Islamic teachings about children depicts the high importance as this quote illustrates“ according to the guidelines of the Quran and the Prophet’s (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) traditions. The Prophet (s) said:“Allah (SWT) will ask every caretaker about the people under his care, and the man will be asked about the people of his household” (Nasa’i, Abu Da’ud). Children rights are enshrined in Islamic teachings and parents are admonished to train children as such. Parents must be conscious and take an active role in guiding their children and families on the path of truth. The Prophet Muhammad (s) said: “Every one of your (people) is responsible, and everyone is responsible for whatever falls under his responsibility. A man is like a shepherd of his own family, and he is responsible for them” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Taking into consideration what the Bible and the Qur'an says about children and the responsibility same religion imposes on us who believe in those religions then how come we make petty mistakes and lose the lives of our kids just like that?

From my personal observation especially in Cape Coast, it looks as if most people don't care a hoot about what happens to their kids and I'm sure that, observation wouldn't be far from right from what is happening around the country. Parenting is optional, so if two adults decide to indulge in sexual activity and the ultimate happens, one cannot be absolved from not taking responsibility for their safety.

Accidents happen, but where the sheer negligence on the part of parents especially fathers result in either the death of any child or perpetual deformity to any child in our dear country should be treated as a serious offence.

If one reads our constitution, art 28 clause 1 paragraphs (a) states that " every child has the right to the same measure of special care, from its natural parents, except where those parents have effectively surrendered their rights and responsibilities in respect of the child in accordance with law" and (b) every child, whether or not born in wedlock, shall be entitled to reasonable provision from the estate of its parents and (d) children and young persons receive special protection against exposure to physical and moral hazards.

From the foregoing, it is explicitly clear that the protection and maintenance of children are proudly enshrined in our constitution, which even makes exposing children to moral harm an offence. So, if a parent for any reason allows his child to go to church, school or any other social gathering without any measure of protection and anything happens to that child, should the parent be left of the hook or be charged with negligence or dereliction of parental duty? If we analyse the Elmina situation critically, without holding brief for the lady into whose car the children met their untimely death, can the parents of these children be absolved from blame, looking at what the law says?

Wouldn't it also be that, because we’re losing our communal spirit and the breakdown of our family system, we're gradually becoming individualised where, "each one for himself and God for us all" might contribute to such neglect of our kids? Because in the olden days a child was born into a society, family before parents but now the reverse is the case.

In sum, from the religious, cultural and social perspectives as discussed earlier, children are of paramount importance to parents, families and the society as a whole. We must all be each other’s keeper and parents in particular must not feel too busy and allow other things other than the upbringing of their children to occupy their time. If we all see children as our progenitors and see them as the best property on earth, then we would factor their interest in all facet of our life. This needless deaths of our children must stop.

D .C. Kwame Kyakye, GBC, Radio Central, Cape Coast