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Opinions of Thursday, 22 March 2012

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Enlightenment And The Killing Of Deformed Children

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Realistically, the Ghanaian enlightenment movement is expanding. Traditional inhibitive values are being critically scrutinized boldly without fear of ethnocentrisms. It is in this sense that deformed children, for centuries killed in some parts of Ghana, for being evil, are getting not only media and civil society attention but of late officialdom.

Some of the deformed children are killed and used by traditional witch-doctors and juju-marabou spiritual mediums in all kinds of bizarre spiritual rituals. The Ghana News Agency, which have been investigating the killing of deformed children in some parts of northern Ghana, explains that “the common belief among some communities in the North that children born with deformities are “spirit children” and considered too evil or a taboo to be sheltered and catered for.” Encouraged by the on-going enlightenment movement that seeks the refinement of certain inhibitive cultural practices that stifles Ghanaians’ progress, in Hawawu Gariba, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, the main strategy to address the killing of deformed children is more public education informed by science, values of globalization, human rights, prosperity, and climate. It doesn’t matter if it is a crime in Ghanaian law books, “for any person or group of persons to take another person’s life” simply because the person is deformed, the troubles come from ignorance stalled in primordial traditions.

Believe me, even some educated Ghanaians, still heavily superstitious, kill deformed children for being possessed with evil spirits.

Like most of the inhibitive cultural practices that are currently under attack for refinement, the Ghanaian society is aware of the sensitivity of confronting such deep-seated erroneous ancient beliefs. No matter its co-operative manner, the key is caution, respect and the understanding of where such inhibitive cultural practices are coming from. The Ghanaian enlightenment movement do acknowledge that it is a complicated enterprise confronting such erroneous beliefs. How do you let people change certain ways of life that they have being practicing for centuries, that it is counter-productive today to live that untrue ways; that the deformed baby has the right to live like any normal person; that it is a crime to kill anybody no matter the nature of their physical form. “This issue is a very sensitive one because it deals with people’s perception and beliefs, therefore, there is the need for one to be cautious when dealing with it,” Hawawu Gariba accurately acknowledges to the Ghana News Agency.

In a developing atmosphere of democratic tenets of the rule of law, freedoms, human rights, and social justice, the challenging of traditional mindset of killing deformed kids is thoroughly multi-dimensional. With the mass media driving the enlightenment campaigns, the strategy of tackling the killing of deformed babies are: launch educational campaigns that target communities and perpetrators of the act; bring on-board religious, women organizations, civil society, educational outfits, traditional bodies, governmental and local non-governmental institutions, help from international non-governmental institutions, and involve opinion leaders, local assembly members, and parliamentarians.

What is very encouraging about Accra’s attempts to free communities from the clutches of believing that disabled babies are evil and should be killed is bringing the global experiences to the local situation, vigorously use mass communications tools, employ civic bodies, and the outstanding successful stories of people born with deformities who came out superbly as thinkers, scientists, leaders, etc. and helped their societies. Hawawu Gariba says Accra is to show video documentaries in the communities where there are killings of deformed children to give weight to the fact that deformities aren’t evil; that deformities need not prevent one from living a lovely full life; and that “given the necessary assistance and attention, deformed people could contribute greatly to the development of their communities.”

International examples: Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German/American first-rate theoretical physicist, was speculated to have Asperger's Syndrome that makes it difficult to have social skills. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 - April 12, 1945), the 32nd President of the United States, had polio; it is an acute viral infectious disease spread from person to person, primarily via the fecal-oral route.

Paul Martin, Jr. (born August 28, 1938) was the 21st Prime Minister of Canada, who overcame polio in 1946. Another former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien (born on January 11, 1934) is even more amazing. Jean Chretien was deaf in one ear and didn't start talking out of one side of his mouth till he was 12. It is thought that it is a disease that has paralyzed that side of the face, though it is believed that frostbite paralyzed one side of Chretien's face.

Global key face of deformity and wheelchair bound, British astrophysics Stephen Hawking, currently Director of Research at the Institute for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University, contracted motor neurone disease in 1963 and was given two years to live, yet Hawking went on to Cambridge University to become a dazzling researcher. Stephen Hawking is viewed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein. (Motor neurone disease is neurological disorders that selectively affect motor neurones, the cells that control voluntary muscle activity including speaking, walking, breathing, swallowing and general movement of the body).

In sanitizing the erroneous cultural notion that the disabled are malevolent and should be killed, a lot of babies born with disabilities would be saved from being killed. And like either Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein or Paul Martin, Jr. or Jean Chretien or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the deformed Ghanaian children would contribute meaningfully to Ghana’s progress.