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Children and abuse: an issue not fully unveiled

By Helena Selby - Ghanaian Chronicle

Children are a gift from God, goes a biblical verse. This same Gospel tells us that the purpose of man and woman coming together is to multiply – have children. Though not a big issue in the western world, in Ghana, and many parts of Africa, having children is the criteria used in determining ones potency and fertility. Despite the fact that many people believe the basic foundation of marriage is love, it is very pathetic that the majority of marriages in Africa, breakdown due to lack of children.

Nevertheless, children might be very important, but not to everybody. It might not be the intent of parents to make children miserable, but all the same, they finally end up being victims of a form of child abuse.

The Encarta Dictionary defines child abuse, as severe mistreatment of a child by a parent, guardian or other adult responsible for his or her welfare, e.g. physical violence, neglect, sexual assault or emotional cruelty. Child abuse though has been a topic of discussion since ancient times; the society has so far not been able to uproot it entirely.

How does child abuse occur?

One would wonder why some adults purposefully mistreat a child, when they very well know it is their responsibility to take care of the child. If an offence has been committed by a child, are there not any minimum corporal punishments to bring the child to his/her senses. Helpguide.org defines corporal punishment as 'the use of physical force, with the intent of inflicting bodily pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control.'

The most common form of corporal punishment in our society is caning. And many adults were caned as children, without damage to body or psyche. It must be put in mind that child abuse, does not only mean putting the child through severe physical punishment, or indulging in work way above their strength. It also involves other attitudes that suppress the ability of the child, sexually and emotionally.

In Ghana, engaging children in all forms of hawking is the only noted type of child abuse. Children are compelled to leave school, in order to hawk for a little income for the up keep of the home, making them seem like the breadwinners of the family.

The unappreciable aspect is that the guardian or parent, not considering the age of the child, gets irritated when the child does not make enough money, due to the mindset that the child is being lazy.

When this happens, other forms of child abuse crop up. They could take the form of either starvation, doing domestic chores very late at night, not taking his or her bath for the night, sometimes sleeping outside of the main house, or other forms of punishment that would traumatise the child.

In certain cases, very cruel parents or guardians inflict grave injures on the children, by either pouring very hot water on them, or cutting certain parts of their body. Not long ago, a programme on human rights abuse was broadcasted, of a mother who maliciously cut off the tongue of her child.

Her explanation was that the child told a woman she owed some money that she was around, even though according to her, she had warned the child to lie to the woman that she was not around. To her, she did it because she wanted the child to learn to keep her mouth shut at all times, since the child according to her, talked too much.

Causes of child abuse

No right thinking parent should subject a child to abuse because it is their obligation to take good care of the child. Parents always wish to be assured of the future of their children, before they leave them to fend themselves. After that, some say, they can die peacefully, with their aim of parenthood being accomplished.

Whenever a parent dies leaving the child orphaned, the only chance of the child being happy, is living with a good-hearted relative. However, if the child is not lucky enough, he or she ends up in the abode of pitiless people, and would have none, very little control or say, in what goes on around him or her. Orphaned children mostly fall prey to child abuse, since they have no one to count on, or to protect them.

In places where there are frequent occurrences of war especially Somalia, Sudan, Chad and other places of political instability, unfortunate children are captured and turned into child-soldiers. They are taken into horrifying situations and experiences, from which they turn out to have no sense of fear, or pity for human life. Though some resist, the only way out, most times, is death.

In Ghana people with difficulty in finances, especially in the rural areas, normally migrate to the urban centres seeking greener pastures. When the going gets tough, some naïve parents give their child to someone, with the intention of giving the child a better life or living environment. The very sad aspect is that these trusted people, usually engage the children in tedious work, prostitution, or activities which are not in consonance with the rights of the child.

A True Story

One might think it only happens in movies, but very wrong, it also happens in reality. Nana Kwame is what people know him to be called. He is about twelve years old.

Like any other child, he also has dreams of working in an office in future, though not certain about which job he will get into.

He, together with his father, lives at Nkwakaw in the Eastern Region. However it all begun when Kwame's father, decided to take him to his auntie, in Koforidua, to spend the holidays. During the holidays, a friend of his aunt came to visit and decided to take Kwame with her to Accra, so as to give him a better life, by taking him to school. His father on hearing this became happy, since he did not have enough money to take the child to school.

Nevertheless, all the promises the woman made ended being vice versa. For the woman needed a helping hand, someone who would serve, and take care of her children, who are a little bit older than Nana Kwame.

According to Nana Kwame, what he does all day, after the children had left for school, is work tediously. The pathetic aspect is that he does all that work on an empty stomach, and woe betides him if he complains. His survival lies in the help of neighbours, who noticed the ordeal he goes through. What really baffles the neighbours is, the little they give to him, is always thrown away by the woman, whenever she chances upon it.

Not long ago, she threw Nana Kwame out of the house, simply because he forgot to attend to all the domestic chores of the day. Pouring out his grief and pain, he expressed miserably that he sometimes spends the night outside, and has to go through the trauma of enduring excessive mosquito bites and the cold night weather.

According to neighbours - the majority of them noticed the maltreatment the woman gives to Nana Kwame, but do not have the courage to confront her, or report to the police - it is not their problem. They only had the opportunity to help him, when the woman finally threw him out of the house, over trivialities. She told him to go back to where he came from, but did not even give him any money for his transport, so the neighbours gave him money to go back to his home. What they kept on wondering was why Kwame's father never showed up to visit his son to see how he was doing, and are still wondering whether he had really reached home or not.

The Consequences

Though children endure much pain during abuse, it must be put in mind that the adverse effect of these abuses, normally depends on the future. Children who fall prey to these acts, more often than not, tend to engage in social vices. Some also grow up not knowing what parental love feels like, so extend the brutalities they went through, to their children.

Whenever a schooling child is frequently abused, the child finds it very difficult to concentrate in class, and always feels scared to go home, after school.

As a result, the child constantly ends up scoring very low grades, and having very low self-esteem. In general, children who are always abused, are always terrified, and often distance themselves from other children, finding it difficult to trust people.

An abused child, owing to the fact that there is no one to protect him, learns to defend himself at all times, sometimes leading to him becoming very violent and aggressive.

With the female, when care is not taken, they leave the house to practice prostitution, in order to fend for themselves, when they cannot find alternative work.

Taking the situation of Nana Kwame, if he is not really counseled, as to how to get into schooling successfully, through decent means, he will do nothing than to steal or take to crime, to try and continue his education, to get a better life in the future.

Drug abuse also sometimes factors, especially when children are absolutely out of proper adult supervision. Drugs are what they get themselves into, wrongfully thinking of it as a means of forgetting or dreaming away their predicament.

What are governments doing?

The government of Ghana, observing the plight of victims of various abuses, brought up the idea of a unit in the police force known as the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU), which was later changed to the Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), in 1998.

This unit works closely with the Department of Social Welfare, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and the Legal Aid. Apart from handling cases of domestic violence, juvenile offence and child delinquency, it also handles cases of child abuse.

When the situation calls for medical attention, they refer victims for medical care and counseling. Apart from that they also have clinical psychologists and counselors, who provide counseling free of charge.

The main idea behind the free services of the DOVVSU is to make the service available to all, so as to enable anybody with a complaint to launch a case.

DOVVSU is interested in enforcing the law, and protecting the communities against criminals, and not making criminals out of victims.

Conclusion

If we save the children it is emphatic that we are saving the future of the nation. Showing affection to children, no doubt, will enable them to develop affection for their fellow humans and the nation as well.