The latest from the Human Writers initiative, bringing original voices straight from the global neighbourhood direct to you, for free, no filter, no commercials, no corporate agenda, no BS.
Human Writers is an initiative of me, James Rose, and is featured for now on my blog www.randomaxmedia.blogspot.com.au. Hopefully a dedicated site to come soon.
This article on the harrowing situation for children with disabilities in Ghana thanks to Human Writer, Albert Oppong-Ansah
GHANA, WEST AFRICA
Three-year old John the Baptist, who hails from Gnani, a community in the Yendi Municipality of the Northern Region of Ghana, was born with a vein defect. At the age of two, John’s parents wrapped him in white cloths and left him beside a public refuse dump. His condition was bad because his neck and legs were fragile and could neither sit nor stand due to the vein defect.
John’s situation was not different from four-year old Makpato whose parents decided to kill her due to her inability to talk at the age of three.
What John and Makpato passed through is unfortunately the ordeal many children who are born with defects are subjected to in communities throughout the west African country of Ghana.
The common belief among some communities in the north of the country is that children born with deformities are “spirit children” who are evil or a taboo and are therefore not to be sheltered and looked after.
Extensive research conducted for this article indicates that such babies as have distinguishing features like, premature facial hair, pubic hair, double sex organs (hermaphrodites), protruding eyes, an abnormally large head or an inability to talk and walk after they hit three to six years are all susceptible to violent treatment, often by their own families.
It's not only children with physical deformities. Children who bear a societal stigma, such as those who constantly bite their mother’s breast during breast feeding, or who are born during famine or whose mothers die during delivery are also singled out in this way.
It is claimed that most of these children are killed or abandoned to their fate. In some instances, poisonous concoctions are forced down their throat after which, they are abandoned in a grove or forest to die.
The parents and relatives of these children have no say with regards to the killing of these children because it is a communal belief which, they were told, needed to be complied with.
Asked about the cause of such deformities, Dr Anthony Amankwah Amponsem, Paediatric Consultant at Tamale Teaching Hospital said genetic factors - such as congenital maternal disease and infections - the age of a mother, or radiation levels, as well as social habits like alcoholism, could affect the development of a fertilised ovum.
Most of the deformities occur during the first three months of the pregnancy during which most of the body organs are formed.
Birth defects could happen even if partners have no such history in their families or had given birth to healthy children in the past.
These defects, Dr Amponsah said could be prevented while some could be corrected if spotted early.
At the turn of the century, Ghana, along with 189 UN member countries adopted the Millennium Declaration that laid out the vision for a world of common values and renewed determination to achieve peace and decent standards of living for every man, woman and child.
Our nation was the first West Africa country that rectified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 in accordance with Article 49 of the UN Constitution.
Article 23, Clause One of this convention requires States Parties to recognise that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which ensure dignity; promote self-reliance and; facilitate the child's active participation in the community.
Clause Two states that, “States Parties recognise the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child's condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child”.
The third paragraph explains that “Recognising the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development .
On the national front, the Sub-Part I – Rights of the Child and Parental Duty of Ghana’s Children’s Act 1998 Act 560 enacted by Parliament spells out how a disabled child should be treated by the parent or care takers.
The section 10 clause (1) and (2) says: “No person shall treat a disabled child in an undignified manner. A disabled child has a right to special care, education and training wherever possible to develop his maximum potential and be self-reliant.”
The punishment for offenders of the regulation is that, “Any person who contravenes a provision of this Sub-Part commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢ (Cedi) 5 million (about $USD260) or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.”
A study conducted by the Ghana News Agency indicates that these laws are either not adhered to or implementation is weak.
An interview with the parents of one of the deformed victims at Wodando, a community close to Wapuli in the Chereponi District by this journalist revealed widespread belief in the long held tradition that if a “ spirit child” is not killed the entire village would suffer a curse.
This custom emboldens parents to harm their deformed children, says Rev. Fr Cletus Akosah who runs a charity for rescued children.
A girl who was the 13th child of her parents could not utter a word when she was growing up, compelling her mother to seek both medical and traditional means to deal with the situation.
“When I took her to Wapuli clinic the doctor who diagnosed her said she has frenulum between her tongue and the floor of her lower jaw, which hinder her speech. This has to be removed before she can speak.
“The doctor said my child is normal. There is nothing wrong with her,” said her mother.
She said after all efforts have been made to cure her child had failed, people were claiming that they see her in their dreams trying to harm them.
“I had to yield to the community’s tradition that my child is a spirit child and need to be killed or else my family would be banished from the community.”
Rev. Fr. Peter Jabaab Aoyaja of the Gnanie, Good Shepherd Rectorate, told the GNA that he had often threatened people who wanted to kill these children with police arrest.
Within six weeks he was able to rescue about four children from his area saying, “It is becoming alarming. The issue of killing children with a defect is serious; government should partner religious bodies and non-governmental organisations to curtail these practices as early as possible”.
Mr John Ankrah Regional Director of the Department of Social Welfare, in an interview with this journalist described the practice as child molestation and a denial of rights.
“This is the first time I am hearing of this issue and is not good in this 21st century. Even if children are deformed, they have the right to live.”
He said his outfit would source funding to embark on social education in the various communities, adding “my office does not even have a vehicle to go to the field”.
Mr Abdul-Razak Alhassan, Acting Regional Director of the Department of Child, reiterated that it is a criminal offence under the Child Act 560 and the UN Convention on Right of a Child for a parent, persons or group of persons to kill a child with defects in the name of beliefs and practices.
He called for synergy between the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, Department of Social Welfare, Department of Community Development and Department of Children that have the oversight responsibility of child protection to work effectively.
With regards to child’s growth and behaviour, Mr Alhassan Mustapha, a Psychology lecturer, at the Medical School of the University of Development Studies told this journalist that children who have deformities could exhibit signs of aggressiveness and may hate their parents and strangers as they grow. This may be explained by their treatment, he says.“This (behaviour) is because the communal bond with the family was cut off from such people throughout their life.”
About 30 of the social outcasts have been rescued and temporarily housed by one Rev. Sr. Stan Therese Mario Mumuni, at Sang, 70 miles from the Regional capital, Tamale.
She told GNA that, unfortunately, the home was almost full to capacity and there is little hope that many more children may be accommodated in the foreseeable future.
“The children are brought in almost every two to four weeks. I think no child must die because of crude custom but must live for Christ,” she said.
Chief Inspector Ebenezer Preprah, in-charge of DOVVSU in Yendi told this journalist that in an interview that the act of killing deformed children is a serious offence under Section 46 of the criminal code,and constitutes murder.
He said a person or any group of persons who flout this law commit a criminal offence punishable by death.“We have not had any official report yet and if we do an arrest will be affected,” he warned.
Albert works as a journalist with the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in the Northern Region of Ghana.He holds a Bachelors Degree in Psychology from the University of Ghana, Legon and a Diploma in Communication from the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, Ghana’s capital.He was adjudged the Best Human Rights (Focus on Child) Journalist of the Year in 2011 by the Ghana Journalist Association. In 2010 he was selected among the best five Environmental Journalists out 50 in Ghana and was sponsored to attend and report on at the 16th Conference of Parties on Climate Change of the UNFCC, Cancun, Mexico of by the British High Commission in Ghana, the World Bank and the Ghana Ministry of Environment Science and Technology.
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