Child Abuse is defined by Wikipedia as physical, sexual and psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or a caregiver.
It may also include any act or failure to act by a parent or caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child, which can occur in either a the home, an organisation, school or community where the child interacts with people.
Though most countries are signatories to several international child rights conventions, many unsuspecting children around the globe continue to experience torture, inhumane treatments and worst forms of human rights abuses.
A UNICEF Child Protection Baseline Research report indicates that when children were asked about their experiences of physical discipline, over 57 per cent of respondents (aged 14-17 years) said they were beaten at home “all the time” or “sometimes”, while 34 per cent confirmed being beaten in school by the teacher in the last month.
This appear to be the case for both girls and boys in rural and urban areas.
The cost of child abuse remain enormous, which include short-term consequences such as medical issues and the need for social welfare interventions, while long term consequences comprise physical disability, absence in school and psychological impact on the child.
Ghana is no exception as girls and boys in the country still experience frequent and multiple forms of physical, emotional and verbal abuse as well as
UNICEF estimates that the financial burden of child abuse on Ghana hovers around US$200 million per year or one per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the estimated total number of children physically or emotionally abused is 3.4 million.
Experience of 11-year old Godfred Gyamfi
The experience of Godfred Gyamfi, an 11-year-old class-four pupil of Sarah Donkor Preparatory School at Goka in the Jaman North District of the Bono Region, is a very sad one. He looks quiet and very uncomfortable in class, and while other school children play during break, he is always moody and reserved.
Though intelligent, the academic performance of Gyamfi started to decline for reasons only known to him.
“The weird and unusual behaviour he always exhibited during school hours attracted my attention,” Mr Enoch Afram, the Head Teacher, said in an interview with the Ghana News Agency.
“I put my arms around his neck and engaged him in conversation. Though he was reluctant to speak, he later opened up to me when I persuaded him to do so. It was then that I realised the ordeals of Gyamfi at the hands of his uncle, Kwaku Carpenter.”
Gyamfi’s story is a very sad one because most of the wounds at his back looked fresh with several scars on other parts of his body.
Narrating his ordeal to the GNA, Gyamfi said his uncle, flogged him severally with a belt hook and denied him food at the least provocation.
“One day it was like hell on earth, when I left my bag in school. My uncle locked me up, flogged me repeatedly and denied me food and water. I screamed and the shouts attracted people in the vicinity who came to my rescue,” he said.
“Since that time my uncle threw me out of the house and I perched with friends who provided me with meals and shelter until my mother heard the news and came for me,” he said in low tone.
Though Gyamfi currently lives happily with his mother at Asri, a village in the District, he is worried he could not achieve his dream of becoming a medical doctor because of the situation at the village.
The Head Teacher, Mr Afram, however, told the GNA he had reported the incident to the Goka Police, who had subsequently referred the matter to the Berekum Office of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU).
He said Kwaku Carpenter, who was arrested, had since been granted bail and expressed dissatisfaction over the way DOVVSU was handling the matter.
The Way Forward
Describing child abuse as a worst form of human rights abuse, Ms Beatrice Korsah, the Bono Regional Director of DOVVSU, appealed for public support to prevent its occurrence in the region.
Child abuse, she explained, is gaining alarming proportions in the region, coupled with the job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making some parents to neglect or abuse their children, leading to delinquency.
Ms Korsah, who could not immediately provide statistics on cases of child abuse, said: “We are handling several cases where spouses have now separated because of job losses. In most of these cases many men are unable to provide for the needs of their families. So they start the confusion, go their separate ways and children face the brunt”.
She said DOVVSU required the support from neighbours, friends or relations to help identify, address and rescue children from human rights abuse and sexual violence.
Commenting on the topic, Mrs Joycelyn Adii, the Bono Regional Director of the Department of Gender, said early/forced marriages were other abuses inimical to the growth and development of the girl-child.
That, she added, was a serious crime punishable by law and urged community members to be watchful, report cases to the Department so that perpetrators would be apprehended and prosecuted accordingly.
Ghana could make a headway in fighting child abuse if caning at homes and in school were discouraged for equally effective alternatives that can correct the child.
There is also the need for the government to allocate enough resources to relevant public institutions to intensify preventive campaigns against child abuse and tackle the challenges in all spheres.
The nation ought to build the capacity of key actors, including social workers, teachers, police prosecutors and the courts to position them well to respond professionally to cases of child abuse.
As the embodiment of the people, traditional authorities have key roles to play to stamping out cultural practices that inhibit victims of child abuse from openly coming out to report such cases.