Silandre, a community in need

“Silandre” (meaning ‘Seven Shillings’ in the local dialect) is one of the difficult- to- reach communities in the Agotime-Ziope District of the Volta Region. It is about 45 minutes’ drive from Kakadedzi Junction on the Ziope-Aflao road, but one could use two hours to get there by vehicle on a rainy day.

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The road is rugged and narrow, a bicycle lane at best, and only one vehicle can use it at a time. The drill is that if you are fortunate to be the only vehicle on the road, you would have to be beeping your horns throughout the journey in order not to run into motorbikes, which are regular on the road.

The community, largely forested, has very fertile agricultural land with large acreages of cassava, groundnuts and maize farms beckoning visitors to the village.

Silandre does not have a Community-based Health Planning Services (CHPS) Compound and potable drinking water, not to talk about formal education, but the people look very happy and healthy and appear to be enjoying life, shuttling between the farm and the homesteads.

A worrying spectacle however, is the number of teenage mothers in the relatively small community. Child marriage appears to be entrenched in the traditional set-up there, such that once a girl is pregnant the families impress upon her to get married to the boy or man responsible to ensure her future security.

UNICEF defines child marriage as “a formal marriage or union before 18 years of age.”

Ghana, according to the “Legal Literacy series on early and forced marriage and gender based violence” manual, is said to have one of the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world, with Volta Region coming fourth in the country with 33 per cent prevalence of teenage girls getting into marriage before age 18.

Volta Region comes after Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions, in that order.

A high percentage of young girls between the ages of 12 and 15 years in Silandre have given birth and given out in marriages.

Quite a number of the teenage mothers have twins, and most of the children are not in school because of the distance between the community and neighbouring Vodime, where a basic school is located.

Vodime itself has a bigger problem. The town is arguably a “teenage mothers’ village”, where childbirth seems to be a fashion for teenagers. The trend is for teenagers with three or more children in the community to relocate to Ziope or Kpetoe with one or two children leaving the others with their grandparents.

Togbui Lavoe Kpatsa Mankrado V, Chief of Silandre and Vodime lamented that the two communities were gradually becoming homes to teenage mothers with girls and boys dropping out of school before age 15, and graduating as parents and farmers.

He said there was competition among young boys and girls for farm lands with no interest in formal education.

Togbui Kpatsa Mankrado said interestingly, after childbirth the teenage parents are unable to cater for the children, putting pressure on the grandparents to struggle to extend support to the teenage mothers and their babies.

Mary Goku, 75, a mother of three, at Silandre said though she married at age 25, she suffered in taking care of her children and wondered how the teenage mothers in marriages were managing the situation.

Ironically, at Kakadedzi Junction, a 55-year-old man who was carrying his sick twin daughters with three other children in tow was happy his 20-year-old wife gave him twins, saying “I married her because it is in their family. They always give birth to twins. Her mother has twins, her sister too and I’m happy we have our own.”

Such cases are predominant in the South Tongu District too, with teenage mothers going into hazardous jobs to take care of their children and the home.

At Dokploame in South Tongu, some 29 kilometres from Sogakope, the District capital, teenage mothers are on the increase with many struggling to remain in school while they still work on the farm.

Seventeen-year-old Mamavi (not her real name), a teenage mother and a pupil of Dorkploame Basic School works on two farms located about three kilometres away from the community every morning before trekking to school, so she could take care of her three-year-old baby, her husband and her 10-year-old younger brother.

Her husband Kudzo, 18, and a school drop -out, got Mamavi, now in Junior High School form three, two cassava and one maize farms under a share-cropping arrangement to supplement what they could get from their own vegetable and yam farms.

Dreary looking Mamavi is under stress to allocate the limited time for her baby, the farm jobs, the school and the home, thereby often missing the first two and last lessons to be able to attend to her baby at home and to visit the farms.

Mamavi said she picked a boyfriend at age 13 to help with chop money when her father died in 2008 and her mother’s new husband threw her and her younger brother out of the house.

The teenage mother, then in class five, moved in with her 15-year-old boyfriend, now turned husband, who got her pregnant with promises of shelter and feeding.

Mamavi told the Ghana News Agency she wished she could get someone to adopt her and her child, so she could further her education. “Getting married at that age was a necessary evil”, she said.

“My baby, my farm. I want to be a dressmaker after school but my farm, my baby; nobody to help,” she sobbed.

In the district capital Sogakope, and another Sokpoe which is a suburb, a good number of teenage mothers have taken to hawking with many exhibiting difficulties in taking care of their children, strapped helplessly on their back.

Many of them sell deep into the night with some reportedly sleeping in structures around the Customs barrier, where they sell.

There are also reports of vehicles running over a few, killing them instantly and some getting maimed.

A 14-year-old primary six pupil who is six months pregnant and cohabiting with her 16-year-old fisherman husband, said she depends on the benevolence of her siblings and parents or sell for people at the Barrier to be able to eat.

Investigations by GNA reveal that most victims of child marriage in the South Tongu District are staying with their grandparents who are mostly unable to provide basic needs for the girls, including decent sleeping places.

Further checks indicate that in most cases, the biological parents of those girls have relocated to Accra, Lome, Abidjan and Lagos and hardly show interest in the upkeep of the teenagers they have left in the care of their grandparents.

Consequently, the girls find comfort with young guys in the community who are into petty trading and commercial motorbike businesses, leading to early child marriages.

Mr Moses Kakaw, District Director of the Department of Social Welfare and Community Development noted that the situation was gradually becoming a culture with some elderly persons not seeing anything wrong with the trend.

Opinion leaders in the communities do not seem to know about the Children’s Act, 1998, Act 560, which states that a parent who deprives a child of his or her access to ‘education, immunisation, adequate diet, clothing, shelter, medical attention or any other thing required for his/her development’, ‘Commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ¢5 million or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both.’

Violence and Sexuality

Cursory observations indicate that a good number of victims of child marriage in the communities are experiencing marital rape, with visible signs of post-traumatic stress and depression, possibly owing to sexual abuse.

The girls also lack the courage to talk to their husbands about contraceptives or discuss when to have children and the number, with high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, malaria and cervical cancer among others.

Madam Commend Akpeloo, Executive Director of Seek to Save Foundation, a non-governmental organization working on child marriage issues in South Tongu, Central Tongu, Akatsi North and South Districts, with support from UNICEF, said such cases were on the rise in remote communities and called for support for adolescent reproductive health education.

She said her outfit rescued a few teenage mothers who dropped out of school and re-enrolled them. It is also helping girls in early marriages to do family planning to be able to take care of their children and themselves.

Madam Akpeloo whose NGO established District Advocacy Committees in the four districts to identify child marriage cases for redress, said her outfit was also seeking support to train victims of child marriage in employable skills so they could establish themselves financially.

Mr Edmond Fingero-Dickah, Leader of an Advocacy Committee in South Tongu said their campaign is mostly targeted at boys and men who he described as “major stakeholders” for attitudinal change.

Irrespective of these efforts, it seems successes chalked by the International Labour Organization and International Needs (IN)-Ghana in reducing the incidence of street hawking in the South Tongu District between 2006 and 2009 are being negated.

The District office of Social Welfare must therefore be equipped to carry out regular sensitisation to keep girls in school and off the streets and the farms.

District Assemblies

Unfortunately, the issue doesn’t appear to be on the priority list of many Assemblies, whose main focus is on infrastructure development and not investment in the human resource of the districts.

Regrettably, some District Chief Executives do not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation as they see the problems as the responsibility of individual families.

South Tongu for instance is arguably getting notoriety for being child-unfriendly, with the District known for child cattle herding, child fishing and child trafficking, a bad image the Assembly must work to redeem.

District Assemblies are in fact enjoined by the Children’s Act to protect the welfare and promote the rights of children within their areas. It is therefore prudent for the Assemblies to partner relevant institutions and NGOs to work towards the prevention of child marriages, the rescue of victims of child marriages and their reintegration into society by either putting them back in school or equipping them with employable skills to break the vicious cycle the situation has now assumed.

Hopefully, such concerted efforts could see some victims of child marriage successfully completing senior and technical education or skills training and making meaningful contributions to the local economy.

The strategy of “prevent, rescue and reintegrate” under the ILO project appears to have worked quite successfully and must be revisited and sustained by the District Assemblies to keep girls in school and end the incidence of child marriages.

GNA

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