It gives me great pleasure to be part of the launch of this historic movement to end child abuse in Ghana. This campaign seeks to drive and shift the attention of Ghanaians to the best child raising practices. I believe that this is the best time to begin this campaign to ensure that children in Ghana receive the best of care, support and love. The time is now.
Your Excellency, Child abuse is any intentional or unintentional act to harm a child within relationships of responsibility, trust or power. It happens when a child is hurt or put in danger and it is not an accident, but deliberate. Many children in Ghana suffer too many abuses be it physical, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological and sexual. This does not speak well with us. Even though we are gradually improving and trying to create an enabling environment for children, the statistics do not depict a good and desired situation for Ghana. About 33% of children in Ghana are said to have been sexually abused. This includes rape, molestation, touching of private parts, watching pornography, the use of inappropriate language, and dirty jokes. According to the 2014 Demographic Health Survey (DHS), on the average, 1 out of 5 girls in Ghana is married before their 18th birthday. In other words, the percentage of girls between 20-24 years who were married or in a union by the age 18 is 21% nationally.
The 2014 DHS again reports that, 14% of girls aged 15 to 19 years had begun having children. About 29% of children under 5 years do not have birth certificates whiles 22% of children aged 5 to 14 years are engaged in child labour. Children aged 2 – 14 years who experience violent discipline is 94%.
Why these abuses still happen in our country Ghana 60 years on in spite of all the laws, policies and International Protocols signed and the advocacy against child labour is a challenge for us all, to collectively resolve to stop.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is because of the socio-cultural norm that we hold on to as a people. Cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behaviour, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it.
For instance, cultural acceptance of violence as a usual part of nurturing a child in the name of discipline, is a risk factor for all types of violence. There is an example of a parent who dipped her child’s hand in hot oil for steeling meat; another also decides to starve the child for the whole day as a form of punishment. Though I total condemn stealing by any child, it is unacceptable to harm your child and I seriously condemn that.
In many parts of the country, female children are valued less in society than males; female children are considered to have less social and economic potential; children have a low status in society and within the family; physical punishment is an acceptable or normal part of disciplining a child; communities adhere to harmful traditional cultural practices such as genital mutilation, putting a child’s hand in hot soup, starving the child, beating the child etc; lack of enforcement of laws and lack of prosecution; and poor monitoring and evaluation also adversely affect our quest to provide our children a very safe environment.
Even though there are outlets for addressing child abuse in Ghana, there is a lack of safe and trusted ways to report. In many instances, various forms of abuse against children are not reported because it is widely accepted and seen as normal. From the adult point of view, the Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service and the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) may provide safe and trusted ways of reporting but from the child’s point of view, these institutions seem intimidating and not child friendly. For instance, the child is faced with the problem of reporting one adult to another adult, who may see the child as being too outspoken and could even be hostile. In addition, children are often afraid to report abuse because of the shame they feel about it or the possible consequences for themselves and others. These issues make violence against children a hidden problem in Ghana.
Your Excellency, a lot of the child abuse cases reported to DOVVSU or DSW indicate that the vast majority of violence is carried out by people who are part of children’s lives, usually known and trusted by them. These include parents (may be biological or other), relatives, teachers, instructors, law enforcement officials, social workers, and employers. Strangely, these are persons children usually place their trust in, and yet turn out to be the same persons who turn out to abuse them.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have to rise up to the occasion and unite as Ghanaians Against Child Abuse. In order to address issues of violence, certain steps have to taken. These include policy formulation, establishment and strengthening of institutions, programmes and projects by MDAs, research, and civil society involvement in publicity and reporting.
Ghana has reformed its legislative framework extensively since 1992 to cover areas that relate to child abuse. The passage of the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 650), The Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) (Revised Edition) and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2003 (Act 653) are examples of the Government of Ghana’s commitment to improve the legislative environment to reduce violence against children and other young people. However, in spite of the legislative initiatives made to suppress child abuse, a lot of children still face varying degrees of abuse in Ghana. This is because change in legislation does not necessarily guarantee social and behavioural changes, especially in an instance where the changes are not backed by public and professional education.
Much more work needs to be done to change people’s attitudes, perceptions and actions regarding the appropriate or suitable kinds of corrective measures to apply in situations where children need to be corrected.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in furtherance to the improvement in the protection environment of the child, Government has formulated complementary policies. In terms of violence against children, the policy environment in Ghana is very conducive owing to the steps taken by government and its partners, the current ones being the Child and Family Welfare Policy, Justice for Children Policy, National Social Protection Policy etc. These policies have clearly outlined government’s commitment towards ensuring that a conducive environment is created for all children in Ghana and the Ministry is going a step further by making these policies more accessible by making them available in some local dialects and in audio.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as government, we believe that, we can rise up against child abuse by using 3 major approaches. In the first place, we can end child abuse by enforcing our policy and Legislative frameworks to ensure that the minimum standards are set and adhered to. This also means that stiffer punishments to be given to perpetrators to deter others from engaging in similar acts.
The second approach is by improving services and infrastructure for children as we strengthen institutions as well.
Thirdly, by seeking to change the behaviour of both duty bearers i.e. those who have the responsibility to protect the children, and claim holders e.g. children and the vulnerable, in order to ensure compliance to the provisions of laws, policies and best practices.
I am happy to say that, we have a robust Policy and legislative framework and to further strengthen them, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection is currently undertaking an important exercise to review all child related laws in the country for effective child protection.
The institutional, service and infrastructural development is also ongoing.
The 3rd aspect is what we seek to achieve with the launch of this social drive to help change behaviour of society towards children.
We are hoping that, with a change of behaviour, all socio-cultural norms that enforce the abuse of children in our society will all be eliminated.
I am particularly happy that the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has partnered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to bring behavioural and social change to all Ghanaians by the use of both traditional and social media platforms.
Your Excellency, what we seek to achieve ultimately with the Ghanaians Against Child Abuse movement is to mobilize communities, families and individuals across our country to stand against all forms of child abuse. This call to action is for parents to be committed to ensuring a safer Ghana for our children. We invite everyone to become a Ghanaian Against Child Abuse. Become a GACA. – I Otiko Afisah Djaba, I am a GACA.
It is time we all join hands to raise the awareness for every Ghanaian to understand that child abuse in any form is unacceptable in our society Ghana, 60 years on and to put children first and leave nobody behind or out.
Long live the children of Ghana! Long live Ghana!