Child rights: The law, barriers and the realities
Domestic violence remains the most hidden form of violence in the country as sexual violence or abuse meted out on children tend to be condoned under certain religious beliefs and cultural practices, contrary to the United Nations (UN) Conventions on the Rights of the Child.
Domestic violence including sexual abuse, defilement and rape usually takes place within a home setting or community, but the barriers including cultural and religious beliefs, perceptions, logistical constraints or poverty and failure of the systems put in place by the state to uphold the rights of children who fall victims to violence make it extremely difficult for such acts to be reported for the appropriate action.
Whiles some parents refuse to report defilement or incest of their girl children because of financial constraints and bureaucracies associated with pursuing such matters legally, threats from families, community, the church and opinion leaders, which forms the basis of cultural and religious beliefs cannot be overlooked.
Challenges One of the key barriers that many parents of victims who have been defiled have expressed concern is the payment of medical endorsement fees, The medical endorsement is a report obtained from medical facilities, which confirms that a child had been defiled or someone has been raped and the extent of damage the victim had suffered from the act, it’s a key component in the prosecution’s evidence.
It will be recalled that an online portal, The Ghana Report reported unpleasant news on May 10th 2020, that a suspect who defiled a seven-year-old girl at Agona-Nyakrom in the Central Region had been freed because the victim’s poor parents could not raise Gh¢ 200.00 to pay for the medical endorsement fees at the Agona Swedru Government Hospital, to facilitate prosecution.
A young mother of 27 years, Yaa Tiwa (not real name) who narrated how her 11-year-old class five pupil was abused by a 45-year-old farmer in their community. She said against all odds, she reported it to the Police since it was the second time the suspect had sexually abused her daughter.
“I had to abandon the case because after making a report and given police medical form to go to the hospital, I was asked to pay Ghc300.00 for the medical endorsement fee”, she said.
The woman revealed that in the process of finding justice for her daughter, she came across three other women whose children have been defiled and in their quest to pursue justice, suffered a similar fate, because they could not afford to pay Gh¢ 300.00 for the medical endorsement fee and did not have the needed logistics to go through the long and frustrating process of finding justice for their poor children who have been traumatized and oftentimes, damaged beyond repairs.
In other instances, cultural beliefs and settling of these cases at home in blatant disregard for the Domestic Violence Act and the Convention on the Rights of Children have resulted in many children being abused for long and suffering the emotions and trauma.
A Koforidua Circuit Court in March this year, sentenced a 42-year-old Security Officer of the Attorney General’s Department to 30 years imprisonment for having sex with her own daughter from age 14. The victim who was staying with her father complained severally to the grandmother (mother of her father) about her father having continuous sex with her.
Surprisingly, anytime she made the complaint, the grandmother consoled her and asked her not to tell anyone, because it was a disgrace to the family and that she would talk to him the father.
Years went by and the father continued to have sex with her daughter, unable to bear it, the victim who was lucky to gain admission to a Senior High School, reported the abuse to the School’s Chaplain who had noticed that the victim was not of herself.
The victim thought she could confide in the Chaplain with the hope that, the law would take its course, but that was not the case.
The Chaplain informed the headmaster of the School who only invited the father and his mother to a meeting and cautioned him to stop the act.
For six years, the young girl suffered this inhuman act from her own father all in the name of culture and the people she trusted and reported to for help, failed to act.
Though the father has been jailed, the victim is traumatized and still bitter that her grandmother and her School Chaplain failed to act, perhaps, if they had acted according to the law, which enjoins them to protect the rights of children against abuse, the father couldn’t have continued to subject her through that ordeal for six years.
A mother of five children, in Koforidua, caught her husband having sex with their eight-year-old daughter, confused and traumatized at it, the mother called a friend who advised her to make a Police report for a medical form to be issued. In her confused state and whiles preparing to go to the Police Station, her mother and sisters-in-law came to the house to intervene, pleading with her to let them settle the matter amicably.
This innocent woman had no choice but to listen to them. In the course of the week, a family meeting presided over by the family head was held and it was concluded that the father should compensate her daughter with a crate of eggs, a crate of soft drinks and the mother with a half piece GTP cloth, a crate of eggs and an amount of Gh¢ 200.00 to appease her soul.
Months later, the victim reported to her mother that her father has had sex with her again.
The same family came in as usual and settled the matter. This time around, the victim was taken away from the parents to stay with an Aunt to prevent the father from having access to her.
These heartbreaking stories are the realities on the ground as against the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Children, an agreement by countries including Ghana that have promised to protect the rights of children. Article 19 of the Conventions says: “Government should ensure children are protected from all forms of physical and mental illness, injury or abuse, neglect and exploitation”, but one will ask if this is being done? Statistics show that in 2017, the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service recorded a total of 790 cases of defilement as against 307 cases of rape. In 2019, a total of 1, 270 defilement cases were recorded while rape cases stood at 369.
Statistics also show that 667 domestic violence cases including 44 defilement cases were reported at the four lockdown affected areas in some parts of Greater Accra, Central and Greater Kumasi in 2020.
Globally, Amnesty International has reported that over 3, 600 defilement and rape cases were recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria whiles in the Central African Republic, 60 cases of conflict-related sexual violence including defilement and rape, forced child marriage and sexual slavery cases were recorded between June-October 2020.
Police Superintendent Florence Anaman, Eastern Regional DOVVSU Commander, at one of the Regional Multisectoral Child Protection Committee meetings in Koforidua called for measures to scrap the medical endorsement fees in defilement and rape cases to ensure that such cases were pursued to the logical conclusions.
She said quite often, parents and guardians whose daughters have been defiled after reporting the case to the police do not come back again due to their inability to pay for the medical endorsement fees, adding that, “these medical fees are really a burden on both the Police and the parents whose children have been abused and we must find an urgent solution it”.
Reports from the DOVVSU suggests that many of these defilement and rape cases occur in the rural areas, to vulnerable children of less privileged parents who find it difficult to bear the costs of initiating the process for justice and in many cases, the few who try to pursue the matter are challenged by members of the public to abandon the process.
Mr Emmanuel Dartey, Eastern Regional Director, Department of Children of the Ministry of Children, Gender and Social Protection in an interview with the GNA said the Regional state institutions mandated with child protection lacked the funds and logistics to fulfil that mandate, leading to infractions on the regulations, which protected the interest of children such as home settling of domestic violence cases particularly defilement.
As part of the strategies to uphold the rights of children against all forms of abuse, Mr Dartey said the Department of Children was supposed to set up Child Protection Committees (CPC) in all the districts and even communities within the Region, “however, due to the lack of funds and logistics, we have only a few of these committees established”.
The CPCs are made up of stakeholders and influential people in the districts such as Police, social welfare workers, teachers, assembly members, queen mothers and NGOs with a focus on child protection and ensure that the rights of children are upheld in all circumstances according to the law and also sensitise communities on child abuse.
According to the Regional Director, it was a criminal offence for anybody including queen mothers, Assembly members, opinion leaders and any other group of persons to attempt to settle defilement cases at home irrespective of who was involved. Rather, “their role should be how to aid vulnerable victim’s to report and allow the law to take its course”.
Mr Dartey, described the endorsement fee as a huge barrier thwarting efforts of all stakeholders working in the area of child protection, adding that, defilement cases were rising especially in the rural areas and among vulnerable children and the barriers continue to prevent such cases to be determined by the law.
He said in pursuance to removing all barriers against child protection, the Department of Children recognized the medical endorsement fee as a huge barrier in upholding the rights and protection of children and have, therefore, raised issues at the Ministry level for the endorsement fee to be scrapped to boost the system for ultimate protection and justice to children who have been abused.
It should not be too much for the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection in collaboration with other state agencies such as the DOVVSU and the Ghana Health Service, to find a more accommodating measure other than the medical endorsement fees in matters of sexual abuse against children.
Again, reporting such heinous crime must be made easy, for the poor and underprivileged mother’s whose daughters has been defiled, the threats and pressure from families and community leaders against women who take the bold steps to allow the laws to work, must stop and that calls for strict implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, which criminalises such practice. Crime against children especially the girl child needs to become a heavy burden on the perpetrators and nothing should stand in the way of punishing men who commit such atrocious acts.
They are a threat to the harmony of the entire society and the girl child must live abuse and harassment-free to explore their potentials.