Fighting violence discipline against children in Ghana
Emmanuel Holortu sees some of the worst cases of violence against children – when discipline goes to the extreme. Mr Holortu is the head of the Domestic Violence and Victim’s Support Unit in Tamale. His duty is to protect children in Northern Region against abuse in all its forms. UNICEF has supported the unit to develop a national database of reported child abuse cases, as well as training of their staff. The unit is also a key stakeholder in the child protection systems strengthening process, supported by UNICEF. Emmanuel speaks to UNICEF about his role.
TAMALE, Ghana, August 2013 – "Violence is thought to be normal here – it is believed that children need to be trained and controlled, and that they will learn from the pain they receive. We’ve had cases where children are punished for stealing 10 pesewas (5 cents) by having their fingers cut with a blade. Other children have been burnt with an iron or beaten with an electric cable whip. Sometimes, ground chili is put into the wounds. The correcting goes overboard."
Ghana has one of the highest rates of violent discipline against children in the world. A comparison of Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey results from nearly 50 countries between 2005-2010 places Ghana in 12th place in relation to violent discipline*, affecting close to 90% of children (Child Disciplinary Practices at Home, 2010).
"Often in the abuse cases we deal with, children have been sent by their biological parents to be fostered by their relatives. It is a cultural tradition. We had a case this month of a four-year-old girl who was brought from Niger to stay with her Aunty. Concerned neighbours reported the case. When we found her, she had a black eye. We took her away from the home, placed her in the social welfare home and have worked to find her mother in Niger. Just four days ago, I handed her over at the Ghana border to one of our partners NGOs who will re-integrate her with her family.
"Children rarely report abuse. It is mostly concerned neighbours. I would estimate that only a quarter of abuse cases are reported to the police. Most of these are reported anonymously over the phone to the police or sometimes people call the FM radio stations. People don’t like the matter to come before the courts. We mostly try to rescue the child from the situation and re-integrate them with their biological family. Children need encouragement so that their potential is realized. If they are constantly abused, you shut the door to that expression. The child’s self-esteem is blackened. They are affected emotionally, physically and socially.
"Our education system needs to teach emotional control. A lot of people lose their emotional control. It’s also cultural. Those in authority hold command and you can’t talk against them even if they are doing wrong. In the family, the father is the strongest and children don’t have a voice. We run sessions in communities and schools to talk about violence and abuse. Often people don’t know that they can report violence to the police. With this sensitization, we are recording more cases. People must know: The law will take you on."
* Violent discipline includes shaking the child, hitting or slapping on the head or elsewhere, hitting with a hard object, and beating repeatedly. Psychological aggression includes yelling at the child and calling them offensive names (such as ‘dumb’ or ‘lazy’).