Very often, we hear cases of child abuse which include, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. It is worthy to note that most abused children have some sort of relationship with their abusers. The abusers are either, mothers, fathers, other members from nuclear and extended family and family friends including neighbours and caregivers.
Sexual abuse is one form of child abuse which is disheartening and usually characterized with silence.
Children who become victims of this social scourge are between the ages of one to ten; even some could be infants – a few months old. Some of these children who are abused might be at such a tender age that they cannot even talk about the pain and suffering inflicted upon them. Worse still, some children may be rendered mute as a result of the dastardly act. The other form of silence is the one that culture bestows on victims, “hush, don’t tell!”
The victim who is courageous enough to open up about the abuse and point out their accusers is told to “sshh.”“Don’t tell!” Sadly, the people who do the cover up and silence the child are their parents, caregivers, the abusers, or community leaders – the very adults that are duty bound to protect the children.
Parents must report sexual abuse against their children. Regardless of who the perpetrators are. Child abuse in any form must be condemned. Many child abuse victims do not come forward for fear that they will not be listened to, may be shunned or sometimes reprimanded.
The question really is – who protects the child?
The parents? Guardians? Teachers? Community? Society?
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a ‘child’ as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a country set the legal age for adulthood younger. “
Ghana has expressed commitment through the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2002, the commitment was re-affirmed by Commonwealth Countries stating that they will take action to promote and protect the rights of every child, every human being below the age of 18 years and ensure the wellbeing of all children.
Ghana, as a country, has a mandate to care for and protect the wellbeing of a child according to Article 28 of the Constitution which states that;
(c)Parents undertake their natural rights and obligation of care, maintenance and upbringing of their children in co-operation with such institutions as Parliament may, by law, prescribe in such manner that in all cases the interests of the children are paramount;
(d)Children and young persons receive special protection against exposure to physical and moral hazards;
(e) And the protection and advancement of the family as a unit of society safeguarded in promotion of the interest of children.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana, the Criminal Offences Act, and the Children’s Act are laws that protect the welfare and wellbeing of a child; the compliance of these laws, however, must be very strict.
These laws are there to punish the perpetrators. Parents, guardian, law enforcement organizations and society must see to it that offenders are indeed punished.
The primary onus is on parents to protect and care for the child.
Parents must know that any act of negligence or omission that causes harm to the child will constitute an offence.
In the 1918 English case of R v Gibbins & Proctor, the court held that where there is the duty to act, failure to do so can lead to liability even for murder if a necessary criminal intent is present.
The courts regarded the parent’s duty towards a young child as so self-evident as not to require analysis or authority.
At common law, a parent has a duty to act for the welfare of his child and, if harm is caused to the child by his/her failure to act, he/she may be criminally liable for the resulting harm.
When a child is brave enough to report sexual abuse, parents must act fast to get the child the needed help he deserves; the crime must be reported regardless of who the offender is. The child has fundamental rights and society must act in synergy to protect that child.
Some sections of society despise the talk on child abuse and are complicit in the blaming and silencing of those who are our most powerless and vulnerable.
The traditional society must not be allowed to live in alienation of the Constitution of the Republic- their actions must be subject to the laws of the land. No offender must be allowed to escape the law because of traditional beliefs. No criminal act must be condoned. The child must be protected by the laws of the land and every member of society has a role to play in caring and protecting the child.
Law enforcement officers must discharge their mandate in the most professional way without unnecessary delays. History in Ghana with regards to child abuse shows that the police especially have adopted a nonchalant attitude towards the arrest and prosecution of these social deviants. The police must promptly prosecute child abusers and publish in the media those who are convicted to act as notice and deterrent to the public.
Today, it might be Aunt Mansa’s child, tomorrow it might be your child.
The fight against child abuse requires collaboration and concerted efforts by all members of society. Individuals must report offences against children and support the victims and their families to fight through.
So, who protects the child?
You and I.
By Rita Agyen Takyi (Mrs.)