Monday, March 5, 2007

No payoff for ignoring abuse

A grown man allegedly sexually abuses a little girl (or is “defiled,” the word they use here when referring to abuse of children). Rather than being arrested and prosecuted, the man pays off the little girl’s family and a local policeman.

A journalist brought up this story in a roundtable discussion at our recent workshop in Ho, a town in the Lake Volta Region. He had encountered three or four situations like this; they all ended in much the same way. He wanted to know how to write a story about what was happening, and it was difficult because no one would talk about it.

Since I arrived here six weeks ago, I’ve heard about many human rights violations that are not prosecuted, usually for two main reasons – poverty and stigmatization.

The case of the little girl is a typical example. Her family is very poor and could make good use of the money, the reporter said. The rape is also a great embarrassment to family. To be labeled a victim of abuse would affect her future marriage prospects, he said.

Police salaries are also low so the officer takes a cut and agrees not to pursue the case, which is in the best interests of the man but also the family that needs the money and doesn’t need the grief of this incident going public.

The same issues come up in other cases involving rights, like child trafficking for example. The families are often very poor and need the money selling the child brings to them. It also saves the family the expense of feeding and schooling the child.

In cases where they are rescued and reintegrated into their families, they are often ridiculed by other kids. Being trafficked means their family is poor, a stigma none of them want to carry around.

We encountered this scenario when we went to a town called Sogacope several weeks ago. A couple of kids didn’t show up for an interview about child trafficking because they didn’t want to be identified in a newspaper circulated in the community.

Nonetheless, these issues are important and need to be discussed in a public forum or they will not be addressed. In our group discussion around the little girl who was abused, we talked about ways he could report about the story. For example, he could offer anonymity to family that agreed to talk about their situation. If he included no details that could identify them, they could feel reasonable safe that their privacy would be protected.

The reporter was still unsure about pursuing the story. I plan to check back in with him in a few weeks. I’ll file an update if he’s made any progress on it.

- Mark


Jack said...

That's a tough call for the child and the reporter.
S/he would not wish to cause the child any more grief because of the family's reaction to a story in the local paper. Then again how does one address the issue without public awareness. I'd imagine that a lot more has to be done besides a newspaper article.
Is this so ingrained in the society that it has become acceptable or even profitable?
Certainly a anonymous interview with those involved would be a safe bet but will that do anything to curb the practice? I think not.
It would seem that the only way to deal with it would be to identify the culprit and shame him within the community. But that might mean identifying the child and her family. How can you get around that?
How about an article in the newspaper dealing with the issues mentioned? The reporter could ask for suggestions from the community about how to deal with this type of practice. These could be anonymous if the person so wished. Then an analysis of the suggestions could be reported. Who knows? Maybe some folks have been thinking about it for years but haven't had a vehicle to publicize their views.
At least this would bring it out in the open without having to name names initially.

Good luck with your suggestions.

Janet & Mark in Ghana said...

I think all of your suggestions and questions are good ones. A story or series of stories won't solve the problem, but it will make the community aware of the problem and create a discussion, a step toward finding a solution. It's not an accepted practice here; they've even had succesful prosecutions in certain communities. From time to time, I come upon news stories about court cases. It's just that many of the cases go unreported because of the reasons you and I have both cited. I'll pass along your thoughts to the reporter when I hear from him. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. - Mark