Sunday, May 27, 2007

Family law

She was only eight years old when her family decided that she was a witch, and banished her to the goat pen in the back yard. She lived there, tied to a post, until she was rescued by an NGO 10 years later. She is in the care of the NGO now and the parents have not been prosecuted for what they did to her.

Most Ghanaians believe in witchcraft, that women and girls are capable of casting spells that do harm to others. And even though the Ghanaian constitution guarantees children a right to a healthy and happy life - shelter, education, et cetera - there are traditional beliefs and practices that are still considered OK here. In the little girl's case, people may be sympathetic for her situation and be happy to see her safely in the hands of an NGO, but they would also sympathize with the parents' fear that she may be a witch capable of doing harm.

The same is true of child labour, the subject of some of our blogs in the past few months. More than 20 children who had been sold into slavery by their families were recently rescued by the International Migration organization, and returned home. Even though the parents broke the law they will not be prosecuted either.

We discussed both of these cases at a workshop in Cape Coast, which is ironically the site of one of the former slave castles (see "Door of No Return," March 13).

Renee and I told our Ghanaian colleagues we were puzzled that parents were allowed to get away with treating their kids this way. There are laws against what they're doing. Why is the country so reluctant to punish them, we wondered.

Most of the reporters in the room confirmed the widespread belief that people sympathized with the parents and did not want to see them go to jail for what they did. People believe witches exist, so while the parents behaviour seems cruel to outsiders it fits with country's traditional belief system. There is a witch camp up north where women are sent to live if they are deemed to be witches. It's difficult to find people here who don't believe in them, even in urban centres like Accra.

As hard as I try to see things from their point of view, I'm very disturbed by what happened to the little girl, and by the mere existence of the witch camp.

I find it difficult, though, to outright condemn child labour. I don't like it, of course, but there don't seem to be any real solutions. The problem is rooted in poverty, not the parents' irresponsibility or lack of love for their children. They sell their kids to work on farms, in the fishery, or as servants because they are poor. They can't afford to feed them or send them to school, and though the government has banned child trafficking they aren't doing anything to help lift the families out of poverty. In many cases, children rescued and returned home ending up being sold again.

- Mark

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark and Janet,
It is hard to beleive what these people have to go through. Especially when we live here. I find it even hard to imagine. It must be hard for you to see this.

Love, Mummy and Daddy