Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Ghana knows that it is a land of great contradiction. The locals scrub their white fête attire with Omo and bleach until it glistens whiter than the driven snow, and then hang the clothing to dry with the ground littered with rubbish just below. It is a land blessed with immense natural wealth while the majority of its citizenry is cursed with extreme poverty. Every campaign season the government touts slogans chanting that the “youth are our future!” and encourage everyone to “invest in Ghana’s vast human resources”. In the meanwhile, Ghana’s children are cowed into submission with a cane in its classrooms (if they are so lucky to go to school), or sent hawking wares on the street to support themselves and family (if they are not). Ghanaians spend anywhere between $5 – 10,000 to bury their dead, and let their children go to school without books and in tattered uniforms. Ghana proudly purports her slogan “Freedom and Justice for all” on seals and billboards, and yet sadly, that “Freedom” is for “Just Us”…a select few in the upper echelons of society.
Yes, Ghana, much as I love her, is a land of many sad contradictions, and no where is this more evident than in the way children are treated in this country. Of all the issues facing children right now, the one that pains me the most is the issue of rape and molestation that goes under reported and more scarily, swept under the rug as though it never happened.
It’s estimated that some six to seven thousand children will face some sort of sexual assault in Ghana every year. I believe the number is much higher, because these are only the reported cases. In many instances, if there is in fact a report made, the police work is so shoddy and bungled that it hardly makes it worth the effort. Officers are not trained to ask follow up questions. The victim is issued a “medical form” from the police station and then sent to the hospital to have an examination. Sometimes, police officers have to be bribed to even take a look into the case. If the victim is lucky, the accused will stand trial, where the idiot douche bag in question will offer a sad excuse for his behavior, generally to the tune of “The devil made me do it”, and then beg for leniency.
Sometimes, these perverted men get such leniency, ordered to pay only a few hundred cedis to the victim’s family. These are the lucky ones. In more morose cases, the family may just settle out of court with the accused rapist for yet another few hundred cedis and never report the case at all. In the meanwhile, there is no mental health service provided to the child in question, as the family assures them that “God will show him (the rapist) and that the child ‘shouldn’t mind’ them”. Many might think that this counter productive mentality only extends to the villages where people are less educated, but it’s also very prevalent in the city as well. In fact, it happened to me.
Now let me say quickly I was not raped by my uncle, but what he did was nasty enough that it should have warranted a stronger response from my father, who is in fact an educated and well traveled Ghanaian. When I was 8 years old, we used to live at Ringway Hotel until we could find a house to rent. The irony that this incident took place at a hotel does not escape me. Anyway, my sister and I were playing in the corridor and went into our hotel room to get a toy. Suddenly, my uncle Victor appeared in the doorway.
“Give me a kiss,” he said softly.
I was 8, so I puckered up, kissed him with my mouth closed, and prepared to go on my merry way. After all, I had aunties and uncles in Ohio who demanded their “sugar” when I saw them. Uncle Victor was no different.
“That’s not how you kiss,” he frowned.
“Huh?” I said.
He proceeded to put his tongue in my mouth. I was of course stunned and had no idea what was really going on. When he was done, he turned to my sister and said “Give me a kiss.” By the time the “ss” had been uttered from his lips, all I could see was the particles of Afrosheen from Adwoa’s jeri curl as she tore down the hall. I backed out of the room and ran after my sister, leaving my uncle kneeling on the floor where he had just administered his 8 year old niece’s first tongue kiss.
I never told my father of that day…until 2 months ago. As a child I was SURE that he would kill his brother if I ever told him what Uncle Victor had done. I liked Victor well enough for him not to be dead, and more importantly, I didn’t want to be responsible for causing his demise. However the issue had been eating me up for years and at age 31 I finally felt comfortable enough to tell my dad. I recounted the tale and braced myself for a barrage of curses.
“He did what??” he asked incredulously.
“He stuck his tongue in my mouth,” I repeated.
A pause. Then a loud “humph”.
“Well, don’t mind him,” he said. “Some uncles are like that.”
What? 23 years of angst bottled up and all my dad had to say was “some uncles are like that”? I didn’t know whether to be pissed off at the anti-climatic ness of it all, or sad, or disappointed. I decided to be all three.
“Oh. Okay Daddy,” I responded.
That’s what you do as a dutiful Ghanaian child. You take your lumps, swallow your misery and console your parents by making them believe you take their (wrong) council as gospel. Doing anything to the contrary would make me “disrespectful” and unreasonable.
So if my college educated father could utter this typically Ghanaian sentiment, could I then blame the hundreds of villagers who give this sordid behavior a pass day in and day out? I guess I couldn’t.
It’s funny though. This is one of the reasons that Ghana has become a major destination for all types of pedophiles, foreign and domestic. On the contrary, no one is laughing.