Till date, people do not realise how important children are in this world. While people cry for children in their marital homes, others get simply to maltreat them, because they are not their biological children. It about time people learnt to cherish the gift of children that God always gives to mankind. The rights of children is an everyday campaign in many parts of the world, but as to how the child is able and allowed to exercise that right is an issue yet to be discussed.
It is obvious that children are the most vulnerable in this world, because they cannot take care of themselves, and that any rebellious attitude they show will go against their wellbeing. In this case, children have no say than to undergo any maltreatment that a parent or a guardian takes them through. It is true that maltreatment is not always done with intent, but in the majority of instances, it is done with intent, especially when the child is trafficked or an orphan.
What is child maltreatment?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity. Child maltreatment, as it sounds, is associated with physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglected and negligent treatment, emotional abuse and exploitation. The WHO estimates cited in the United Nations (UN) Secretary General's Study on Violence Against Children, state that nearly 53,000 children are murdered each year, and that the prevalence of forced sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual violence involving touch, among boys and girls under 18, is 73 million (or 7%) and 150 million (or 14%), respectively. It has lifelong sequelae, including depression, anxiety disorders, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, aggression and violence towards others, risky sexual behaviours and post traumatic stress disorders.
It is very unfortunate that child abuse occurs in every part of the world. Child maltreatment is often common in poor homes or families living in extreme poverty than families with a good source of income. Most times, due to economic hardship in many homes, parents find it very hard taking care of the home, so vent their any anger on the child at the least provocation. Child maltreatment in extremely poor homes sometimes happens without preconceived intention, it occurs due to the economic pressure in the home. For some too, it is done deliberately, simply because the biological parent of the child is not present.
Apart from poverty being one major cause of child maltreatment, other factors contribute as well. Majority of parents, especially in Africa, care only about their emotional needs, unlike in some parts of the developed world where couples are conscious of the examples they set for their children, while many parents in many parts of Ghana care less about setting good examples for their wards. It is evident that many children take after the behaviour and nature of the environment they live in, however parents always fail to recognise and keep the emotional needs of their wards at heart. It is an everyday phenomena to see couples fighting before their children, to the extent that the children have no choice than be the ones to separate them, to prevent any injury. What will happen to a child emotionally, who witness such a scene between his or her parents? Definitely, the child will be disappointed and hurt, and the possibility of him repeating that incident in his marital home is there, which will make him end up hurting his children as well.
At certain points also child trafficking causes a big issue in the maltreatment of children. Many people due, to one reason or the other, find it very difficult to show affection to children not biologically theirs, yet they go ahead and make vain promises to the biological parents of these children and take them away, all in the name of providing them with greener pastures. They pretend to be good at the initial stages, but later on behave cruelly toward these children.
A true incident
It does not only happen in movies, but in reality as well. One Madam Irene Agyeman, who sells ripe plantain and beans, and a resident of Lapaz, a suburb of Accra, went to a town in the Ashanti Region to take a friend's child to Accra with the promise of giving the child a better life and education. This friend, who has big dreams for her child, did not think twice, but trusted her friend completely, and gave away her nine year old daughter, Nana Adwoa Antwi. One week after their arrival, Madam Irene promised to take the child to school but started making her work tediously. Even though Madam Irene has three daughters, who are far older than Nana Adwoa, she makes them have enough sleep and wakes Nana Adwoa up to start the preparation of the beans and ripe plantain. She wakes up as early as 3:00 a.m. and helps in the selling of the food, performs all the household chores, and as well prepares food for the whole house.
Even though Madam Irene knows very well that as young as Nana Adwoa is, she needs all kinds of food nutrients to grow, she takes it for granted. She rather always makes sure her children take the right food before going to school, and makes Nana Adwoa eat beans and ripe plantain every day, as breakfast and lunch, and is fortunate to eat the food that is being prepared for supper.
According to sources, Madam Irene overreacts over every little mistake that Nana Adwoa does, and when she is angry at her, she throws anything she gets hold of at her without thinking twice. She sometimes even goes to the extent of hitting her with a hot knife or ladle. Aside from not taking her to school and engaging her into tedious work, she as well finds it difficult buying her decent clothes. No day passes by without Nana Adwoa wearing tattered clothes. She wears tattered clothes in such a way that their neighbours sometimes wonder if she has only five clothes. Due to malnutrition, coupled with the maltreatment meted out to her, her growth seems to be stunted, and always looks like a sick person. Unfortunately, their neighbours do not have the guts to comment on Madam Irene's attitude, since according to them, she would only hurl insults at them.
Child maltreatment has been an existing problem which is rarely considered under human rights abuse. Child maltreatment is not only associated with exploitation, as described above, but as well includes incidences such as defilement and involving a child in prostitution. Its prevention can be visible only when parents learn to cater for their own children, and not entrust them into the hands of other people so as to prevent child trafficking.
For those who are opportune to be the guardians of children, there is the need to take advantage of that opportunity and show their affection to the children, since they will be of use to them if they bring them up well. For those in authority who can help exercise other people's rights, they should help to educate people on the issue of child trafficking and child abuse, in order to prevent child maltreatment from happening. It will be in the interest of the country as a whole, if the government makes sure to implement laws in the constitution, and prosecute people who try to maltreat children in one way or the other, since they are the country's future labour force.