It is common to hear adults addressing toddlers as their wives in our society. We have, however, come to accept this as normal without raising questions as to the psychological effect of these actions on the psyche of children especially young girls.
Some mothers refer to their daughters as wives of adults they respect, praying that these little ones would grow up one day to have respectable husbands as these men, without thinking of the negative aspects of this seemingly innocuous action.
Kwame Oware is a young man in Maase in the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area. One day, Kwame visited his former teacher's wife to congratulate her on the birth of a baby girl.
Before Kwame left her, the woman declared: “Kwame, this is your wife”. Kwame just laughed and said “no, by the time she comes of age, I would have been another woman's husband”.
Both the mother and other well-wishers in the house burst out into laughter and a discussion ensued.
One group disagreed with Kwame and said women grow faster and so the innocent baby would grow one day to be a suitable wife for Kwame.
Others maintained that since some men are often interested in women who are far younger than their own daughters, it would not be strange to find the little baby becoming Kwame's wife.
The little girl, Yaa Adubea, continued to be called Kwame's wife. Each time Kwame dropped by, the mother and the children in the house would point at Kwame and tease Adubea: “There goes your husband”.
Out of shyness, the little girl would hide until Kwame was out of sight. Sometimes, she would send her friends to Kwame to ask for money to buy candies.
The 'relationship' between Kwame and Yaa continued to 'develop'. She used to visit Kwame in his house and help in the household chores and she came to be accepted as the 'daughter-in-law of Kwame's mother.
Kwame decided to take a wife for himself at the age of 30, when Adubea turned 10. He announced to his 'first wife' that he was going to marry. Suddenly, Yaa broke down and wept uncontrollably.
Members of the household tried to calm her down in futility. To her, her 'marriage' to Kwame was proposed by her parents and she and Kwame, and indeed the whole world, agreed to it. For a long time the 10-year-old girl had a broken heart!
The writer witnessed another scenario in Osiem, also in the Eastern Region of Ghana. A young man, aged about 20, was calling a three-year-old girl his wife.
He audibly complained, saying the mother had agreed to their 'relationship' and had even taken the 'dowry' but he had not seen the nakedness of his 'wife' before! All the people seated beside him, including the mother of the child, laughed their lungs out but said nothing funny about the obnoxious and abusive pronouncement.
These two scenarios abound almost everywhere in this country and in other parts of the world. Among some tribes in the Northern parts of Ghana and the West African sub-region, grandfathers call their granddaughters their wives.
Nieces see the wives of their uncles as their rivals and the rivalry is often openly jokingly displayed in public.
Traditionally among the Kotokolis both in Togo and in Ghana, the nieces demand what is known as “bed rent” from the wives of their uncles for 'ceding' the matrimonial beds to them.
These acts of calling young children wives definitely have psychological impacts on their growth and development.
Some unscrupulous men take advantage of the relationship they establish with the young girls and their families to defile them.
Again, even if these people do not defile the young girls, they succeed in initiating them into adulthood and preparing their minds for marriage as if that is the only aspiration, thereby harming their future prospects.
I believe the majority of women in this country were identified with 'adult husband' when they were growing up.
My advice to parents is that they should not call their girls the wives of any living or dead person.
Parents should also politely disagree with their family friends who call their daughters their wives or the wives of their children.
The efforts being made by the government or other NGOs such as the Ark Foundation to better the lot of women and children and to prevent a situation where women are seen as baby making machines would come to naught if effective campaigns are not mounted in this direction.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on the rights of women and children should research into the impact of this phenomenon to engender effective discussions.
By Abass Fuseini Sbaabe
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.