Three-year old John the Baptist, who hails from Gnani, a community in the Yendi Municipality of the Northern Region, was born with a vein defect.
At the age of two, John’s parents wrapped him in white cloths and left him beside a public refuse dump. His condition was bad because his neck and legs were fragile and could neither sit nor stand due to the vein defect.
John’s situation was not different from four-year old Makpato whose parents decided to kill her due to her inability to talk at the age of three.
What John and Makpato passed through is unfortunately the ordeal many children who are born with defects are subjected to in communities such as Saboba, Wodando, Zabzugu, Tatale and Bimbilla.
The common belief among some communities in the North is that children born with deformities are “spirit children” who are evil or a taboo to be sheltered and catered for.
A painstaking information gathered by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) indicates that such babies have distinguished features like, beard, pubic hair, double sex organs (hermaphrodites), protruding eyes, abnormally large head or inability to talk and walk after they hit three to six years.
Other children who bear societal stigma are those who constantly bite their mother’s breast during breast feeding, are born during famine or whose mothers die during delivery.
It is alleged that most of these children are killed or abandoned to their fate. In some instances, poisonous concoctions are forced down their throat after which, they are abandoned in a grove or forest to die.
The parents and relatives of these children have no say with regards to the killing of these children because it is a communal belief which needed to be complied with.
Asked about the cause of such deformities, Dr Anthony Amankwah Amponsem, Paediatric Consultant at Tamale Teaching Hospital said genetic factors, congenital maternal disease and infections, age of a mother, radiation as well as social habits like alcoholism could affect the development of a fertilised ovum.
Most the deformities occur during the first three months of the pregnancy during which most of the body organs are formed.
Birth defects could happen even if partners have no such history in their families or had given birth to healthy children in the past.
These defects, Dr Amponsah said could be prevented while some could be corrected if spotted early.
At the turn of the century, Ghana, along with 189 UN member countries adopted the Millennium Declaration that laid out the vision for a world of common values and renewed determination to achieve peace and decent standards of living for every man, woman and child.
Our nation was the first West Africa country that rectified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 with article 49.
Article 23 clause one, the convention mandates States Parties to recognise that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.
The clause two states that, “States Parties recognise the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child”.
The third paragraph also explained that “Recognising the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development .
On the national front the Sub-Part I – Rights of the child and parental duty of Ghana’s Children’s Act 1998 Act 560 enacted by Parliament spells out how a disabled child should be treated by the parent or care takers.
The section 10 clause (1) and (2) says: “No person shall treat a disabled child in an undignified manner. A disabled child has a right to special care, education and training wherever possible to develop his maximum potential and be self-reliant.”
The punishment for offenders of the regulation is that, “Any person who contravenes a provision of this Sub-Part commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢5 million or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.”
A study conducted by the GNA indicates that these laws are either not adhered to or implementation is weak.
An interaction with the parents of one of the deformed victims at Wodando, a community close to Wapuli in the Chereponi District with the GNA revealed widespread belief in the long held tradition that if a “ spirit child” is not killed the entire village would suffer a curse.
This custom emboldens parents to harm their deformed children, says Rev. Fr Cletus Akosah, says Priest in-charge of Sang Rectorate.
A girl who was the 13th child of her parents could not alter a word when she was growing up compelling her mother to seek both medical and traditional means to deal with the situation.
“When I took her to Wapuli clinic the doctor who diagnosed her said she has frenulum between her tongue and the floor of her lower jaw, which hinder her speech. This has to be removed before she can speak.
“The doctor said my child is normal. There is nothing wrong with her,” she said.
She said after all efforts have been made to cure her child had failed, people were claiming that they see her in their dreams trying to harm them.
“I had to yield to the community’s tradition that my child is a spirit child and need to be killed or else my family would be banished from the community.”
Rev. Fr. Peter Jabaab Aoyaja of the Gnanie, Good Shepherd Rectorate, told the GNA that he had often threatened people who wanted to kill these children with police arrest.
Within six weeks he was able to rescue about four children from his area saying, “It is becoming alarming. The issue of killing children with defect is serious; government should partner religious bodies and non-governmental organisations to curtail these practices as early as possible”.
Mr John Ankrah Regional Director of the Department of Social Welfare, in an interview with the GNA described the issue as child molestation and right denial.
“This is the first time am hearing of this issue and is not good in this 21st century. Even if children are deformed, they have the right to live.”
He said his outfit would source funding to embark on social education in the various communities, adding “my office does not even have a vehicle to go to the field”.
Mr Abdul-Razak Alhassan, Acting Regional Director of the Department of Child, reiterated that it is a criminal offence under the Child Act 560 and the UN Convention on Right of a Child for a parent, persons or group of persons to kill a child with defects in the name of beliefs and practices.
He called for synergy between the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, Department of Social Welfare, Department of Community Development and Department of Children that have the oversight responsibility of child protection to work effectively.
With regards to child’s growth and behaviour, Mr Alhassan Mustapha, a Psychology lecturer, at the Medical School of the University of Development Studies told GNA that children who have deformities could exhibit signs of aggressiveness and may hate their parents and strangers as they grow.
“This is because the communal bond with the family was cut off from such people throughout their life.”
About 30 of the social outcasts have been rescued and temporarily housed by one Rev. Sr. Stan Therese Mario Mumuni, at Sang, 70 miles from the Regional capital, Tamale.
She told GNA that, unfortunately, the home was almost full to capacity and there is little hope that many more children may be accommodated in the foreseeable future.
“The children are brought almost every two to four weeks”. I think no child must die because of crude custom but must live for Christ,” she said.
Chief Inspector Ebenezer Preprah, in-charge of DOVVSU in Yendi told GNA in an interview that the act of killing deformed children is a serious offence under the section 46 of the criminal code, which constitutes murder.
He said a person or any group of persons who flout this law commit a criminal offence punishable by death.
“We have not had any official report yet and if we do an arrest will be affected,” he warned.
Worldwide, physically challenge persons such as Miss Jessica Cox, a pilot and world acclaimed motivational speaker, Mr Ivor Kobbina Greenstreet, of the Convention People’s Party, had excelled in their fields of endeavour and continue to make meaningful contribution in their countries.
Should the authorities therefore look on as talented children are killed because they are deformed or in the name of traditional believes?
God has a plan for everyone in this world and every human being counts.