Is there anything the West can do?
The pontificate of Francis will bring increased focus to the continents of Asia, Africa, and South America. This will provide an opportunity for those living in the materialistic and consumer-driven cultures of the West to learn simpler values of community, sacrifice, and sharing – and in so doing, they will enrich their own lives. Western mental health professionals have experience in treating child abuse, and although the types of abuse in countries such as the United States differs from that found on Africa, the sharing and application of these principles can help these wounded children.
As a corollary to this, Westerners need to learn the unique features of African culture and how these are intertwined with child abuse. A greater range of interventions and treatments – focusing on the African cultures, will need to be developed. This will take time in a framework measured by decades, not years.
I interviewed the Rev. Francis Perry Azah, Ph.D., who is a doctoral level pastoral counselor. He is also a priest from Ghana and has been serving in a New York parish for seven years. While some of Father Perry’s descriptions are disturbing, they are an honest portrayal of treatment of children at its worst. Within these situations one will discover the poorest of the poor. Combining pastoral as well as psychological principles from East and West will offer a meaningful striving to, in the words of the psalmist, “make them stronger in the broken places.”
As Africa opens up to the rest of the world, do you anticipate shock or concern when the extent of child abuse is revealed?
Due to advancement in technology the world has become a global village, and whatever happens in one part of the world can be seen in other parts of the globe. These happenings can have a positive or a negative repercussion on such people. As Africa is open to rest of the world, many people are becoming aware of the pernicious acts perpetrated against the most vulnerable children in our society. In this 21st century Africa, I do not anticipate a shock when the evils of child abuse are revealed.
This is because there are many laws and pronouncements in many African countries that tried to protect the rights of these children. Many if not all African countries are signatory to the United Nations’ and other world bodies’ regulations and laws that prohibit acts of violence against children all over the world. According to the Constitution of Ghana (1992), “every child has the right to the same measure of special care, assistance, and maintenance as is necessary for its development from its natural parents, except where those parents have effectively surrendered their rights and responsibilities in respect of the child in accordance with the law. Also, children and young persons shall receive special protection against exposure to physical abuse and moral hazards. A child shall not be subjected to torture or other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (p. 28, Sections 1a, 1b, and 1e).
Despite all these constitutional and other provisions, a day scarcely passes without one hearing or reading from the African (or in particular, Ghanaian) media about various degrees of physical abuse or maltreatment being meted out to children by parents or other caregivers. Countless numbers of atrocities against children have eaten into the moral fiber of society in both rich and poor nations. Therefore, it is incumbent on us as parents, caregivers, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to propagate the message of the evils of child abuse in our society. African governments and other stakeholders ought to be proactive in the fight against child abuse and must not just be paying lip service to the laws and pronouncements that are there to protect the rights of our children. Abuse robs children of the childhood they deserve – that is their right and leaves broken families, dashed aspirations, and misery in its wake.