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Child Abuse Rampant in Africa

CC Giorgio Minguzzi

William Van Ornum - published on 07/03/13

In your book, what are the particular forms of child abuse studied?

There are many forms of child abuse in our society, but one cannot adequately discuss all these forms in a particular book. In my book, Wholeness of the Abused Children and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Psycho-Pastoral Perspective, I paid attention to physical abuse and neglect; child trafficking; female genital mutilation; trokosi – slaves of the gods; child sexual abuse; gbortoworwor – the nubility or initiation rites of the Ewe girl; and how all these forms of abuse can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder in the children. Children who go through these forms of abuse carry with them a baggage that is too heavy for their small shoulders, thereby robbing them of their future success.

According to the religious custom of trokosi, when a relative commits a crime ranging in severity from petty theft to murder, the family must offer a virgin daughter – typically from eight to fifteen years of age – to the local shrine, where she will become a trokosi, or “slave of the gods.” The pagan priest then exerts full ownership rights over the girl, beating her when she tries to escape, controlling her interaction with others, demanding labor and sex from her, and denying her education, food, and basic health services. In spite of such conditions, most families willingly give a virgin daughter to a shrine. They do so in exchange for the gods’ forgiveness, delivering their child to the priest for sexual and economic exploitation.

Many Ghanaian children are trafficked from their home villages to work along the shores of Lake Volta, living under tough conditions and working long hours every day. The depletion of fish stocks is one of the key reasons why children are needed as workers in the fishing industry. Children represent cheap labor, and their small, nimble fingers are useful in releasing the fish from the small nets. Another task that trafficked children frequently perform is diving to disentangle the fishnets from the numerous tree stumps in the lake. Diving is a dangerous job that can have dire consequences for the children, from catching water-based diseases such as bilharzias, gastrointestinal disease, ear infections, and guinea worm to death from drowning.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one of the major negative cultural practices that affect the dignity and violates the fundamental human rights of women. It must be emphasized that the practice does not only affect the dignity and pride of women but it also has a serious health implications on them. FGM is a practice that involves the complete or partial removal or alteration of the genitals for non-medical reasons.

Gbortoworwor is the puberty rite performed on Ewe girls. This rite leads the girl into womanhood and offers the neophyte the opportunity and permission to actively take part in the communal activities of her community.  It is performed only after a girl’s first menstruation, between the ages of 13 and 16.  A criterion for the celebration is that the neophyte must not have engaged in pre-initiation sexual contact.  Detection of sexual intercourse prior to the celebration is punishable by a shameful purification rite. If a girl engages in sexual intercourse before the inception of her first period, she is accused of ‘blood-shedding’ – an act that is deemed an offense to the community. Sexual abuse is linked with homicide because the forceful breaking of the girl’s hymen could cause her to bleed – a willful shedding of blood that the Ewe believe drive the super powers in their fury to inflict calamities on the living. Early childhood sexual and physical abuse rips at the core of an individual’s developing sense of self. It violates fundamental assumptions about the integrity and control of the body.

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