CHILD DEFILEMENT: AN OVERLY NEGLECTED CRIME
For a country which is believed to strongly uphold democracy, the rule of law and respect for law and order, child defilement appears to be an overlooked issue as far as the tenets of the aforementioned are concerned. This canker, a social and moral disease, has for years been a havoc-wrecking plague to the lives of innocent victims who are most of the time children. A few days hardly goes by without news portals showing headlines like “Police Officer Defiles 5-Year-Old Girl; Walks Away with Bail”, “Chief Walks Scot-free After Defilement of 8-Year-Old.” These and several other nauseating realities call for questioning as to whether the laws of the land are still functioning or whether child defilement is free in Ghana hence anyone can indulge in it in a seemingly justice-free community.
A heap of child defilement cases has been relegated to a forgotten history, leaving just a handful of cases which has been seen through to a not so satisfying end. With this indication of neglect, where is the justice that the laws of the land promise to secure for children – innocent child victims whose ages are most at times pegged to single digits? Justice is promised to these children while they are rendered physically weak, psychologically distorted, barren in some cases and their educational aspirations crumbled.
Looking at child defilement critically, defilers are usually more powerful than their victims not just in terms of might, but also in wealth or property, connections, and authority. Parents, siblings, friends and grandparents, police officers, teachers, assemblymen, and even local kinsmen all contribute to the menace at hand. The most spine breaking reality is that, the perpetrators of this act more often than not escape the grips of the law kind courtesy of their position, wealth, connections or authority, leaving the victims not just broken, but also disappointed in the legal system and everything it stands for.
The family of a 12-year old child in 2016 expressed their gross dissatisfaction and frustration with the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) who according to them, had failed to take actions towards prosecuting one Lance Corporal Emmanuel Bartels for defiling their child. The Lance Corporal was a guard at the residence of the Minister for communication at the time when he allegedly committed the offense. Although the issue had been with DOVVSU the previous year, the parents said they strongly believed the case was being stalled and expressed their disgust at how poor people’s fates are tossed around by the more influential people.
Again in 2016, the mother of a four-year-old watched her daughter denied justice after being defiled by one Kwabena at AssinAdadientem in the Central Region. Monica Nyarko, the mother of the child speaking to an Accra-based FM station, lamented how the offender walked scot-free after the Chief of the area consulted the “gods” who then declared Kwabena innocent – justice not served due to the involvement of a “higher authority”. Shockingly, we are living in the 21st century with gods adjudicating cases and exonerating ruthless perpetrators. Isn’t this akin to shooting and killing our own country?
Fast forward to the present and we find a similar situation of defilement which could become just like the rest and become untended to. On Monday, January 7 this year, an assembly member for the Nkwanta Electoral area in the Aowin Municipality with the name, Kwame Blay got handed down a bail of GH¢10,000. He was accused of defiling an 11-year old pupil at Kokoase, a suburb at Enchi in the Eastern Region and was to reappear in the court again the next day. Interestingly, the defilement incident occurred in July, the previous year. Hopefully, a few people still recollect the saying that “Justice delayed is justice denied”. It is not surprising to find some of these defilement cases halted for two years, 5 years or even a decade. Now the question is, will this case also become like the rest and belong to a long forgotten history?
All these incredibly horrific happenings remind one of the “whom you know” and “who knows you” status quo on the social ladder: the weak, the powerless and the poor always getting bullied, cheated and in this case, defiled without being able to seek proper redress to a logical conclusion. To this end, a victim who has neither of the offender’s strengths to pursue a case to a close would have to forget about anything that connotes with justice. In most instances too, some parents opt to settle such cases out of the court due to the fear of the offender or stigma, loss of hope in the system, absence of funds to “drag” cases as it happens most of the time and so on. But this must end.
Being a criminal offense, child defilement attracts a minimum sentence of 7 and a maximum of 25 years according to Ghana’s Criminal Law and the Domestic Violence Act, 2007. Nevertheless, this misdemeanor only seems to be gaining a firmer root with only a few prosecuted cases. Out of the 1,919 defilement cases reported between 2015 and 2016, 1,100 according to data revealed by DOVVSU, were yet to be resolved. Also, figures from the Criminal Investigations Department Annual Crime Statistics report indicated that at least three children were defiled in Ghana in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. That totals a whopping 1,000 stories of pain, of brokenness and of frustration among children.
It is obvious that the offices in charge of these social injustices are non-existent in this country. If they exist, then why are they not committed to the purposes for which they were established? What is DOVVSU, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the police and the courts busy with that only a smattering of child defilement cases get to face prosecution? That is a thought for a lifetime.
THE WAY FORWARD
In order to correct that conducive but appalling atmosphere created to allow child defilement to thrive, all hands must be on deck starting with parents. They can become better at keeping close watch over their children, protecting them and ensuring that they are safe in their immediate environment. Parents should be made to understand that they would not have any way out if they turn out to be the offenders themselves, hence, disabuse their minds of any such plans. This is where the system comes in.
The government and its agencies responsible for safeguarding children against child defilement should wake up if they are slumbering before more lives get destroyed. Stringent measures and longer sentences as per the law should be enforced, coupled with the institution of mass education and campaign programs. People should receive sensitization on how to protect themselves and where to seek redress. It should however not just be about the talks but about the actions because no one would ever believe in the laws of the land and the legal system if they see neglected piled up cases, just like theirs.
More importantly, if the law is indeed no respecter of persons, this is the area to prove itself. No offender should ever have the luxury of walking scot-free due to a position he occupies or the ties he has with some people seated above the social ladder.
Ultimately, everyone has a stake in this: leaders, policy makers, teachers, government officials, parents, organizations, interest groups, and institutions. We are all, involved in building our motherland and we cannot build this motherland with the tears of hurting innocent children. These children should be able to have the hope that the law is working and will continue to work for them.
By: Linda Mensah|universnewsroom.com