Tuesday, 10 August 2010 15:20

GHANA: Child-Centric Legislation Will Address Violence Against Girls


A recent study on violence against girls in schools has revealed that sexual violence is still prevalent and increasing in spite of the law-the Constitution, Criminal Code, Children's Act, CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) criminalizes sexual violence.

These sexual violence offences include fondling, violations of bodily privacy, child pornography, luring a child for sexual liaisons, exposing children to adult sexuality, child prostitution or sexual exploitation and sexual acts with a child.

Generally, there seems to be under reporting of some forms of sexual violence and with the exception of rape and defilement data does not exist. Thus, government needs to develop child centric legislation to address all forms of Violence against Girls in Schools (VAGS).

The Policy Mapping Study on Existing Policy and Legal Frameworks addressing Violence Against Girls in Schools was conducted by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), as part of a five-year research and advocacy project on Stop Violence Against Girls in Schools by the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition (GNECC).

Article 27 of the CRC places responsibility on parent (s) or others to secure within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the development of the child.

However, Nana Oye Lithur, lead researcher, stated that socio-economic violence / non- child maintenance (failure to provide funds for the upkeep and well-being of the child) is still a problem in Ghana, such that between 1999 and 2009, the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) recorded 45,782 non- maintenance cases while the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) received 3,317 non-maintenance cases in 2007.

"The law is not working that is why we have so many cases at the Social Welfare Department. It is no doubt it has a direct bearing on the education of the girl child."

On access / right to education, Nana Oye, who is also a human rights lawyer, said in spite of the provisions guaranteed by the Constitution, Children's Act, Education Service Act and Education for All, insufficient basic facilities especially at the primary level have not been addressed according to the 2008 report from the Ministry of Education on school infrastructure.

According to her, 48% of primary schools have no access to toilet facilities resulting in absenteeism among girls especially during menstruation.

"Although the Capitation Grant prohibits payment of fees by pupils, some beneficiary schools still charge levies for sports, printing of examination papers, medical and utilities to watchman fees."

The study found out that despite that fact that Ghana has passed a National Health Insurance Act, national coverage for healthcare facilities is still a challenge. It states that hospital fees are still being charged for preparing reports on defilement and rape cases and no prophylaxis is provided for victims of defilement and rape, placing them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS (excluding a pilot programme at Korle-Bu Hospital).

The Children's Act & DV Act provide for the establishment of Child Panels and gender focal points in Municipal and District Assemblies but there is no data on the number of child panels that has been set up.

Nana Oye explained that although DV Act makes provisions for the support of victims of domestic violence, there is little or no support from government to victims in the districts, including shelter and counseling services.

"DOVVSU exists in only about 87 districts out of 170 (National Secretariat, DOVVSU Annual Report 2009). This means domestic violence cannot be effectively addressed."

A major challenge faced during the research was the difficulty in accessing reports and data on VAGS from institutions that are mandated to generate and provide data. Again, the depth of knowledge of some of the key institutions on VAGS was unacceptably low.

At the national level, the research recommends that data collection systems must be strengthened on VAGS and capture specific disaggregated data and the implementation of a national campaign directed at institutions that deal directly with VAGS to increase their knowledge of applicable laws.

"Ensure more effective implementation of criminal laws to deal with the high percentage of victims of sexual exploitation, incest and sexual coercion; implement a reporting and referral system for victims of VAGS. State and civil society organizations dealing with women, children and education, should keep accurate and disaggregated data on services they provide to victims of gender based violence should coordinate to prevent duplication of programmes that address the same issues."

Due to their shared mission to improve the status of women and girls, DOVVSU and the Girls Education Unit are required to pool their energies and resources together to address VAGS by creating a school culture that supports 'zero tolerance' for violence and create programmes to enhance social capital of girls, among girls.

Also at the educational level, the study suggests the institutionalization of life skills curricula to incorporate issues related to gender violence protection and train teachers to identify and respond to VAGS.

It calls for the abolishment of corporal punishment and the promotion of alternative classroom management practices and disciplinary procedures and revision of school curriculum to model non violence and promote gender sensitivity.

Further, the research on VAGS proposes that at the community level the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Department of Social Welfare, DOVVSU and the Commission on Human Rights through their district offices should team up with civil society organizations to foster awareness of school-related gender-based violence, educate them on how to identify such violence and partner with traditional leaders to promote positive change.

"Form effective Parent Teacher Associations that will hold the school accountable for guaranteeing a safe and secure environment and establish advisory committees to facilitate school-community linkages," the report proposed.

Source: Public Agenda (Accra, Ghana)

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