Rights and Plights of Slum Children

Written on Monday, 16th of June

What a day.

We started off with a set of group discussions with some women who are learning to start their own business, thanks to the help of Women in Slums Economic Empowerement, an NGO run by Frederick. I had only 20 minutes to prepare, but I believe it went well, as I gave them some ideas on promotions, maximizing efficiency on the production line and differentiating their product. Although I needed an interpreter, I felt we had good communication as a group and that they withdrew some inspiration from the discussion.

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The first claim arrived at 11am. A woman being forced by her boyfriend to have an abortion, for the second time. She had agreed as long as he paid, but he refused. Furthermore, all abortions are illegal in Ghana and she has been warned by a nurse that another illegal abortion would hurt her irreparably. Now he has estranged her, barely speaking to her and leaving her to endure this process on her own. Child maintenance has been one of the big topics today, and I’m glad I was prepared. Ghanaian law recognizes an equal responsibility of both parents to clothe, feed, provide shelter, medical treatment and play-time for their children. She has a legal right to force him to pay. But legal proceedings are long and costly –  this is where FLAP’s mediation process comes in handy.

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By speaking to the man’s boss at his place of employment, a car shop, we hope to compel him to the mediation table, where we will explain that he must face this child and the consequences of having it whether he likes it or not. Having noticed that the woman was devastated at the estrangement by the man, we will attempt to reconcile the couple. Failing this, we will reach an agreement between the parties that they can at least observe in the best interests of the child. If things go according to plan, the issue should be resolved by tomorrow afternoon – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Subsequently, we prepared a presentation on Child Maintenance for a group of women in the slum. We explain the rights of the child and obligations of the parents to a group of about 10, who seemed to be listening carefully. After finishing our presentation, we received two new claims on the spot. A woman’s daughter, aged 16, had become pregnant and was refused support by her boyfriend, aged 17. As we further investigate the claim tomorrow, we will explain to the parents of the boy that they are equally responsible for the maintenance of the child until the boy turns 18. If we have any difficulties conveying our message, the chief of a local tribe (who command the respect of locals after being elected) is at hand to help resolve the dispute.

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Left: sitting next to Nana and Vidette, the two Queen Mary Pro Bono Society volunteers. Right: standing next to Isaka, the chief of a local tribe, in front of FLAP

What struck me most was the second case. One of the women at the presentation pointed to a young girl (let’s call her Lucy) who had been sitting next to us with a look in her eyes that didn’t fit her age. We were told that she had been kicked out of her home when she was 6 years old, and had lived with the women for 9 years, as her mother would not accept her and had allegedly abused her on repeated occasions. As we interviewed Lucy, she burst into tears. In order for her to go to school, she had cut down on buying food. Without time for play, learning or development, she was working long days just to get by. It was clear that she was doing everything to empower herself through education, but without the support and guidance of a parent, a child can only do so much.

Tomorrow Lucy will come to the FLAP center, accompanied by a woman at the slum. We will determine what to do next and what she hopes to achieve. I am worried that the mother cannot (or rather, should not) take care of her, and in this case we must contact social services in order for them to investigate and hopefully provide the girl with the support she needs. An alternative would be to somehow find the father, who’s identity has been refused to Lucy by her mother. I hope speaking to her mother tomorrow will go according to plan, but I have a feeling it won’t work as smoothly as we hope. Our only hope is that we can alleviate the pressure and responsibility that has unjustly been bequeathed onto her.

After this, the day was over, and I went home thinking how many more children there were like Lucy around the world. What are some of them forced to do just to stay alive? What are they doing right now? Who do they turn to? What would I have done if I had grown up in such a context?

Being the day of Ghana’s first world cup match, I decided to meet up with Patrick, to clear my head and cheer for my host country in Accra’s busiest place: Oxford Street. My hopes of celebrating with the Ghanaians were crushed in less than 40 seconds, and despite being a game largely dominated by the Black Stars, they missed too many opportunities and the game was lost. Having invested a lot of emotions into the game (since Sweden didn’t qualify I had strong hopes for Ghana), I was let down by my expectations and felt sad for the Ghanaians. Yet we still enjoyed the night, the game and the general atmosphere.

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View from Ouso mall down to Oxford Street, where a big screen lit up thousands of people in the street.

Driving home, we passed over a bridge through a thick cloud of burnt rubber and plastic. I looked to my right and saw a bright fire burning with some people scattered around it. My memory jolted, I remembered where I was and why I was there. Memories of the football game disappeared. Tomorrow’s work matters infinitely more.

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