To be born physically challenged in certain cultures in Ghana is not just a taboo but one that comes with the consequence of the execution of the unfortunate victim.
Cultures with such customary beliefs often regard these unfortunate children as “Spirit children” who came with the sole aim of destroying the family that they came to.
The people of Wulling and surrounding communities in the Jirapa Municipality of the Upper West Region are among the cultures that are still holding on to such a customary practice.
Mr. Pognilubo Peter Dapilah, the Assembly member of Wulling Electoral Area, witnessed the execution of a number of such children in the community growing up as a child.
Being a child then, there was little Dapilah could do about the situation but the burning desire to take action had built momentum in him already.
Birth of Little Enock
The time to act came when little Enock Anbanbio (not real name) was born physically challenged to one of Dapilah’s elder brothers in April 2015.
Born at the Tugo Health Centre with twisted legs to a peasant couple, little Enock was set to face customary execution a few weeks after his birth.
But, Mr. Dapilah got wind of the plan and with his determination to end the customary practice, he hinted the officers of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in Jirapa.
On that appointed day, elders of the family had gathered to perform certain customary rites before executing the child whose only crime was to be born physically challenged.
As they still gathered, Officers of CHRAJ arrived in the community and quickly moved in to intervene to stop the child from being executed.
After about an hour of dialogue among the Officers and elders of the family, they succeeded in stopping them from carrying out the dastardly act of killing the poor child for no fault of his.
“It was traumatizing seeing the execution of a few of such children in the community”, Dapilah said and added that he had since told himself that he would one day lead a crusade to end the customary practice he described as cruel and inimical to the development of the community.
“We cannot develop while holding on to these outmoded cultural practices,” he emphasized bluntly.
Mr. Abdul-Rauf Alhassan, the Jirapa Municipal Director of CHRAJ, noted that the Commission acted swiftly to save the child’s life because the right of the child to life no matter the form with which he came, was guaranteed in Article 13(1) of the 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution of Ghana.
Article 13(1) states that “No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana under which he has been convicted”,
“Apparently, we are talking about an innocent disabled child whose predicament occurred through no fault of his”, he said.
Mr. Alhassan also referred to Article 15(1) which states that: “The dignity of all persons shall be inviolable”, explaining that as human beings, no matter the form with which you were born, you must not be subjected to any form of torture and treatment that violates your human dignity.
“We were concerned about the degrading treatment of trying to take the life of the child through very cruel traditional means”, he said.
Again, he referred to Article 15(2) which states that “No person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained, be subjected to (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being”.
“The manner in which the community people planned to kill the boy is degrading as a human being”, Mr Alhassan said and added that using customary beliefs to end a person’s life in such a cruel and degrading manner.
“People should understand that once a child comes to this world, no matter the condition, the person has the right to live and not to be killed based on any belief”, he emphasized.
The Jirapa Municipal Director of CHRAJ noted that murder in itself was a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana and could not be justifiable under any customary belief and CHRAJ was engaging with Traditional Authorities to transform some of the negative cultures to help develop the nation.
He clarified that the Commission was not against cultural practices but always try to unveil the negative aspect of certain cultural practices so that they could be transformed for the good of the people.
“Cultures that are inimical to the development of the nation must be removed”, he stated emphatically.
Mr. Alhassan noted that after rescuing the child, the Commission also ensured that he was enrolled in school in respect of his right to education.
Little Enock who is now in KG Two, is among the best in the class according to the Class Teacher, Madam Joyceline Ansiema.
“He’s good and very active in class”, she said whilst emphasizing that the boy, however, needed help in respect of a wheelchair, food, clothing, and books to aid his learning due to the poor situation of the parents.
Children Born with Disabilities
Dr. Damien Punguyire, the Upper West Regional Director of Health Services, noted that there were many factors that could cause a child to be born differently including genetic factors, environmental factors, and happenings within the womb during pregnancy.
He said in time past, these cultural practices were very common but linking such children to spiritual beliefs has no scientific basis.
“It is just a cultural misconception and it has no basis. These children have the right to live and denying them of the right to live is a violation of their fundamental human rights”, he emphasized.
Dr. Punguyire noted that of late, society was adjusting to contain these children by creating the enabling environment for them to live and realize their potential.
He said there were several examples of people born with disabilities that lived to realize their dreams and were impacting positively on society, adding that, people still have no justification for holding on to such backward cultural practices in this modern era.
“You see, disable children doing so much and are able to live independent lives even better than many abled bodied persons”, he said.
“They have the right to live, the right to family life, and the right to education and should not be killed”, Dr Punguyire said whilst commending CHRAJ for intervening in this case.
“Some do this because of the stigma and not because the children are a source of misfortune for their families”, the Regional Director of Health Services pointed out.
He said children could be born normal and in the course of their life, they get deformed and wondered why such children were not associated with such kind of belief?
“Whether born deformed or normal, they all have equal rights and should be given equal opportunities to live”, Dr Punguyire emphasized.
“This particular child needs to be used as a testimony to many families who have such children to give them hope and to indicated to those still holding on to such customary belief that it is about time they review their customs to put an end to it”, he said.
“Killing innocent children can even be a curse upon the family”, he said.
The rights of Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) are also human rights and to that extent, the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) are similar to the United Nations Human Rights Charter of 1948. According to the CRPD, the right to life is recognised as the first important right for (PWDs).
It states that, “States and parties reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by PWDs on an equal basis with others”.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of people with disabilities was dramatically increasing due to demographic trends and an increase in chronic health conditions among other causes.
It stated that over one billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability which corresponds to about 15 per cent of the world’s population – disability prevalence is higher for developing countries.
Mr. John Babinah, the Registrar of the Upper West Regional House of Chiefs, noted that these outmoded cultural practices were of concern to the House, stressing that times have changed and they could not continue to live in the past.
In this regard, he said the House has been conducting some research in the region to establish some of these dated cultural practices to have them reviewed for the progress of society.
He encouraged the various Traditional Councils to also help identify these cultural practices that were inimical to the development of their people and forward them to the House for review and modification.
Times have indeed changed and people cannot continue to live in the past. There is therefore the need to make a conscious effort to review customary practices that were inimical to the progress of the people.
People born with disabilities have equal rights and no cultural belief should lead to the termination of these innocent lives.
Little Enock needs support to be able to go far with his education to serve as an example to the people of Wulling and adjoining communities that still practice this cultural belief.
A wheelchair from a benevolent heart may just be enough to wheel him into his destiny.