The Fate of Children With Special Needs in Northern Ghana
“Why leave such a child to grow into the world of suffering and pain since the society has no supporting facilities to cater for their special needs,” says 42-year-old Njognam Adisa. “It is better to kill it when it is born with pronounced deformity.”
Adisa lives in Nayilifong, a surburb of Yendi Municipality in the northern region of Ghana. She says her second child was killed minutes after being born when it was detected that the child was limbless. “I supported the killing of the child because it will bring me more pain in trying to nurse such a child,” she says. “Taking care of such children often stigmatizes the parents. It’s emotionally stressful to give birth to a deformed child, let alone to keep it.”
Adisa says her friend gave birth to a baby with cleft lip who was also poisoned to death by a traditional priest. The child was labelled “spirit child” and killed to free the parents from emotional stress and abuses. “We cannot take care of children with special needs or disabilities so the best option is to do away with such a child at birth,” Brekum Kosie says.
In northern Ghana, many children born with pronounced deformities are labelled “spirit children” and killed at birth. There are no records of such killings in the criminal department of the Yendi Municipal Police Station because the killings are often done in secrecy.
“Nobody will report such cases to the police. That’s why we do not have the records of children killed in such manner,” says a police officer who wants to remain anonymous.
“The logic of not keeping deformed children is simple: there is no friendly environment to support their upbringing so the best way to deal with such conditions is to do away with the child at birth,” says Banyitobe Lambiliba. He says most communities use this as a means to reducing the burden of keeping children with special needs, and to avoid causing children more pain.
According to Lambiliba, the government is incapable of providing infrastructure such as schools and hospitals to children, with or without disabilities. In his view, these conditions explain why the parents don’t want their children with disabilities to be going to the streets to beg.
Abubakari Yakubu, a social worker, says that although the government has social welfare in place, the funds to run activities to supporting such disadvantaged children are not available.
“It is not only deformed children that are killed. Healthy children born unwanted can sometimes be killed or thrown away by their mothers if the person has no job to support the upbringing of a child,” he said. He said most of the children in orphanages in Ghana have been abandoned on the streets; only in very few cases both parents of a child are dead.
According to Yakubu, the current government re-named the ministry of women and children’s affairs to Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection with the focus on vulnerable groups such as children with special needs.