Physical Abuse Galore; Canes, Slaps And Punches
Anas Aremeyaw Anas reports.
If we love Him who sent them to us here
Let’s treat them with spiritual fear
For they bring us blessings as well curses
Some ills we suffer need no guesses
The Lord treats us as we do kids
Their abuse He greatly abhors, nay forbids
To this orphanage the words of the poem mean nothing. They will not suffer any ills or curses for abusing these orphans and the Lord being all merciful would definitely treat them far better than they were treating these kids. Abuse of whatever kind was encouraged and admired in the home.
This reporter witnessed the sight of a barely 10 year old boy being subjected to twelve strong lashes. The teacher lays down these two rules; don’t cross a line and do not touch the caned portion of your body however it hurts -otherwise; he starts the caning all over.
Whiles this boy twists and turns in order to soak the pain, his mates laugh as if it’s a comedy show. The teacher had turned a comedian and was making mockery of the little boy writhing in pain. In the meantime, the teacher calls for a cane swap and tosses the cane in jest as he waits to land the next whip.
Such is the situation at the Countryside Basic School here in Bawjiase, where kids are beaten and punished for offences ranging from failure to attend classes, getting their sums wrong, talking in class and in one instance for failing to supply palm wine upon a teacher’s incessant request.
This pertains at a time where the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) have categorically stated that punishment of pupils should be supervised by school heads. There was no school head supervising these corporal punishments.
It is virtually a free-for-all situation when it came to punishment and the teachers exhibited great skill, dexterity and tenacity in caning. At the Countryside Basic School, pupils were whipped at the pleasure of teachers and not necessarily because they had done something wrong.
There was no format to caning here as most of the untrained teachers and volunteers put in charge of subjects and classes resorted to meting out multiple strokes at will.
Caning was the easiest punishment available here.
A volunteer teacher at the home called Sylvester was the main culprit in the caning spree. He is feared by the pupils as a result of his prowess when it came to caning. When he got of tired using the cane, Sylvester would resort to using his fists.
On an occasion, we witnessed him physically abuse a young boy. The mode of abuse started from the boy kneeling down, then came incessant hefty slaps on both cheeks of the young boy at the same time and finally direct slaps to the face of the boy.
Whiles this was ongoing, some of his fellow volunteer teachers looked on, making disparaging comments about the boy’s predicament. The boy’s offence was that he had absented himself from class.
One teacher apparently appalled by the posture of the boy asked the boy rhetorically; “are you a devil?” As though that was not enough; another teacher asked that a cement block be fetched.
To the shock of this reporter, he asked a fellow student to put it on the head of the pupil who had been severely abused by Sylvester. He then proceeded to ask the boy to hold the cement block with his hands over his head and make sure that he does not rest it on his head. That looked too much for the boy who threw the block away and run off to save his skin.
ABUSE CONTINUES IN THE HOME
Even though the school could be described as the center of abuse, the kids were hardly spared physical punishment in the home. Some of the teachers who lived in the home also carried their caning portfolio with them when school closed.
A child wailing in the evenings is a normal occurrence, with the aggressors being their teachers from school. These teachers are usually older inmates of the orphanage who have completed their Junior High or Senior High school education and returned to the home to “serve” in some capacity. Thus the culture of abuse does not end in school but is also very rampant within the home.
Older inmates using canes and belts to whip kids is common place and verbal abuse is the norm
Early on during our investigations we encountered Auntie Emma giving instructions to the children during a gathering. She addressed different issues especially those to do with their reception of visitors.
Auntie Emma: What happens to a stubborn child?
Children: You end up in a difficult place
Auntie Emma: Whoever refuses to sing when we get visitors, especially those of you who sit agape…. Where is Emelia? When singing is ongoing, Emelia doesn’t sing; when you are supposed to clap, some people don’t.
If that happens and you see me grab you, just begin seeking for divine intervention, I would just call you politely, take you to the side and beat you. You wouldn’t repeat that again. If you unnecessarily worry your mother, is beating not the last option?
Auntie Emma: I promised you that when donations come, I would share them for you; is that in any way wrong?
Auntie Emma: So if you fool around, I will deal with you, so when visitors come remain quiet, okay?
Auntie Emma: When they sing, do so; when they are upstanding, do so; engage actively in whatever is going on. If you refuse so to do; I will whip you. I will whip you so severely, you wouldn’t repeat that again.
And those of you who refuse to come here when the bell is sounded, they should continue. Is that why the guests came?
Auntie Emma: You the beneficiary of their donation must show your appreciation, as it stands now, we have been surpassed by Ofankor, Good Shepherd (orphanage) and the other one, and they are threatening to overtake us. So we must treat guests well. Simple singing too, who should do it for you. You are so blockheaded; all you know is to eat.
Aunty Emma seemed to have acquired a degree in the psychology of brainwashing children. We were left to wonder if there is a competition between the orphanages as to who receives the most donations!
THE STORY OF THE ALLEGED THIEF: I PREFER TO GO AND BEG ON THE STREETS THAN STAY HERE
“That boy is genetically brewed to be a thief,” these words were the views of Captain Boafo, father of the home on a 15 year old boy who had been living in the home since his childhood.
Our cameras happened to be on record mode when Sasu (not his real name); was held by the scruff of his T shirt by Auntie Emma and was being jointly beaten by her and Captain Boafo, whiles almost everyone else in the home looked on.
He had been pronounced guilty of unlawful entry into Auntie Emma’s room and stealing GH¢ 10.
He had been seen holding money, and someone had seen him coming out of Auntie Emma’s room. A connection of both occurrences was enough evidence to convict him of the criminal act of stealing.
No amount of explanation would absolve Sasu of the charge. He like the other children in the house are not supposed to handle money at any point. Sasu had been pronounced a thief and was the butt of all jokes amongst the young and old.
That incident had so badly affected the young man and to escape the ridicule and shame he had been subjected to, he was contemplating abandoning a place he had spent his childhood and formative years in.
He narrated his side of the story whiles sobbing and dealing with the pain of two bumps he had sustained on his head from the beatings he had earlier received.
Sasu: When Angelina saw the money you gave me, she went to tell mommy that this is what she saw me holding GH¢ 10 and that I went to take it from the room. Mommy too did not ask me anything and she started beating me.
Tiger: Did you go there?
Sasu: I didn’t go there. It’s Angelina who is alleging I went there. The woman (Auntie Emma) doesn’t like me; even if I don’t do anything and somebody says I did it; she would just take advantage to beat me.
I cannot stay in this home anymore, she has disgraced me. I cannot go anywhere again. Because I don’t have parents, my mommy died when I was four years and I don’t know the whereabouts of my father. They maltreat me because I don’t have parents, I don’t have anywhere to go.
After settling down, Sasu remembered that he had an option. To him, this incident was enough to force him to sacrifice all his years in the house and to start a new life -on the streets of Kasoa, where he was convinced that he would be better off begging wealthy motorists for handouts.
In his words: “The way this thing has happened, I am not sure I can stay here any longer, I am feeling embarrassed. I can go and stand at Kasoa and beg wealthy motorists who pass by, I cannot stay here. It is better I go and beg, the begging is better than going to school.”
The view of Mr. and Mrs. Boafo on the issue was that Sasu was not to be trusted in any way on any day and under any circumstances.
Auntie Emma: The boy is dangerous ooo
Anas: I also took him as my best friend.
Auntie Emma: He is your best friend? (amazed)
Anas: I said I just took him as my best friend.
Auntie Emma: (Not even me), the boy can cause your arrest and you will never be released, look; he can cause you to be arrested and never released.
By stander: It is only a visitor who eats a meal prepared with a blind fowl
Auntie Emma: No one should attend to him, leave him sitting right where he is
Capt. Boafo: He can steal even the pants that you are wearing.
Child psychologists have spoken about immediate and long term effects that insults and other forms of abuse have on children especially when the abuse is repetitive.
The story of Sasu amply demonstrates this effect with his feeling of embarrassment and shame leading to his decision to choose the streets rather than stay in the home; a place where the general society is of the view that Sasu and others like him would be enjoying the love of their surrogate parents.
In all of this however, Auntie Emma categorically denies that the children in the home are beaten.
Tiger: What is the difference between correction and beating?
Auntie Emma: Some kids are very shy so when we use the eye sight expression they will stop what they are doing immediately but others you have to call them and correct them on what they did. On most Fridays which marks the end of a week, I usually reward the well behaved child in the home. This has made other children to adapt to behaving well in the home’’.
Tiger: Does it mean you don’t beat the children?
Emma Boafo: Beating does not solve a problem so we correct them in the home. At times the offender comes back to me to plead for doing the wrong thing. You can come here at anytime without informing us to see whether we beat them or not’’.
Amongst other sights of punishment, we observed how especially Sylvester beat children in the home with sticks. The sound of a child screaming is common and the use of cane and belt to punish erring children is rampant.
In the third installment of our stories on the Bawjiase orphanage, we put the spotlight on the health situation in the house. The story of the SHS graduate doctor and his medical expositions are all up for discussion.