Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-TOGO: Children Suffer Multiple Forms of Abuse

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Apr 5 2004 (IPS) - A study just completed in Togo has revealed high levels of child abuse in the West African state.

Almost 370 men, women and children were surveyed for the study, which found instances of paedophilia, illegal child labour, trafficking – and discrimination against children who were disabled, or from certain ethnic groups.

Of the 181 children interviewed, 98.9 percent said they had suffered physical abuse – or been forced to perform hard physical labor.

The research was done by the Togolese branch of the African Network for Child Protection and the Prevention of Negligence and Abuse (APPCAN) between September 2003 and March 2004. APPCAN issued its findings in a report published Mar. 31, which highlighted four main forms of mistreatment: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and parental neglect.

“There was a uniformity in the way people conducted themselves,” said Abla Dotse, an APPCAN member. “Neither ethnic origin, nor religion, nor…level of education” distinguished the abusers, she added.

The study said emotional abuse took the form of insults, intimidation, unjustified accusations and the vilification of orphans’ dead parents.

“Each time the child next door makes a mistake, the neighbor insults her dead parents, and hits her with kitchen utensils or belt buckles,” Alida Mathia, an executive secretary in Lome, told IPS. “Most recently, she violently beat the girl with a ladle and gave her a head injury.”

The study also indicated that girls aged 11 to 14 were exploited by so-called “godfathers” who turned them into prostitutes. Just last week (Mar. 29), police rounded up a group of girls in Lome between the ages of 12 and 17 who were being prostituted by a man now sought by authorities.

“I live with my aunt who doesn’t give me any money, so in order to eat I have to prostitute myself,” says Manavi Koumaka, 14. She earns about one dollar per customer, most of which is taken by her pimp.

Most of these girls live in groups of 10 to 15 in communal homes run by an “aunt” who has no actual relationship to the girls, says Dotse. Fifty percent of adults questioned for the study said they were aware of specific cases of sexual abuse.

According to APPCAN, mistreatment is linked to poverty and a refusal to recognize the rights of children.

The study recommended that the popular view of corporal punishment as acceptable when dealing with children should be debated, and alternatives proposed. “In their responses, some parents said that such punishment was the preferred way to discipline children who were overly stubborn,” explained Dotse.

It also advised the rapid implementation of laws which would protect minors, and punish offenses against them – and efforts to combat the poverty that spawned abuse.

In 1990, Togo ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1989. The country has also signed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in July 1990.

“These two pacts were supposed to guarantee children effective protection of their rights, but they still undergo daily violence of every kind,” Dotse lamented.

Added Maly, “We need to launch a real awareness campaign which will put an end to this trend."

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