When police officers, a representative from the Ministry of social Welfare and an officer from DOVVSU arrived, the woman became combative and physically assaulted the officers by biting their hands and chests. To subdue her, the officers had to call for reinforcement, and five officers were forced to physically restrain her.
The woman was eventually taken to the Accra Psychiatric Hospital for diagnosis and treatment. The child, however, was taken into custody by one of the citizens who reported the matter to the police.
The police initially brought mother and child to Osu Children’s Home. Consequently, workers at the home refused to accept the infant out of fear that the girl’s mother would return and violently reclaim her.
This unfortunate episode is one of the many examples of the lack of a reliable protection and referral system for the vulnerable in Ghana.
A protection and referral system is a system of networks and contacts that a person or agency utilises to serve a vulnerable population.
According to the Child Protection Working Group of Save the Children UK, in laymen’s terms, the system is: “Whatever exists on the ground at that time for the protection of children in terms of laws, policies, regulations, monitoring processes, services and workers and their availability, quality, reach, integration and coordination.”
Ideally, this system will involve different branches of government, as well as outside service providers. The hallmarks of the best referral systems are cohesion, efficiency and sensitivity to the needs of its client base.
In Ghana, the police, Ministry of Social Welfare, and the judicial services branch of government have an imperative to work together and form a cohesive and well-managed system for servicing vulnerable people, especially children.
Runaways, missing and exploited children often do not have access to services that could help to ameliorate their situations, and the services that are available are often disorganised, convoluted and confusing. At a meeting with several branches of government, FIDA-Ghana learned that when police picked children, they often have no place to send them. The police are prohibited from holding minors in cells, so they are often kept behind desks and other places. while discussing these issues, a representative from the Ministry of Social Welfare suggested that children in Accra should be sent to the Osu Children’s Home until their families were located. Many members of the police service were unaware that they had this option.
This is strong evidence of a disgusting trend of lack of communication between the agencies. Social Welfare and the Ghana Police Service should be working together to find the best solutions – temporary and permanent – for missing and exploited children. Instead, there is a piecemeal routine that leaves many children without the help and resources that they need.
The meeting gave several ministries and agencies the opportunity to discuss their grievances, frustrations and successes. The results were astounding. There is a fundamental lack of communication and understanding among the ministries.
Inaction, corruption and indifference plague segments of all the ministries. This reputation is a blight and canker on agencies and ministries that are charged with ensuring all people have access to justice. In many areas, the police do not have the knowledge or resources to handle missing, runaway and exploited children adequately.
While the ministry of Social Welfare has the knowledge and resources to aid these children, the lack of dialogue between the two bodies keep this information from reaching those police officials who work on the ground.
This problem is compounding the issues already plaguing vulnerable children, and the absence of collaboration impedes, delays and discourages justice and favourable resolutions for these victims. It is a disgrace and a dishonour to Ghana to allow this to continue.
In addition to the lack of communication between agencies, ministries and branches of government, ignorance of the law within service providing sectors of government abounds.
At the meeting, several members of the Ghana Police Service recalled instances where domestic violence cases were turned away because they were considered “family issues.” This practice is a direct contradiction to the Domestic Violence Act of 2007.
The act, which makes domestic violence a statutorily criminal offence, mandates that perpetrators to be arrested and brought to justice. Other ministries were aware of these stipulations and the police practices, yet they refused to check this unlawful behaviour. This is a disservice to all Ghanaians.
Government bodies and law. enforcement agencies should be collaborating to bring about the best services for the citizenry. By turning a blind eye to the structural deficiencies which plague other agencies and government bodies, a ministry or government agency is compounding the problem because its inaction is delaying key changes that will help to deliver quality service and help to the citizenry.
In order to make long-term, structural change, the government bodies must work together in steps to build community-based changes in the referral system, as well as changes to the structure of response to issues as a whole.
UNICEF advises that government agencies and service providers first engage in a snapshot assessment of the environments of their respective communities.
Instead of continuing the current piecemeal trend of evaluating each case as it comes in, a snapshot assessment would give each government ministry, agency and service provider a clear picture of the issues and challenges affecting the communities that they work with.
This information will allow them to take proactive steps together to create awareness, identify key priorities, help to plan the distribution of resources and promote the creation of a clear service delivery plan.
It is time for institutions to be held accountable. They are in place to serve and protect the people of Ghana. Instead, they have been habitually serving themselves to the detriment of the people.
There is no doubt that the majority of government workers are honest and hardworking individuals striving to make Ghanaian government agencies and ministries more responsive to the needs of its citizens.
These people must come together and collaborate on ways to work together, as well as discuss the necessary steps to quash those who tarnish the names of their agencies.
Educating workers on the laws, bringing them together and exchanging ideas and challenges are the most effective ways to set the groundwork for a referral system to ensure that women, children and the vulnerable do not slip through the cracks of justice anymore.
Additionally, communication and a referral system must extend to the community members. In many places, especially the rural areas, traditional, religious and district assemblies with child panels are typically the ones to handle cases regarding child welfare, domestic disputes and cases involving other vulnerable populations.
If these leaders are not knowledgeable about the laws and the ministries in place to handle these problems, then many exploited and abused women and children will remain on the peripheral of the justice system.
By putting these recommendations in place, Ghana will tremendously reduce cases like the one on Spintex Road.
The article was written by FIDA Ghana