…Orphaned children physically assaulted; they die from malnutrition while food meant for them is sold on the open market. Our reporter poses as a Rev Minister and a rich business woman to witness cases of child abuse that have claimed the lives of some children in the Home.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas reports from x Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal; Monrovia, Liberia And Washington DC, USA
It is a poster picture of happy pals of pranksters prancing about in idle play; a party of piquant-faced children gulping down platefuls of palatable dishes often paid for by some corporate or private philanthropists; of cash/items presentation ceremonies all carefully choreographed for the newspapers and television cameras – a public relations masterstroke that has been learnt, lived and loved by the authorities at the Osu Children’s home, Ghana’s flagship home for orphans. It is a clever subterfuge that has cheated public vigilance and aided the festering of a canker of crumbling infrastructure, inadequate staffing, thievery as well as child neglect and abuse that has claimed the lives of innocent children.
When some well-meaning institutions pick vulnerable children from the streets; rescue some infant wrecks, some otherwise brilliant, pretty and handsome juvenile fallen prey to fearsome and loathsome circumstances like human trafficking, in order to bring them up in more hospitable and wholesome conditions, such organizations surely deserve every praise and plaudit, however fulsome.
But, in the light of this reporter’s discoveries at the Osu Home, this popular view of the good works of some of the humanitarian institutions in the country is no more than a huge illusion.
The discoveries follow a seven-month investigation by The New Crusading GUIDE into the operation of the Osu Children’s Home and capture cases of physical abuse, squalid living conditions, stealing and caregiver negligence that have resulted in the deaths of many children within the home. The investigation also uncovered some disturbing aspects of life at the Osu Remand Home and the Osu Home School and found out that the two institutions, together with the main Home, subjected children under their care to a daily gauntlet of whipping, and other physical punishments that adversely affect the victims’ physical, emotional and academic development.
Posing as a visiting Pastor under the name Reverend Abednego Akpabli alias ‘Onyameneba’, from the [non-existent] Christ of Jah Church, this reporter obtained secret video footage on the daily ills and injustices suffered by children within the home. The mothers, who are supposed to give tender care, love and a sense of belonging to these children, normally subject them to abuse and maltreatment, leaving deep emotional and physical scars.
This reporter also posed as a rich female philanthropist from Mali, under the name Hajia Balkisu, to unravel the mystery behind a series of deaths that has hit the home in recent times. “She” bought a coffin for the burial of one of the dead kids who was about to receive a pauper’s burial from the home. “She” also provided an ambulance to convey the bodies of three dead babies to the morgue on the day of another child’s burial. Through these efforts, it was possible to get behind the closed scenes of the painted Home to reveal the shadowy side of Ghana’s most celebrated Home of care.
On a daily basis, physically-challenged children in the home are left sprawling helplessly on the floor, usually at the mercy of the elements without being attended to. This situation of neglect is a consistent feature in the home, with the children left to lie, eat and bath on the bare and dirty floor.
A crippled girl in the home caught this reporter’s attention for the consistent manner in which she was left to struggle on her own to fetch her food and have her bath. Suffering from a deep wound in the foot, which has adversely affected her mobility, she was often seen writhing and wincing in pain with no help at hand.
But it is the extremity and not the peculiarity of her situation that catches the eye, as many of the physically-challenged children are made to spend virtually all the day sitting on the floor instead of on wheelchairs or other appropriate chairs. Instead, the available wheelchairs provided by generous donors have been turned into laundry bags, where dirty clothes are hanged. As a result, when these children get tired, they usually lie to sleep on the bare floor till rare help comes.
In one of the scenes captured by this reporter, Annabel, a physically-challenged girl suffering a severe back wounds cries helplessly to draw the attention of caregivers to her pain. When she finally receives help from a caregiver, it is a painful one, as the grudging helper caregiver carelessly lifts her with one hand, like a handbag and dumps her on a mat spread on the floor.
Children in the home are often made to use the floor as their dining table in order to save the mothers the trouble of cleaning the dining hall after every meal. As a result, the kids are normally seen eating in such unhygienic conditions. It is even worse for some of the physically-challenged, who are served foods at the nearest convenient place, sometimes very close to the toilet.
The cases of neglect suffered by most children in the home have translated into their attitude and behavior towards each other. Taking cue from the caregivers in the home, older and stronger children within the home often refuse to attend to the younger and weaker ones who call for their help.
Promoting a Culture of Abuse
Some caregivers in the Osu Children’s Home have built for themselves such a fearsome reputation for the sheer terror they inspire that the kids in the home often jubilate when their check on the duty roster indicate that those tormentors are off duty on a particular day.
The situation in the home is contrary to what caregivers in the home project to the outside world, like this assertion made by Sharon Abbey, the manageress of the Osu Children’s Home, in an interview with The New Crusading GUIDE; “They [children in the home] are like one of us, there is no discrimination, so if you come in, you won’t know the difference between the child of the staff and that of one of our children here”.
Sharon Abbey gives a favorable report on the state of the Osu Children’s Home. This however proves false, as many visual scenes captured by this reporter over the period of investigations, some mothers were seen lavishing special attention on their own children while some children of the home in more urgent need, were neglected. A particular caregiver was captured on video several times giving special attention to her child while some twenty toddlers queued up to be bathed by a single caregiver.
Physical abuse of children in the home is a frequent occurrence carried out by both mothers and some older children against the young ones in the home. Akuamoah is one of the older boys currently living in the home. Now aged 21, Akuamoah has lived in the home since he was a baby. As a result, many of the younger boys in the home look up to him for the love, protection, and care that is expected from an elder sibling; but their expectations remain steeped in the imagination.
Contrary to the expectations of the younger children, Akuamoah has grown into a very hostile and heartless ‘brother’ of abuse, who leaves them with physical and emotional scars on every encounter. On a regular morning in the home, Akuamoah helps the mothers in serving food to the younger boys and also dresses up some of the younger children for school, but for each of these services rendered, Akuamoah is always out to exact a high price from the children in the form of physical abuse; unleashing stings of abuse by caning these hapless victims each day.
Going by the unofficial title of C.O. (Compound Overseer) in the home, Akuamoah is always out to make the Home a living hell for the children. In an interview with our undercover reporter [posed as Rev. Akpabli], Akuamoah maintained that he does not touch anyone without instructions from the office of the Osu Children’s Home. He told the disguised reporter that “the law [beating children] comes directly from the office to the Home”. He added that, “if someone misbehaves or commits an offence, [he] will march him straight to the office and act according to the instructions given [to him]”.
In several shots of undercover video footage obtained by the reporter, Akuamoah is seen beating the kids at the least opportunity. Sometimes, the holy precincts of the prayer hall do little to shield the children from his mercilessness. In spite of the countless incidents of physical abuse that Akuamoah is captured in, he appears to know the implications of his behavior. He states ironically, “someone might have a peculiar ailment and should anything happen to the person in the course of punishing them; you might be charged and summoned to court”. This probably explains why Akuamoah denies beating the children in spite of the overwhelming video evidence obtained by the reporter.
While Akuamoah may not be pardoned for his many acts of abuse against his younger ones, there is amble evidence in psychological studies to suggest that his behavior has largely been shaped by the environment he grew in. Having spent over twenty of his twenty-one years in the Osu children’s home, the effect of his environment on his behavior is striking. Among the numerous anti-social behaviors which characterize the lives of abused children, violence is one of the long-term effects, especially in the absence of psychological therapy.
A recent childhood mental health report, released by the web-based childhooddisorders.com, indicates that factors within the social environment – family, peers, and the school and community contexts – have an overriding influence on a child’s anti-social behavior.
“The research on risk for aggressive, anti-social and violent behavior includes multiple aspects and stages of life, beginning with interactions in the family. Such forces as weak bonding, ineffective parenting (poor monitoring, ineffective, excessively harsh, or inconsistent discipline, inadequate supervision), exposure to violence in the home, and a climate that supports aggression and violence puts children at risk for being violent later in life”, the report states.
Clearly, life in the Osu Children’s Home reveals a pattern of abuse from adults which has translated into ripples of violence and a never-ending stream of hostility among most children in the home. From verbal to physical and emotional abuse, the children are being initiated into a culture of abuse on a daily basis.
A Pattern of Stunted Academic Development
Retrogressive academic performance is another insidious effect of child abuse; and this plays out heavily in the lives of most children in the home. Psychological findings have proved that, without the love, teaching and nurturing children need for growth; they get distorted and destroyed in their academic abilities.
Thus, the related stress from the abusive and negligent environment of the Osu Children’s Home has heightened learning difficulties for most children. The La Yahoushua School is a cluster of Basic schools located a few metres from the Osu Children’s Home. This school is one of the few schools which most children from the Home attend. A follow-up investigation to find out the academic performance of some of these children in their various schools revealed a log of poor grades and various learning disorders exhibited by most children in the Home. Some teachers in the school gave alarming tales of academic decadence that has eaten up the lives of most children from the home.
“If you give them home work, they would never do it”, a teacher worriedly said. According to her, most of these children have been repeated several times till they usually leave the school, since most of them lack the necessary supervision at home. This reporter was shocked to discover that most of these children had very limited ability in basic literacy. Report cards which we found indicate that most children from the home have over the years attained unimpressive results in class, normally putting them at the bottom of the academic rung.
On careful observation, one can see several indications in the Home which bear these findings out. Apart from the general lack of care, abuse and supervision, the academic welfare of children in the Home appears to be limited to a routine of waking the children up to go to school, without follow-ups on their development in the school. While the Home can boast of a well-equipped library for the children, the minds of the children are seldom tuned to studies within the home, as they are normally engaged with household chores, leaving little or no time for using the library.
In the course of our investigations, most of the children were found doing their home works on pavements and beside gutters on their way to school. The clear lack of supervision in this area has attracted the attention of teachers in the La Yahoushua School, who have consistently called on authorities in the Home to help remedy the situation.
Contrary to accounts by the Sharon Abbey [Manageress of the Osu Children’s Home], that the academic welfare of children is of a great priority to the caregivers, a headmistress at the La Yahoushua Primary school maintains that the caregivers at the Osu Children’s Home do not even come for Parent Teachers’ Association meetings when they are called upon. “They do not come for meetings”, she said.
Stealing of Donations; leaving the Children with Crumbs
Over the years, the Osu Children’s Home has benefited from the generosity of corporate and non-governmental institutions as well as philanthropists, who have poured tons of donations in cash and kind to ensure a successful running of the Home.
As a result, the Home hardly suffers the general lack of basic necessities which characterize small and less supported Homes. Each week, items are re-stocked for the Home, thanks to the benevolence of these institutions and individuals. The children are normally made to pose for the cameras during these ceremonies, and they look forward with warm hearts to the coming days for better foods at the Home. But these hopes are consistently dashed, as caregivers take turns to pack and send some of these items to their individual homes.
While this continuous support to the Home is supposed to benefit the children, the children are rather left on the fringes, as caregivers reward themselves with some of the donated food items. Each time, the children are made to carry several bags of donated items into waiting taxis for the caregivers, as they take them to their individual homes. In several video footages captured by this reporter, caregivers in the home can be seen sharing the best parts of donations while some children are made to eat foods that have left many of them with symptoms of malnourishment. Although, the manageress of the Home maintains that the children are given “five cartons of chicken thighs” every week, some children who were interviewed by this reporter presented a different side.
“I don’t like it, but what can you do; you just have to manage it. Here if you don’t eat, where would you go and get your food”, said one boy who was eating a plate of gari and ground pepper for lunch.
As is this is not enough, some caregivers go to lengths to pick some of these donated items from the home and sell them to the public. During the investigations, our reporter received some packs of donated children clothing at cheap prices from some caregivers who work within the home. These caregivers normally have emissaries through whom they push these deals.
On one of the purchasing encounters with a middleman sent by a caregiver from the Home, the following conversation was recorded:
Reporter: How should we do it?
Salesman: The thing is ...before you get these goods, you would have gone through a lot of trouble....so she wants 50 Ghana Cedis for these items....and for the others you will get them later.
Reporter: The last time how much did we give you?
Salesman: 500 thousand Cedis (50 Ghana Cedis)
Reporter: You didn’t give us many goods then. So how much do we have to add now? We didn’t hear anything from you again. So how much do we have to add? Let me take a look at the things. Which ones are these?
Salesman: I don’t even know...haven't gone through yet
Reporter: Okay....is it clothes, shoes or.....?
Reporter: That means we have to add to what we have already given you
Reporter: Do we still have to add to what you gave us the last time? She wants 40ghana Cedis for these?
Salesman: 40 Ghana Cedis for .........unless Christmas......for the storekeeper and the storekeeper is not easy to deal with. If you go directly to the storekeeper, he won’t give you.
Reporter: He won’t give you.....
Salesman: It is not that easy, you can’t ask for these items from the storekeeper. Even with the workers. Asking for things from the storekeeper is very difficult. He won’t give you even when you are in need.
Reporter: The last time you gave us only two. What about the storekeeper? Salesman: The storekeepers keep the things for their personal use. When they pick these things they take it to their various homes.
A Row of Deaths wrapped in a Mystery.
The negligence, lack of care and abuse in the Osu Children’s Home has always had the ultimate result of death among children in the Home. While older children are made to die preventable deaths, babies are equally cramped into small spaces which results in multiple deaths on a regular basis. For these deaths, a retired staff of the Home provides some insight: “Unfortunately the rooms are not enough and the children out-number the rooms and beds available, so we assign two or more children. That one causes death as well”.
When these children die, they are normally kept in the morgue till the bodies accumulate; in order to give mass burials. These deaths are usually shrouded in secrecy. This case necessitated the entry of our reporter as a rich Malian female philanthropist by the name Hajia Balkisu.
Having experienced the cases of abuse, neglect and death in the Home, Anas decided to visit other orphanages in Senegal and Liberia to assess their situation and see whether they were manifestations of the general poverty in Africa or an isolated case of negligence. He also visited the United States to find out what lessons can be learnt in the area of child care and development. Employing diverse investigative techniques, our reporter was able to unravel the mysteries that surround the death of children in the Osu Children’s Home. He unraveled the entire mystery in the latest victim of death, Yaw Moses, whose case provides a thread that runs through most of the deaths in the Osu Children’s Home.
Ace Investigative Journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ chilling undercover story reveals a clever subterfuge involving thievery as well as child neglect that has claimed the lives of innocent children at the Osu Children’s home, Ghana’s flagship home for orphans. Watch clips of Anas' work at the Home.
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