Child cruelty is only entrenched due to society’s apathy. However, the plight of children is not so serene in Ghana….talk of orphans! Orphans are most often subjected to unspeakable cruelty and unconscionable exploitation in this country. Most of the cruelty takes place in established and recognized orphanage homes.
When organisations and individuals donate to orphanages, they expect that their donation, both in kind and in cash, will be put to good use but this appears not to be the case at the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home, an orphanage with more than 100 children, at Awutu Bawjiase in the Central Region.
At the orphanage, the children are forced to fast, even in the midst of plenty.
It is a sad tale of poor feeding and forced fasting, open sale of donated items, abuse and neglect, wanton pregnancy and abortion and lack of proper health care.
The latest in his undercover investigations at the orphanage, the investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and his team, after living in the home for six months, uncovered a home that has been turned into a business venture by its Founder, Mrs Emma Boafo Yeboah, affectionately referred to as Auntie Emma or Mummy in the home.
At the home, the children are made to pose for photo opportunities to receive items from donors, only to be starved behind the walls of the orphanage.
How it all began with Emma Boafo Yeboah
Auntie Emma (real name Emma Boafo Yeboah) is the founder and mother of the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home in Bawjiase, where our investigations uncovered topical issues of gross child rights infractions and corruption.
On the outside; the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home, popularly referred to as the Bawjiase Orphanage looks the ideal place where orphans could get a holistic upbringing.
One of the aims of the home is; “… to provide parental care and training for the needy children to prepare them for the challenges of life with confidence.”
But what we found when our investigative team led by Anas Aremeyaw Anas went undercover in the orphanage was far different from what most people would term as parental care and training aimed at preparing children for life’s challenges.
Investigators joined the kids on many occasions that they were summoned (sometimes during school hours but predominantly on the weekends) to sing to welcome and entertain donors.
The founder and owner sold most of these items to outsiders whiles children were given little to eat and sometimes made to fast! It was normal for the orphans to chew indomie….uncooked.
The mission of the home is stated thus; “to make our children useful assets as God provides the resources through mankind.” And that underlined the basis for Auntie Emma’s plea to donors to always give and not tire of giving.
Keeping with the mission, Auntie Emma in later interviews stated that the home always did its best to raise 40% of funds needed to run it, and depended on benevolence of people and organizations to contribute towards the remaining 60%. She is a good talker…if only her words were the truth.
In the next installment of this story, this reporter would delve deeper into issues of physical abuse of these children, at home and in school. We also tell the story of the Senior High School graduate who works as a dispensary boy and doctor, administering injection to sick children in the home.
The devil in the orphanage
The investigations, which were carried out in collaboration with the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) and titled: “‘Care’ less: the devil and the orphanage”, brings back to mind a similar expose at the Osu Children’s Home where abuse and neglect of the children and the looting of donated items were the order of the day.
After the food items donated to the Countryside Children’s Welfare Home have been sold to the public, the children are made to live on a cup of gari, which is poured into their shirts, and uncooked noodles.
Through their own ingenuity, some of the children ground pepper and tomatoes, which they eat with the gari for lunch. For supper, the meal is just a plate of soup, without fish or meat, shared by four children.
The situation is so bad that at one point the investigative team had to buy food for some of the children who were crying because of hunger.
Even worse, some days are declared fasting days and the children are given mango and water at the end of the fast.
“Today is fasting day and everybody is fasting — the whole house,” a caregiver who identified himself as Sylvester announced on one of the fasting days.
However, Auntie Emma painted a picture of the children living in luxury with choices.
“The children are well fed. They eat and we ensure that they are satisfied,” she said.
Pregnancy and abortion
In rather horrifying revelations, students of the Countryside Basic School, which is the educational wing of the home, told the story of how girls were made to undergo abortion after they had been impregnated by their male schoolmates.
A son of Aunty Emma’s was accused of impregnating one of the girls, while a cobbler from Bawjiase was said to have gone to the school to sleep with some of the girls and impregnate them, after which the pregnancies were aborted.
One girl was alleged to have undergone three abortions. In one instance, she was said to have aborted the pregnancy with the help of the female teachers who were referred to as ‘mothers’ in the home.
There were also alleged instances of homosexuality involving some male workers and male students of the home.
“At that time sex was like water. Abortion is rampant and more so because just one drug can do it,” a student told the investigating team.
A teacher at the school confirms that with GHc1, the teenage girls in the school will willingly go to bed with any man.
“‘Orphanage cedi cedi’; that is how those girls are referred to,” the teacher said, creating humour out of the situation.
In some instances, two of the children who were caught having sex received 24 lashes each on the orders of Auntie Emma’s husband, Captain Yeboah (retd), who has turned the home into a jungle by teaching the children to use guns.
Responding to some of the allegations, Auntie Emma said the only girl who got pregnant was a needy child who had been sent home for vacation but returned to the home pregnant and was sent back to her family.
High school graduate works as medical doctor
Health care at the home is administered by a senior high school graduate who describes himself as Dr Isaac Nsiebi.
He is mentoring an inmate, ‘Dr Bernard’, to take over the duty of diagnosing, prescribing, dispensing and administering injections in the home as he prepares to further his education.
Commenting on the healthcare situation in the home, Dr Alex Dodoo, a Director of the WHO collaborating centre, Ghana, said, “It is unacceptable. The orphanage must be shut down.”
“There must be high quality health care for people, regardless of where they are, whether it is an orphanage, church, convent or mosque. This must be stopped and those behind it must be brought to book,” he added.
Neglect and assault
In the home, it is a crime for a child to defecate on himself or herself.
A toddler who defecated in her diapers was left to her fate while houseflies had a field day on her soiled diapers.
As if there were no caregivers in the home, a boy who defecated was left unattended to, while both employees and volunteers by-passed him until two of his peers, aged about six and three, helped him to clean up.
The most heart-breaking scenario was played out when a hungry boy of about three years was offered an empty cup by caregivers, ostensibly to make fun of him.
In defence, the caregivers claimed they had neglected the children who had soiled themselves because they (caregivers) had not been assigned specific responsibilities by Auntie Emma.
Even worse than the neglect was the fact that the children were asked to undertake odd jobs, such as scrubbing the washrooms with stones, fetching water at odd hours and working in the farms of the orphanage.
Acts of extreme cruelty such as abuse and assault of the children, including those with disabilities, were commonplace.
One of the teachers at the home, identified as Sylvester, was feared for his powers of kicking, slapping, spanking and thrashing the children with a long stick for minor offences.
A child with bloodstains all over her face walked about without care, whiles others with blistered hands, as well as disabled children, were left to cater for themselves.
Following the investigations, about 40 of the children in the home have been transferred and are now temporarily being sheltered at the Osu Children’s Home in Accra.
The rescue was done by the Department of Social Welfare, in collaboration with the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service.
The National Coordinator of DOVVSU, Chief Superintendent of Police Ms Lawrencia Akorli, explained that her unit had no choice but to step in to do something about the situation.
The Countryside Children’s Welfare Home was established with six children in Winneba in the Central Region in 1981 and relocated to Bawjiase two years later.
The founder of the home and some other actors accused of violating the rights of the children are yet to be arrested.