Here in Ghana, culture reigns supreme. The vibrant colors, the tight-knit communities, and the traditional beliefs are pervasive. They dictate everything about life here in Ghana. Before I arrived, I heard rumors and stories about the way children with disabilities were treated in Ghana, but I thought they were a thing of the past. I also read a few journal articles that talked about how these children have been treated in various African societies and I knew I wanted to understand the situation better. I saw that there was a need for change and it is why I wanted to come to Ghana in the first place. What I didn’t realize was that for a developing country like Ghana, the past is still very much a part of daily life and people still have traditional beliefs about children with disabilities.
In my interviews, I have learned that mistreatment of children with disabilities is common and accepted. Most of the interview participants discussed how these children are locked in their rooms, given little food, and dismissed or banned from school. At the heart of the problem is the belief that children with disabilities are not human beings. Almost every interviewee reported this traditional belief. When these children are born, it is believed that they come from the small gods that people worship, like the river gods. People call these children “river babies” or “snake children” because they were created by the small gods. People view these children as a curse from the gods, a punishment for the family’s sins, or the result of someone speaking ill of you or not forgiving you. Because these children are not human beings in the eyes of many people, they are shunned and abandoned.
One mother I interviewed described how she was told by other community members to visit a traditional healer who could give her a concoction that would get rid of her child. She also spoke of how people wouldn’t let their children play with her son and if he touched any of the toys, the other families would wash the toys with soap and water before letting their children play with them. Stories like this were common and every interviewee could tell me instances where disabled children were treated as unworthy of love and affection.
The culture and traditional beliefs will be a challenge to overcome. It will take time, even years, to change the perceptions people have here in Ghana. But that time will be worth it. When disabled children are viewed as human beings and treated with love, dignity, and respect, then it will all have been worth it.