“I’M HUMAN, DON’T KILL ME”
AYAANE: THE ‘SPIRIT CHILD’
Ayane was born to Apasiba (mother) and Adoliwine (father) with multiple disabilities in Ganni, a community in the Kassena-Nankana Municipal of the Upper East Region of Ghana. Ayane was born paralysed, neck not firm and also no speech. Unable to walk, speak and control his neck at age two, rumors spread fast in the village to the effect that Ayane is a spirit child. To ascertain the truth or otherwise of this rumor his father, George, consulted a soothsayer who corroborated the rumor. Culturally, children born with disabilities are perceived to be a bad omen to the family and must be killed so they do not bring untoward hardships to the family. Having had this confirmation his mother had no difficulty deciding to get rid of a ‘spirit child’ in order to escape the possibility of ill luck befalling her family. ‘Ayane’ in the local language means ‘disgrace’ or ‘shame’. It is clear then that at birth Ayane’s parents saw the disability and already had misgivings about their child. They only just waited for concrete signs as he grew up to confirm their suspicion and to justify why his right to life should be ended. They would then only be conforming to an age long cultural practice. Unfortunately there was a new dawn and they had a difficulty to execute their easy decision. As a result of Youth Ailve’s work with traditional authorities to scrap obsolete cultural practices that violate the rights of children, traditional authorities have banned killing of so called ‘spirit children’ in all communities benefiting from the UKAID funded ‘Reducing Violence at home and at school’ project; Ayane’s community, Gaani, not being an exception. Afraid that she would be punished if she killed her son Apasiba, Ayane’s mother, approached the chief of Gaani to seek his approval to end her son’s life.
The chief, upon receiving this information, quickly convened a meeting with the Gaani Asongtaba Development Committee; a Development Committee whose formation was initiated and facilitated by of Youth Alive. At the meeting it was explained to the boy’s parents that their son was as human as any child but only had a disability. It was revealed at the meeting that Apasiba’s decision to kill her son was not only influenced by the rumor in the community but also the difficult in handling such a disabled child due to her own situation; an amputee with three children, unemployed and cohabiting with a jobless and uncaring man . Obviously she wanted to get rid of the child to reduce her burden. She was shown pictures and told the stories of people with disabilities around the world who are performing and achieving greater feats in life. Having seen the pictures, coupled with various pieces of advice, Apasiba accepted the child as a “gift from God” (as she put it) and promised to keep and take good care of the child. A visit to the home, three weeks after the meeting revealed that she and her husband (who declined to attend the meeting) were happy and had abandoned the idea of getting rid of the child.
The story of Ayane is a testimony of just one of the many significant changes taking place in communities in which Youth Alive works to reduce violence against children in the Upper East and Upper West Region of Northern Ghana. It shows how eliciting the cooperation of traditional authority can result in modifying or eliminating obsolete and harmful cultural practices and propel development. Additionally it show that the decision to eliminate as ‘spirit child’ transcend culture and touches on issues of poverty. It is also evidential of the need to place a high premium on aggressive advocacy to end all forms of violence against children. Ayaane was lucky to have been born in one of the few communities where killing of ‘spirit children’ is banned. There are several ‘spirit children’ born in hundreds of communities where it is still culturally acceptable to kill ‘spirit children’. The time to ACT is NOW!!