Feature by A.B. Kafui Kanyi
Ho, May 30, GNA - Child birth complications killed Fati at age 26. It was her sixth child after she dropped out of school at age 15 to marry Musa, who was 50 years.
Fati, was cajoled to marry Musah because Memunatu, 35, Musa’s first wife, has had no child, after 19 years of marriage.
Despite Fati’s protests, her father, a very good friend of Musa pushed her into it, to cement their old time friendship.
Three months after the marriage ceremony, witnessed by only a handful of people, Fati got pregnant and later gave birth to Musa’s first child.
Soon, the second and third children came, bringing joy to Musa and Memunatu. Memunatu because, Fati was not only a second wife, but also a house-help.
The two-acre yam farm, could not sustain the family, compelling Fati to engage in economic activities apart from farming to feed her children, her Husband and Memunatu.
She wakes up around 0400 hours, prepares porridge to sell at Dambai-Zongo, where they live and does other menial jobs for people, before visiting the farm late afternoon.
By 1800 hours, she must get home and prepare supper for the family, bath her children before getting ingredients ready for porridge at dawn.
A few years later, the fourth and fifth children were born, with more economic pressure on Fati, because Musa and Memunati are now very old and could not do any meaningful work to cater for the family.
Fati turns to selling rice and beans, (waakye), which arguably, has bigger profit margin, so she could take care of the family. She carries the food to market centres and public gatherings on days that she is unable to sell all at her joint.
Gradually, her natural beauty fades. She is often seen in the same dress and looks a bit unkempt, with three, four children trailing, the youngest strapped at her back.
At age 26, Fati, got pregnant for the sixth time but appears unhappy with it. She tells her friends, “I’m fed up. This is the last one, I can’t be taking care of the children alone,” and hinted of her plans to opt for family planning after the sixth child.
But it is a difficult pregnancy from day one. She is unable to do most of her usual household chores and her economic activities. Some of her children tried to help, but unable to sustain the family.
She gets weaker by the day, weeks and months. She has been in and out of a local clinic and made herbal preparations her companion, which she carries along when going to sell.
In the seventh month, the pregnancy developed complications and she was rushed to the local clinic, from her food joint.
The clinic referred her to the Worawora Government Hospital, but Fati couldn’t go because she had no money.
At dawn, the situation got bad, and a taxi driver neighbour was begged to help transport Fati to Worawora Government Hospital.
It started quite well. It was as if we were welcoming the sixth child but mother and child died upon reaching Dambai cemetery, off the Dambai-Worawora road.
The sad end of Fati went round Dambai-Zongo, sending shivers down the spine of many, including; other victims of child marriage, whose stories are yet to be told.
In Krachi East, four new cases of early marriage were recorded between January and April, this year, prompting World Vision International Ghana to launch the “End child marriage now! It takes us all” campaign in the Municipality.
Hosts of teenage mothers, mostly victims of early marriage have resorted to charcoal trading activities, deemed a good alternative for the poor in the Krachi East and West Districts.
The increasing demand for the fuel by city dwellers has kept girls between ages seven and 15 out of school, with many involved in the rather tedious activities of charcoal production, packaging and selling in market centres.
This they do, sometimes with babies strapped at their backs, a few (babies), not weaned from the breast, crawling and drifting in the charcoal dust, mostly half naked.
A 17-year old mother of two, married to a 45-year old farmer when she was 14, said they wished to be in school, but the charcoal business was helping put food on the table for their children and husbands.
Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS, 2011) says one (1) in four (4) women, 27 per cent, married before age 18, with the frequency in rural areas.
Reverend David Mensah, Chairman, Local Council of Churches, Dambai, said issues of early marriage had reached the tipping point with some girls seeking refuge in churches.
Child labour is another issue the two districts are grappling with. ILO defines the term as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity. That is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their education.
But, a father of eleven children from Grubi-Chinderi, in the Krachi-Nchumuru District, sees nothing wrong sending two of his daughters, 10 and 13 years to Dambai-Wankaya, to stay with a bread baker and work.
Checks indicate that the bread baker sends GH¢150.00 every month to the man for allowing the girls to stay and work with her.
The trafficked girls reportedly keep wake controlling fire in the local oven till next morning and move round to sell bread in nearby communities, with no opportunity to go to school.
A study by Andrea I. Zambrano, Beatriz E. Munoz, and Sheila K. West, in Tanzania found a strong relationship between cooking fire exposure while sleeping and active trachoma in children.
It says “there is good biologic plausibility why trachoma may be higher in children exposed to indoor air pollution (IAP). In addition to tearing and irritation, which may result in auto-re-infection, IAP appears to have a direct effect on the immune system.”
Science Daily also says children exposed to open fire cooking in developing countries experience difficulty with memory, problem-solving and social skills.
At Dambai old town, Adjoa, 40, gave her daughter, 12, out as a house help to a 25 year-old lady Teacher, for her (mother) to be paid GH¢80.00 monthly. The teenager wakes up early to do all household chores including; the preparation of local drinks, which she sells in the market during school hours.
Attempts to enrol her in school was unsuccessful as her mother was not ready to lose her monthly pay.
Investigations show that hundreds of children, boys and girls are trafficked especially from neighbouring island communities to the two districts and engaged in economic activities, including fishing.
A few of the children who are living with relations go to school, but sell food and other items after school and on market days.
Experts say lack of rest affects the growth hormone levels of children, their metabolism and ability to concentrate, but alas, these children know no rest, not even on school vacations.
The Department of Social Welfare and other institutions mandated to protect the welfare of children in the districts seem overwhelmed by the number of early marriage and child labour cases.
Mr Israel Aklorbortu, Volta Regional Director, Department of Children lamented the unrepentant nature of some parents and therefore called for the development of response mechanisms outside the formal system-establishment of child protection committees by the Assemblies or Traditional authorities to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
He said the committees could serve as watchdogs, to ensure that children enjoyed their rights to the fullest. Such committees are welcome but you and I have our roles to play too. All we need to do according to experts, is to look out for triggers such as unexplained bruises on children, children wandering late at night, begging for food and poor clothing, for rescue.
Children also suffer many other abuses, such as parents showing little concern for a child and incessant verbal thrashing of a child for poor performance at school and home.
Some parents follow up their children to school to demand of their teachers to use harsh physical discipline on them (children), also denying them healthcare and abandonment, all these are signs of abuse calling for attention.