about African foster girls

Published on Journalists for Human Rights JHR, on November 19, 2006.

Rukaya, a 16-year-old girl, has been living with her aunt since she was five. Her cousins go to school. They don’t lift a finger at home. Rukaya’s biological mother still has some of her own children in her home. She visits Rukaya on occasion.

“But I want to go home,” Rukaya says. “My sisters at home don’t have to do chores all day. My work is too difficult.”

Rukaya left school in Primary 4. According to Mahama Abukari, who is currently taking his Masters in Human Rights and writing a thesis on “Fostering,” foster mothers only put foster children in school in their early years for daycare. “When they are old enough to perform duties at home, their aunties will pull them out of school,” he says. In 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was established in Ghana. It states that “Children shall have time to rest and play, equal opportunities for cultural and artistic activities. States shall protect economic exploitation and work that may interfere with education or be harmful to health and well-being.” The panellists say, like so many laws and written conventions in Ghana, they are aspirations but never implemented.

“My human rights have been abused,” says Rukaya. “I work so hard and my auntie screams at me all the time. I never get the time to rest.”

Apparently colonialism is to blame.

Before the dawn of the white man on West African soil, formal education did not exist in Ghana. A girl became educated from living at her auntie’s house. She would be raised by her community, not her immediate family who could possibly spoil her. She’d learn about different villages, how to cook and clean. She was being groomed for marriage. The fees involved in formal education now are numerous, even with the supposed implementation of government grants. If you come from a poor family, you can’t afford to pay for all of your childrens’ school fees. The soil isn’t as good as it used to be. Crops yields are poor. When you add polygamy into the mix, that’s a lot of children to feed, cloth and educate. Parents need to work now, but that doesn’t mean household duties can sit and wait.

The girl who was treated the same way as her other siblings, who was taught life skills by her auntie is now performing routine tasks for her auntie’s family. And her future looks meek. Rukaya is uneducated. But damn, can she sweep. Whether we like to admit it or not, globalization is here. With the introduction of the internet and television shows, Africans know how other people live and the rights that other people have. In two sentences, their old system doesn’t fit into this new world. Traditions twist with the turn of generations. It’s sad when it changes for the worse. (Read the whole article on JHR).

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