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Keep every child safe

Young people in Ghana have appealed to government, parents and society to take steps to end all forms of violence against them in order to keep every child safe from harm. The children said all forms of violence against them affected their development and prevented them from reaching their full potentials.

The children made the appeal the ‘Youth Talks’ programme organised by UNICEF in Accra. The event was part of UNICEF’s global End Violence Against Children campaign. The campaign is a call to shift policy and mobilise resources to keep every child safe to study.

Young advocates and children at the ceremony shared had the opportunity to share their experiences on violence in and around schools as well as online.

Although corporal punishment has been banned by the Ghana Education Service (GES), children at the event confirmed that in reality, teachers were still applying harsh discipline.

The youth’s appeal to end violence confirms the results of a poll of an SMS based platform known as U-Report which indicated that 54 per cent of young people (registered on the platform) in Ghana stayed out of school because they were afraid of harsh punishment.

A youth advocate, Miss Abigail Mamle Teye, said the advocacy against corporal punishment was not about “sparing the rod and spoiling the child” but for teachers to encourage and motivate rather than using force and harsh punishment

The Director of the Guidance and Counselling Unit of the GES, Ms Ivy M. Kumi, said it was important for teachers to be at the forefront of the crusade to stop corporal punishment in order to break the cycle.

She said although the GES banned corporal punishment in February last year, she recently witnessed a teacher beat a child because she did not bring an exercise book to school.

Ms Kumi described the situation as “pathetic” and said it was important for teachers to be abreast of the positive discipline tools to use.

She said teachers know the developmental stages of adolescents and, therefore, are in the best position to apply the right kind of discipline and not be violent.

A Form Three pupil of a basic school in Accra, Deborah, recounted an experience where a student tried to commit suicide because she had been verbally abused by a teacher.

She noted that sometimes when a pupil makes a mistake in class, it became his or her tag name and that could prevent the victims from attending school.

Deborah appealed to both teachers and parents to stop verbal abuse adding that “our parents insult us not knowing the effect it has on us. Please counsel us but do not insult us when we go wrong.”

For her part, Miss Stella Darley Tetteh, a youth advocate said she was subjected to violence as a child.

Although she did not mention the form of violence she was subjected to, she appealed the GES to incorporate gender-based violence into school curriculum.

Speaking on bullying in schools, Ernest and Benedicta, also from a basic school in Accra called on young people to stop bullying others because of the harmful effects on many stressing that people who bullied others should be punished and the victims counselled.

On online safety, Kenneth and Roland from a basic school in Accra, appealed to government, parents and teachers to do their part to bring sanity in the use of the Internet.

They also called on regulatory bodies to check adverts on alcohol and sexual enhancement products since they were not good for children.

The Communication Manager of UNICEF Ghana, Eulette Ewart, congratulated the young people who participated for sharing their stories adding “these were compelling, personal, honest, and at times very sensitive stories. We applaud your courage to stand and speak about such important matters.”

She said young people are powerful agents of change and UNICEF believes that youth participation adds value.

However, she noted that many children are affected by psychological, physical and sexual violence and this can harm a child or adult for many years.

Earlier in her introductory remarks, the Communication Officer for Adolescent and Youth Engagement, UNICEF Ghana, Ms Antoinette Gyan, said the programme was to raise awareness on the different types of violence as well as mobilise resources to conduct research on the prevalence of violence in schools.

She said it was important to hear the voices of children and young people on issues that effect them.

She said recommendations of such programmes would be used to develop the UNICEF global’s youth manifesto to remind member states of their commitment to keep children safe so that they can move on to the next stage of their lives.

The Acting Director of the Department of Children, Mrs Florence Ayisi Quartey, called on parents to appreciate the developmental stages of children so that they can understand their behaviours better.

The programme was interspersed with videos and moderated by MzVee, a musician, and Francisca Forson, a broadcaster.

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