Communication for development strategy to fight sexual exploitation of children

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Tehn-Lennox AKPETEY

Sexual exploitation of children is a growing threat all over the world. Efforts to address this problem in Ghana have yielded limited success because child abuse is severely underreported. Most victims of abuse, for the fear of victimization, refuse to even admit to being molested.

Sexual assault covers physical or sexual violence against a person, whether male or female, which violates the person’s bodily integrity and sexual autonomy. In Ghana, the age of consent for sex is 16 years. Sex with anyone below this age is considered defilement since the child is regarded as a minor by the laws.

Even if a 15-year-old gives you content to have sex, that consent will not hold in a court of law since that person is a child and cannot give legal consent. In Ghana, sex is not a topic that is easily discussed in the open. It becomes a herculean task to find out acts of sexual exploitation.
Although sexual assault can be committed by and against both sexes, women and girls tend to suffer the most from such offences.

In Ghana, one of the causes of sexual exploitation of children in poverty. Lack and want prevent families from providing the needs of the family, thereby, making it the only possible easy way out to survive.

A report on sexual abuse among children in the country conducted by the Non-Governmental Organisation, Plan Ghana revealed that out of 100 cases of those who have been molested or abused, 53 cases occurred at school. The other 43 took place at home.

The Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit of Ghana’s Police Service say cases of children being abused especially in schools, are on the increase. The goal of establishing a minimum age of sexual consent is to protect adolescents from abuse and consequences they may not be fully aware of when engaging in sexual activities.

The Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act29)/pegs the age of sexual consent at 16. The Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) provides in section 14(2) that the minimum age for marriage is 18. A person who commits an offence of defilement 16-18 is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than15 years.

Sexual exploitation of children happens in areas where there is economic and financial activity. There seems to be a high concentration in areas such as mining, oil and gas, fisheries, agricultural and construction areas.

A development communication strategy should address such menace in our society.
Development communication refers to the use of communication to facilitate social development. Development Communication must be used to correct social vices. The late former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan once said that every development is local. What it means is that every country and society with its peculiar problems.

The solutions must not be necessarily imported from other countries, because the situation, condition and events may differ. More importantly, the cultural nuances of countries differ. A development communication strategy to address the sexual exploitation of children must be targeted at prevention rather than reformation. One of the key points in fighting the sexual exploitation of children is education.

Education is the light that illuminates the darkness of ignorance. Education provides the children with information and knowledge about their sexuality and helps prevent them from committing the act ignorantly. Sex is not a topic that is broached at home. It is taboo. Children, therefore, have to learn about sexuality from the wrong people who end up exploiting them.

A development communication strategy should create awareness of accurate information about human sexuality, make the children understand their human and cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs about sexuality; helping children develop relationships and interpersonal skills and exercising responsibility regarding sexual relationships, including abstinence, pressure to become prematurely involved in sexual intercourse, and the use of contraceptive and other sexual health measures.

At least the Government of Ghana gives support to strengthening national child protection systems, majoring in addressing sexual violence affecting children and adolescent. This is in line with the GoG priorities in addition to SDG’s 5 and 16.

Again, there should be a mobilisation of child-based NGOs to start a crusade against the sexual exploitation of children. These crusades should have achievable objectives and a work plan that will fully explain all activities to be followed.

There must also be increased sex education in schools and churches/mosques. Children must be encouraged to report offenders of sexual exploitation to the police for redress.
Volunteer groups should distribute Information, Education and Communication (IEC) posters leaflets booklets depicting the disadvantages of sexual exploitation of children.

There cannot be a thorough campaign against these without the use of television and community radio stations. It is one of the real channels through which information and education are transmitted to the intended audiences.

There must also be a deliberate attempt at empowering the children through education and job training to reduce the financial vulnerabilities that lead to the act. Engaging local populations and having community support is vital to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Underreporting sexual exploitation and abuse is a challenge. Several factors explain the underreporting include fear of losing assistance, stigmatisation, the threat of retribution, lack of knowledge and or confusion of where and how to report and cultural barriers inhibiting victims to report.

There should be a hotline that anyone can call and report acts of sexual exploitation. The children are the future leaders of tomorrow, and if they are allowed to sacrifice their future for pecuniary advantages and favours today, the future will be gloomy.

>>>The writer is a development communication consultant. [email protected]

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