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Experiencing Canada - Ghana: A Legal Internship

I found out I would be working in Ghana for the duration of the summer on March 4th 2015. I had interviewed for the International Legal Partnership program at Osgoode Hall Law School and successfully acquired a position for a placement with an NGO called Defence for Children International. Since starting law school last fall, I have been uncertain of which legal direction to pursue. Having studied philosophy in my undergraduate career, I leaned mostly towards criminal law. However, part of me wanted to have some experience in the international field and since none of the mandatory first year courses included international law, I figured this was the next best thing. I sometimes have an irresistible urge to overcome challenges and throw myself into the unknown, to break out of my comfort zone. I knew that traveling to a continent I had never been to before would satisfy this craving and give me the break from the monotony of daily life that I desired. I am now just over a month into my internship here in Kumasi, Ghana and I can happily report that this placement is everything I hoped it would be and more.

I began my journey to Ghana on May 18th and arrived in Accra the following day. I met with my colleague from Osgoode, Michelle Smith, and headed to a friend-of-a-friend’s hotel near the airport where we would stay for the next couple of nights. At this point we had not yet secured permanent housing for the summer in Kumasi, however I was not too concerned as the first few Ghanaians we met were incredibly warm and welcoming. We finally arrived in Kumasi on Thursday May 21st after a five-hour bus ride from Accra, and a few days later checked into a hostel at the local university, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

A few days later we were introduced to the type of work that DCI is preoccupied with. The organization works with various levels of government and different communities to advocate for children’s rights, amend policy where needed and inform the public about this sensitive issue. The DCI Ghana chapter is wrapping up the Girl Power Program this month, which is currently under evaluation. The two other programs they are working on are the Reducing Violence Against Children Program and the Child Protection Program. I had the chance to participate in a number of different activities since my arrival, including a conference we hosted along with the Ministry of Gender where various teachers, lawyers and social workers were invited to have discussions regarding the meaning of gendered violence and the identifying characteristic of children that have suffered violence.

Throughout the conference, I noticed that most of these professionals externalized their discomfort at discussing such fragile matters through humor. While humor is helpful in most cases, I found it inappropriate considering the seriousness of the topics we were discussing and the amount of work that is required to shift cultural norms in Ghana in this respect. Humor can alleviate awkward situations, but it can also thwart attempts at enacting change by reinforcing traditional norms. It isn’t enough to give these professionals tools and knowledge, unless it is delivered with the right attitude. The second half of the conference was led by another government official who talked about violence against children: he explained the tell-tale signs of abused children that teachers should look for, laws that are meant to protect children, such as the Children’s Act 1998, 560 and different types of abuse that children suffer from. I learned that in Ghana, women are generally the main perpetrators of violence against children, mainly by over-disciplining the children. It certainly doesn’t help that raising and disciplining the child seems to fall squarely on the woman’s shoulders in Ghanaian culture.

Other types of activities that I have participated in include outreach and advocacy work in various markets and schools in Kumasi. Participating in community outreach work is difficult, as it requires a working knowledge of the local language, Twi. Oftentimes, the children we would identify at the wood shop or in the markets, would speak a remote tribal language that even my local colleagues at DCI do not understand. Even when the children speak Twi, the parents will often be nearby, preventing us from asking them too many questions. When we ask them why the child is selling water in the market as opposed to going to school, they claim that they don’t have enough money to send them to school but that they will try to do so next fall. Although school is supposed to be free, we learned that there are costs that the schools ask parents to incur that are just too much for families that are living at poverty levels. There is no governmental economic or social support built into the system to help alleviate these costs for poor families.

We also advocate for children’s rights by holding seminars, usually with a classroom of children above 16 years of age at each of the participating schools. In reality, this might mean children from ages 12 and up, as there aren’t always enough students that remain in school past the age of 16. These are usually public schools, where the children come from poorer families thus at an elevated risk for violence. When we enter a headmaster’s office we are often met with some kind of resistance. At one school we had a teacher complain that we were showing up last minute, though we had communicated with the school for the previous two weeks. At another school we were challenged by a teacher for protecting children’s rights over the rights of teachers. These are some of the types of daily obstacles we must overcome in this line of work. We have had meetings with the Girl Power Panel where the girls representing each of the schools involved in the project voiced their concerns. The biggest concern they expressed is that of caning in their schools. One young student explained that some of her teachers still have the traditional mentality that “the only way to teach an African child is to beat the African child”. While I remember getting my own fair share of rulers to the tops of my fingers for forgetting to do my homework back in Romania where I went to school until grade three, some of the punishments children endure here – such as weeding in the scorching sun all day – are far from fair. As a remedial action, the girls suggested we hold these seminars with the teachers instead of the students, when we visit their schools. Even though children are being informed about their rights and given resources to contact if they need help, the reality is that a lot of them will endure abuse and violence without reporting it due to fear, shame and hopelessness. It is evident that until the culture shifts in Ghana, it is unlikely that all children’s rights will truly be protected.

In the coming month I will be working on a report that compares the current state of children’s rights in Ghana to that of children’s rights in developing nations - particularly in Canada. This research project is meant to identify the gaps currently existing in Ghana and suggest some ideas to narrow these gaps. I will also be reviewing and amending some of the policies that DCI-Ghana has been utilizing.

For other observations about the Ghanaian way of life and further philosophical reflections you may wish to visit my blog at https://transcendingtheweltanschauung.wordpress.com/, which I try to update at least once a week.

Nota Observator :
Cristina Georgiana Candea is JD/MA Philosophy Candidate '18 - Osgoode Hall Law School
Philosophy '13 - York University Toronto

Cristina Georgiana Cândea    7/1/2015


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