Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
TRENDS IN JUVENILE CRIME 2004-2014
Official statistics on juvenile justice in Ghana are not properly kept, and so even after access had been granted to the author of this chapter, there was not very much available that was current or complete. 2013 seems to be the last year when complete statistics could be made available. The official figures available from the Senior Correctional Centre seem too modest in comparison with anecdotal evidence of child criminality. The Senior Correctional Centre opened in the year 2012 with 74 inmates. In the course of the year 2012 and 2013, 48 and 45, respectively, were admitted as inmates. These were made up as follows:
The offenses mainly involved dishonesty, such as stealing. Of the 74 offenses that were included in the statistics, 12 were sex offenders. It is assumed that those admitted in 2012 and 2013 had the same kind of offense profile.
CAUSES OF CHILD CRIMINALITY IN GHANA
The history of the juvenile justice system dictates that there is a relationship between social upheavals, such as rapid urbanization or social catastrophes such as mass unemployment, and juvenile criminality. As history shows, increased child neglect and child criminality were downsides to rapid urbanization, which gave reason for setting up a full-fledged juvenile justice system in the Gold Coast.
Migration to urban areas breaks the link between an individual and the extended family which, in ordinary times, is a social safety net for the individual. Such weakened links create a gap in the life of an individual, adult, or child who faces adversity. It is thus not a surprise that child neglect and juvenile delinquency are positively correlated with urbanization, for when there are events such as parental divorce, the children may become vulnerable to homelessness and may eventually get into crime. Again, on account of Ghanaian cultural systems which are either matrilineal or patrilineal and based on unilineal descent, only one side of the family is interested enough in the children of a union to take them in upon the demise of a breadwinner. For instance, where a woman from a patrilineal system has a child with a man from a matrilineal system, the resulting progeny have no “real” extended family that would show interest in them, and if the deceased parents did not have siblings willing and able to take them in, upon the demise of the parents or the absence of the breadwinner, life on the street would become an attractive option. Another source of homeless children is procreation outside socially recognized formal unions by young people, usually unemployed and unprepared for such childcare responsibility. Poor parenting skills characterized by a deliberate withholding of love and affection to children, or an overanxiety to display love and affection resulting in overindulgence, have sometimes been cited as the cause of juvenile delinquency. In addition, inappropriate or inadequate moral guidance often exacerbated by distorted images of morality portrayed in the media have resulted in poor child socialization leading to the child seeking acceptance from equally misguided peers or other undesirable adults. In like manner, parents who never say no to their children deny them the opportunity of learning to manage disappointment stemming from thwarted desires and disable them from coping when they step into a world that will not create new standards to accommodate a child who has never learned to manage the frustration of having wishes unmet. Consequently, inability to postpone gratification soon leads to antisocial habits and delinquency.
These factors of vulnerability such as child neglect have increased with time, as was found in a study on vulnerable children in Ghana. The study relied on the 2008 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS), which highlighted inadequate protection from parents as a major concern. Identifying lack of parenting due to the absence of one or both parents as a factor of vulnerability,
GDHS figures, national trends were somewhat alarming: only 54 % of children lived with both parents. The rest of the 46 %> was made up as follows: 19 %> with the mother only, 5 %> with the father only, and as many as 14 %> who lived with neither parent. Such occurrences leave the child vulnerable and unprotected, and she or he may seek refuge in a life of criminality when the parent is unable or unavailable to provide the requisite guidance and protection.
Inadequate parenting or the absence of parents or other responsible adults in the life of a child has socioeconomic and psychosocial consequences for the child as well. From the lack of positive role models, through lack of educational opportunities to streetism, vulnerable children suffer all kinds of deprivations on account of this. The lack of educational opportunities/termination of schooling, absence of recreational facilities, inadequate programs for out-of-school youth, and absence of skills training by way of vocational training and apprenticeships are all culprits in juvenile criminality. In a 2009 study on Ghanaian children and social protection jointly sponsored by UNICEF and the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, it was found that 42.4 %> of children engaged in child labor were not in school, and since child labor itself has been identified as a source of delinquency, not being in school increases a child’s vulnerability to delinquency. In the Senior Correctional Centre in Accra, juveniles detained there by juvenile courts in 2012 and 2013 had similar educational profiles. In the 2012 group, 23 had ended their education in primary school, 21 had completed junior high school, 2 had senior high school education, and 2 had none at all. In 2013, 22 had ended their education in primary school, 16 had completed junior high school, 1 had senior high school education, and 6 had none at all. Thus in 2012, of the 48 inmates admitted, 46 had less than the years required for a school leaving certificate, and in the 2013 group of 45, 44 had fewer years of education or even none, than the legal minimum number of years required. These are interesting figures that depict the kind of juveniles in the system and also indicate that criminality appears to fall off with higher attainment in the educational system.
Sexual offending also appears to have a relationship with the absence of positive role models and exposure to inappropriate media images of morality. As some authors observe, “The primacy of the family, both extended and nuclear as an agent of sexual socialization is well documented in Ghana.” That primacy means then that those children who find themselves outside a family unit lose more than economic resources and psychological well-being but also appropriate socialization. Of the 117 inmates of the Senior Correctional Centre in 2013, 14 were on charges on sexual assault. It is well known that sex offending is a recidivist crime, and therefore sex offenders require special handling as a predisposition to sex with violence is not cured easily and certainly not by endless preaching. In a well-researched article, Earl F. Martin and Marsha Kline Pruett demonstrate the scientific basis for appreciating the special requirements of sex offenders and recommend that juvenile sex offenders must be given appropriate treatment early in their lives or they may wreak havoc later. This is a recommendation that Ghana’s legal system should take to heart and take active steps to secure the services of professionals to upgrade the avenues for psychosocial counseling of all categories of offenders. This number is significant enough to cause any system to pay attention. Further, some of the inmates have special needs which would further benefit from such changes.
The absence of social counseling, especially counseling for troubled families so as to rescue children of such families before they have cause to break up the home, impacts negatively upon the social fabric, as also does the absence of psychosocial counseling for bereaved or orphaned children. Estimating “orphanhood” as 18.2 % in Ghana, the study identified children who suffer the trauma of losing one or both of their parents at an early age and that often receive no counseling as being at an increased risk of delinquency. Culturally, the needs of children are perceived to be only physical, and so upon bereavement, cultural practices focus upon therapy for the bereaved spouse and none for the child. Thus, the grieving child is left on his or her own to try and deal with the loss and move on. However, some children are unable to come to terms with their loss and deal with the trauma, leaving them seeking attention and affection through deviance. The study also re-echoes the call for psychosocial counseling to address feelings of loss and reduce the vulnerability of orphans to antisocial habits.
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