Euthanasia for Children with Special Needs in Ghana?

This current event post is contributed by Sam and Raquel. What is the media saying about children with special needs? Preview this controversial article and then contribute to the discussion questions posed. Thank you and enjoy!

“The Fate of Children With Special Needs in Northern Ghana”

Posted by: Npong Francis Posted date: March 08, 2013

This article discusses the fate that society in Northern Ghana has chosen for their children born with special needs. Children born with deformities are usually killed shortly after birth because families don’t have the means to give them the extra care they need and many fear stigmatization by others. Surprisingly, the citizens of Ghana agree with this kind of treatment towards children with special needs. A woman from Ghana claimed, “We cannot take care of children with special needs or disabilities so the best option is to do away with such a child at birth.”  This woman was a victim of it herself, when her child was killed after he was born limbless.

This issue represents a greater problem with society in Ghana. The article says the people of Ghana call these children born with special needs “spirit children,” since they are considered impure or even evil. There are no records of the deaths of the “spirit children” since no one wants to report them. It is interesting to note that although no one seems to have an issue with the maltreatment of special education children, no one wants to report any cases of such killings either.

Northern Ghana is a poor, rural area that is far less developed than the south and lacks in educational resources. In order to bring about change, there has to be a change in resources, but additionally a change in the attitudes of the people. The society as a whole needs to start looking at children with special needs as real children too. Judging by the comments posted in response to the article, it appears that citizens are in fact moving towards a better Ghana, as one reader posted, “We at Emmanuel’s Dream.Org are raising money to build a school, adaptive therapy center and sports academy for children with disabilities, and to do advocacy to the community about the Gift these children can be.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. It is important to try to understand the perspective of another culture before passing judgment. What can we do to educate ourselves about this situation and try to see it through the eyes of someone from Ghana?
  2. If Ghana were to try to rid itself of this practice, what kind of systemic societal changes do you think would be necessary?
  3. This is an issue that many of us in the United States are not very aware of or have experienced first hand. What do you think we can do as concerned global citizens to help these children without imposing ourselves on Ghanean culture?
  4. What kind of programs can be used to help children with special needs in Ghana?






16 thoughts on “Euthanasia for Children with Special Needs in Ghana?

  1. Goodness, what an interesting and troubling situation. After reading the article, it was pretty easy for me to see both sides of the situation. One, because people in Ghana have trouble feeding, supporting, and educating children who are typically developing, it would almost be unrealistic to expect them to be able to take care of children with special needs. However, the other side of the argument is that killing these children is not the answer. While yes, it would make the lives of the parents easier, we have seen all throughout the semester that just because a child has a special need, that doesn’t make him or her inferior or incapable of succeeding in life. Because there is a spiritual aspect to these killings, it would be very difficult to try and convince the culture to keep these children alive. Raising money to build a school and therapy center for children with disabilities is definitely a great start. Hopefully, if such a school is created, the people of Ghana will see that these children are not hopeless and can life fulfilling lives.

  2. To me, the practice obviously doesn’t make perfect sense, but I do empathize. It seems like a question about quality of life. People in the U.S. often get genetic testing before their child is born, and many choose to terminate the pregnancy if their child has a debilitating disorder such as tay sachs or cystic fibrosis. In a poor part of northern Ghana, they clearly don’t have the opportunity to receive that information before birth, and they don’t have the ability to provide their child with accommodations they will surely need. Chances are, a limbless child in Ghana will be heavily dependent on others for the entirety of their life and face immeasurable inequalities compared to what that same child could receive in a different financial and societal situation. I’m not saying these kids born in Ghana with disabilities are better off dead, but since they are being killed right after birth, we can’t say they’d be better off living out their lives with special needs in a place that can’t provide them with support.

  3. This was really sad to read, but I can definitely see the point of view of the mothers living in Northern Ghana. To a mother living in the current circumstances, it would appear to be dangerous and difficult for both the child and the mother to survive. I also would imagine that there might be some mistrust towards the government, since there is social welfare in place but it’s not very effective, and these killings is done in secret. There are obviously a great deal of things that would need to change in order for this practice to stop taking place, but if an expecting mother could see that a disability is not necessarily a death sentence for a child and that many children with disabilities grow up to be happy and healthy and can bring a family great joy, perhaps she would think twice before making this kind of decision.

  4. It is definitely more difficult for me to understand where the citizens of Ghana are coming from. It is so inherently wrong to take a life that it is surprising we don’t hear more about this and that there hasn’t been more outrage over it. I acknowledge that it is a difficult situation because of the question “is it fair to bring a child into the world if you can’t support them?” But I can’t wrap my head around killing an innocent child after their being born into the world. I agree with Michelle that perhaps a school dedicated to helping those with special needs could provide a situation in which the people of Ghana realize there are more options than killing.

    • I agree when I first read this article I was extremely outraged that this could still be happening somewhere in the world. After thinking about it for a little more, I have more empathy for the families who have to go through with this. While certainly there must be more done to help save these children, I think also that the root of the problem starts with the extreme poverty that exists in Northern Ghana. I would think that if we can somehow eradicate poverty entirely, then horrible things like this would never occur throughout the world. The real question is how can we eliminate poverty, famine, droughts and other terrible things that happen in the world? I am not sure, but I think that every small step counts.

  5. This is a very troubling article, but a great choice for a media review as there is a lot to talk about. Referring to discussion question #2, I believe that one of the first things that needs to change in Ghana is the stigma that is attached to these disabled children of being “impure” or “evil”. Though I think a therapy center is an amazing idea to give these children a place to grow with support around them, I think the advocacy to the community is much more important, especially in the beginning stages, because even if there was a program in place for these children, the people’s mindset needs to be changed in order for them to make use of these support centers.

    • I completely agree with Savannah. I strongly feel that the underlying problem is not so much that mothers choose death instead of trying (and failing) to support their disabled children, but the bigger issue is the attitude of the people of Ghana towards children with special needs. I can empathize with the people of Ghana about not having the financial means to support their children, but children are children no matter how they are born! The concept of the “spirit child,” regardless if it is associated with their religious views, is absurd to me! I guess I can accept (though even this is incredibly hard for me) that children are killed to avoid giving them a life they wouldn’t thrive in, but I can not accept the fact that they kill children because they are born with deformities. Moreover, if they really cannot support their children, they should be educated and aware enough to not get pregnant.

  6. After reading this article and the comments made by my classmates, I felt outraged beyond belief at first. I could not fathom the thought of innocent babies being killed just because they have are born with special needs. As I thought about it more, however, I do empathize with the families in Ghana who cannot financially, physically, emotionally, and practically support children if they are born with special needs. I realize that killing innocent babies is not the moral or just way to go about this broader issue in my opinion. I think that, as stated by the comments that follow the article, there should be a push to create supporting services and efforts to change the way in which a culture views the babies who are born with special needs. I know that is a lot to ask of a culture to outright change their views, but I feel that killing innocent babies is wrong and cruel. I know that people in Ghana are trying to protect both themselves and the babies from suffering, but I feel that if services and knowledge about how to raise and care for children with disabilities were acquired and offered to the citizens, there wouldn’t be as much killing of innocent lives.

    • I can definitely read more articles about the euthanasia situation and educate myself as to why the people in Ghana believe this act to be correct. I do feel, however, that I will need to be convinced very thoroughly to understand the moral and ethical reasons behind this behavior. I guess it is just difficult to accept the reasons behind why people in Ghana are killing innocent babies. I don’t know if it is because I am accustomed to think of the practicality of services in the US where most parents can access them easily, or what but I think that Ghana should figure out an improved system where services and support are offered to both parents and babies with disabilities.
      The necessary societal changes would be to change the way in which people think about euthanasia and explain the moral implications of this act. In order to help these children, we can bring over strategies for intervention services and special early intervention programming that are used to help children improve and gain skills necessary to succeed. If we begin early, hopefully these children will have the opportunity to grow and develop into happy children with parents that will obtain the resources to care for them.
      Specific programs are early intervention programs and ABA therapy, as well as specialized therapists and pathologists in order to increase the market for jobs for adults in Ghana. Other programs could be training sessions for parents in which they learn techniques to care for their children and support them throughout their lives. Of course, these programs would need to be funded by the government or some outside establishment which can prove to be difficult to approve.

  7. Morally reading the article wasn’t easy. Coming from an educated mindset, the killing of people in general isn’t appropriate. It is absolutely astonishing to read and see that there are still places around the world that are so undeveloped, living in such levels of poverty and lacking stimulating education. Stepping back and seeing the situation from the eyes of someone who understands poverty, the struggles people face just to simply survive one day at a time, I can sympathize with the Ghana community. I do not agree with killing an innocent child, nor do I think that is the solution to the problem, but these people know nothing better that what is taught through tradition and costumes of their communities. Ghana, like many other African countries, practice tradition. Their form of education is what is taught and brought from generation through generation that allows these communities to survive. Who knows how long these people that been practicing the act of killing “spirit children”. Unfortunately, traditions that have helped communities survive are hard to break, and as unethical as this situation may seem to us in modern time, I find it myself feeling sorry and sad fo these people more then angry at their actions. Actions need to be taken to help communities such as the ones in Ghana. Not to go in and change their beliefs, but to educate and provide the positive means to adapt new modern ways of dealing with situations. Reducing and eliminating poverty is the first step towards any positive change.

  8. As many people have mentioned, I was also shocked by the situation in Northern Ghana. I fundamentally disagree with the practice of killing children with special needs, and it is difficult for me to imagine someone having this perspective. However, I also trying to be aware of my biases when deconstructing this article. As Western woman from the United States, my perspective of the problem is reflective of my own cultural values and upbringing. I think the economic and social circumstances in Ghana are important issues to consider. As we know from Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory, children grow up in the context of multiple social spheres. If children are not wanted by their families and by society, how will that affect their quality of life? As one Ghanian woman says, “the logic of not keeping deformed children is simple: there is no friendly environment to support their upbringing.” Aside from the attitudinal barriers that these children face, the government does not have the economic power to provide infrastructure to children with disabilities. As the article described, parents recognize the reality of these barriers and often decide to kill a child because they do not want him/her to end up on the streets. I may be overly idealistic, but this decision seems to be made out of love and from a recognition of reality, not maliciousness. It would be easy for me to condemn those who uphold this type of infanticide, but the issue is seems far more complicated.

  9. The issue of children born with special needs in Ghana goes beyond thinking. As a writer of the article, i wept while working on this article after realizing the act was being committed “not out of ignorance” but as a deliberate act to reduce the pain of both the child and parents. a limbless child even if provided with a wheel chair or disable moving machine, still will not be able to use it because of the dusty streets, lack of disability friendly facilities including schools, clinics etc. We might called it cruel act but in the absence of options, it is still the best choice. These parents stricken with poverty, unemployment, disease and the lack of policy intervention from the government have no choice but to act to reduce the already striking troubles they go through.
    Sorry i am not supporting the killing of these children, but i think that a child’s welfare should be a global concern.

  10. What an interesting yet upsetting article. I agree with all of the above comments – even though this is not totally surprising, it’s still not the right way to handle this situation. As Sam and Raquel mention in their discourse, this phenomenon is certainly indicative of a greater problem of poverty in the nation. In the article itself, it mentions that some healthy children are also killed upon birth because their mothers cannot provide for them. It is a huge problem that is so widespread that I honestly don’t even know where to begin.
    In terms of the stigma associated with special needs, I think Savannah hits the nail on the head. In order to do anything progressive for this society, we would need to eradicate that stigma and get the society in Northern Ghana to value the lives of these special needs children. I like the suggestion for creating a therapy center; additionally, we ought to help train teachers there so that they are capable and equipped to deal with children with special needs specifically.
    Lastly, I wanted to a draw a parallel between this media (about Northern Ghana) and my media (about Uzbekistan). Although Uzbekistan has slightly more economic stability than Ghana, they seem to be much further along in finding ways to support children with special needs (e.g. they held a National Special Olympics in 2012). I wonder if, after the infrastructure (schools, therapy centers) were in place in Ghana, perhaps they might someday be able to hold or attend a Special Olympics. I know this seems fantastical right now, but I think that if it were economically feasible, it would do wonderful things to help eliminate the stigma associated with special needs in the country.

  11. It’s pretty horrifying to think that these children are automatically euthanized regardless of the level of functioning they might have in society. That being said I think it is really important to think that we are looking at the from a western ideology. Where we think everyone is equal and every life has value. Bear in mind, I completely agree with this mind set, but we also have a culture that has the economic means to help provide for these children. I don’t know much about Ghana, but I imagine like other places in Africa, its poor and probably war torn. That being said, I imagine that if these children lived in that society their quality of life would be terrible. I’m pretty sure that life would be better than no life, but I’m not sure. I wholeheartedly agree with Samuel Duker, I think the reason things like this happen is because of a lack of economic means, and education. This is a really hard one, because we are looking at a different culture and trying to place our values (even though this one might be correct) on that culture.

  12. While I agree that the lack of resources is the main cause for this problem, I think the issue is a lot more complex to change. The beliefs are tied to their cultural history and religious/superstitious beliefs. What kind of response would you get telling a people that what they and their ancestors have believed for centuries is untrue and wrong? This is a tricky situation and I’m not sure what is the best way to go about it. I have always thought that children carry cultural change. Perhaps by educating young Ghanaians (including curriculum, programs etc.) we could start a major change in this practice.

  13. Through the quotes in this article there seem to be two concerns tied to the killing of children with special needs: one, that their is not enough social and economic support and two, that they are seen as religiously and culturally bad. The fact that the mothers are aware of both I think is important to note because it makes me believe that the decision is not one totally and solely based in religious and cultural beliefs. It is likely that these cultural and religious beliefs developed to support a horrid act that seemingly bettered the survival of the group as there is a lack of resources and information. Making facilities and resources available for these children I think is the first step to changing this mindset. Of course the problem is cyclical and reinforcing itself so it is unlikely too many children would use the facilities if they were present because of the stigma these children carry. However, over time if there are resources and information the stigma may diminish. When families no longer feel the need, so to speak, to perform these killings they can then evaluate whether or not they morally believe it to be correct. Advocacy and information could help change their views as well, but I think their views will only be open to change when they feel they have a reason and the freedom to change them i.e. resources.
    As to the fact that no one reports these crimes, that could be for a few reasons as well. It could be because they are not really viewed as crimes and that the children were not really viewed as people in the first place. It could also be though that everyone has the same empathy that some of us feel towards these mothers and though they believe it is wrong they do not want to increase the mothers’ guilt about something that is so horrible, so wide spread and appears so necessary.

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