There is this signpost that is entangled by weeds, which always catches my attention whenever I drive past the main gate of the Tema Senior High School. It reads: “Tema
Children’s Park. Donated by Zonta Club of Tema”. If that bushy park with its rotten facilities is where we expect our children to go and have fun and acquire knowledge, then we must as well discard any pretence that we have the welfare and development of our children at the centre of our national priorities.
Many years ago, a brilliant idea was mooted to build children’s parks in all the regional capitals and other major cities to serve as both amusement parks and centres of learning.
The parks were to operate under the supervision of the Ghana National Commission on Children (GNCC) which was set up under Act 1979 (AFRCD 66), with the general mandate of seeing to the general welfare and development of children and to co-ordinate all essential services for children in the country, which will promote the rights of children as prescribed by the United Nations.
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The idea was welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm and plots of land were acquired in almost all the regional capitals for the purpose.
As stated earlier, these parks were to serve as recreational centres where children could converge and have fun, especially at weekends and during public holidays, and use the occasions to fraternise with colleagues from other schools and communities.
They were also to have educational facilities such as libraries where children could learn and exchange notes with their colleagues.
In Accra, the open space opposite the National Theatre was named the Accra Children’s Park and later renamed the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park after Efua Sutherland-Addy, a poet and dramatist who was a founder member and chairperson of the GNCC and who devoted most of her literary works and life to the development of children.
Apart from the Accra park, the only one that saw any meaningful development was the one located at Amakom in Kumasi. The rest did not go beyond earthworks, with the usual promise to raise funds for their proper development, which never materialised.
We were expecting that with the creation of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MWCA) in 2001 by the Kufuor Administration, more recognition will be given to the welfare of children and facilities such as the children’s parks would be fully developed, maintained and utilised to serve the recreational and educational needs of our children. It did not happen.
In 2013, the MWCA changed name to become Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) with an expanded mandate of formulating gender and children policies and programmes that would promote the interest of women and children and the development of institutions that encourage women empowerment.
It is sad to observe that so far the MoGCSP, just like its predecessor, has not shown any interest in these parks, let alone bring them to the status that would make them educational and recreational assets for our children.
As mentioned earlier, the sites acquired in the regions never saw the development of any infrastructure and most of them have returned to their natural state as mini forests or at best, football parks. Those in the two major cities of Accra and Kumasi have their own sad stories to tell.
The 12-acre Efua Sutherland Children’s Park, which is in the heart of the national capital, is most of the time idle. Most days and weekends, the place is empty because it is not open to the public and only comes to life on public holidays and special occasions when fanfares are organised mostly for the general public, with the welfare and interest of children pushed into the background.
Its educational functions have been totally ignored since there are no libraries and other learning facilities for children.
The story of the Kumasi Children’s Park, which is more or less a den of criminal gangs and a public toilet for the nearby communities, is even more pathetic. The library facility was abandoned many years ago because the Ghana Library Board declared it unfit for use for that purpose.
Khebab sellers and other traders have found use for the place and are doing brisk business, while hardened criminals also ply their trade of attacking innocent people who find themselves in the vicinity of the park.
The tale of the Tema Children’s Park, which opened this article, is a clear case of total neglect of the basic needs of our children. If these parks had been operated properly, they could have attracted responsible parents who for want of any better place find their way to drinking joints elsewhere while their children also seek fun at the wrong places.
If we could find the resources to fund such a huge bureaucracy called the MoGCSP, an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer, it is amazing we could not raise the necessary funds to develop these children’s parks to serve some of the basic objectives for which the ministry was established.