Through all the changing scenes

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
 Emile Ratelband is 69. But he wants to legally subtract 20 years  from his life. (Courtesy of Emile Ratelband)
Emile Ratelband is 69. But he wants to legally subtract 20 years from his life. (Courtesy of Emile Ratelband)

I have been following a story in Netherlands that has gone viral and should interest us here.

A 69-year-old Dutch man, Emile Ratelband, had asked a court in Arnhem to formally change his date of birth to make him 49 years old. He said he did not feel 69, and that his age of 69 did not reflect his emotional state and it was causing him to struggle to find work and love.

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It is a feeling that I am sure many people aged 60 plus will identify with. It is rather difficult finding work and finding love in that age bracket.


Rejecting the man’s request, the court said in a written ruling on Monday that Dutch law assigned rights and obligations based on age “such as the right to vote and the duty to attend school.

If Mr Ratelband’s request was allowed, those age requirements would become meaningless.”


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In a press statement, the court said: “Mr Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly.

But amending his date of birth will cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This will have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications.”

This Dutchman should have simply come to Ghana and he could have changed his date of birth quite easily without having to go to court and having the court have the effrontery to reject his request.

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In Ghana nobody cares that years of records vanish every day with people changing their dates of birth regularly.

You only need to read my favourite column in the Daily Graphic and in the Gazette to see how easy it is to wipe away any number of years from your life without going to court.

You just go to the Commissioner of Oaths sitting under the trees near the courts and swear an oath to change your date of birth and get this published in the Daily Graphic.

Extreme case

Around the same time that this Dutchman went to the court, an extreme case of this ridiculous disregard for records and laws was published in the Daily Graphic on November 5.

Under a title, Change of date of birth, a man from Tamale wished the “public to know that his date of birth is May 30, 1997, and not May 10, 1975, with effect from October 25, 2018.”

The announcement said that all documents bearing his former date of birth were still valid.

By one stroke, 22 years of history had been wiped off and this man had become 22 years younger.

I don’t know if this man from Tamale had been driven to this extreme measure because, like the Dutchman, he was having a struggle finding work or finding love, and didn’t feel the age that he had been up till October 25.

And our laws allow this? And if you have documents, like a West African School Leaving Certificate, which now would have been issued to you before you were born, how can it be said to remain valid?

If you are able to reduce your age by 22 years, it means you could even have married before you were born, you could have signed legal documents, you could have voted before you were born. And our laws allow this?

I know we are Ghanaians and figures don’t mean very much to us but surely you can only be born once?

Weddings

Another foreign story struck a chord with me. The Chinese government has been reported to be taking aim at the wedding industrial complex, and called for an end to “vulgar wedding practices” like expensive wedding gifts and lavish ceremonies. From now onwards, you cannot give or demand cars or houses as wedding gifts.

It is not weddings that have been on my mind so much as presents and gift giving. There seems to have been a subtle change in the culture of giving gifts in this country.

It used to be that when a child was invited to a friend’s birthday party, she would take a present to the birthday celebrant.

She might come back from the party with a parcel of birthday cake, but it was not de rigueur.

Now children can arrive at a birthday party without a present but they expect to be given a present to take away.

The person celebrating the birthday gives the presents.

I am told that there is a school here in Accra where a parent arrived in the class of his child who had a birthday with an iPad for everyone in the class.

Children get very upset when they don’t get a bag to take away from a party.

The practice has spread to the grownups, and you have to get mementoes to give away at birthdays, funerals and weddings or parties of any kind.

It used to be ever so straightforward about who gives presents at which occasion.

It is the person who has arrived that brings the present. Just showing my age, I suppose.

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When you write a column, you have friends who have ideas that they suggest to you all the time. Most of the time, you use their ideas in the write up.

I am thinking I will try a new angle and have a corner for my friends where I will put their ideas and complaints.

I start with Mary Tamakloe who I was in school with and who has spent much of her adult life since school in Germany.

Back in Ghana, she is having difficulty with the disorder that is every day life in our country. Mary writes:

The owner of vehicles that damage state properties should be held accountable and be made to pay for the repairs.

Every day vehicles damage the wire mesh in the median of the George Walker Bush Highway, everyday traffic lights are knocked down by drivers and everyday street lights are knocked down by reckless drivers.

The repair of the damage caused should be charged to the insurance of the drivers of these vehicles.

The rest of the population should not have to pay for the recklessness of these drivers.

If their insurance premiums go up as a result of their insurance having to cover the damage, they would be more careful on the roads.

Drivers who damage state property must pay for the damage.