If someone asked you to name an English word coined by ancient Greek poets from their words for child and friendship; a word which inspired the fables Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs amongst others, you would be forgiven for thinking of something sweet and innocent.
'Paedophilia' would probably be last on your list of guesses, if it occurred to you at all.
However the word does indeed stem from the ancient Greek words for child ('pais') and friendship ('philia'), and whether you realized it or not, you were being warned about sexual predators every time you were tucked into bed as a child with stories of little children being chased for food by wolves and wicked witches.
The abuse of children evokes very strong reactions, even in jail where paedophiles are often sectioned away from other inmates for fear of retribution and death. It would seem that even serial murderers and rapists find the idea of someone abusing children too much to stomach.
Two stories made the headlines last week involving Britons accused of sexually abusing Ghanaian minors. The sad fact of the matter is that their stories represent the tip of a nasty iceberg. Where paedophilia is at least as old as the tales it has inspired, sex tourism is a more recent phenomenon: a negative by-product of the ever-smaller global village we live in today in which cheaper air fares, lightening-fast emails, and instant access to information conspire to bring us ever closer together.
The combination of paedophila and sex tourism is particularly sinister. Beyond the abuse of the trust of the child, it also represents the abuse of the poor by people from wealthier countries. Asian countries (the most prominent of which was once Thailand) used to be their destination of choice. However, with awareness and economic advancement leading to clamp-downs on such activity in that part of the world, another continent has started looking increasingly attractive:
If you were in any doubt how easy it is to access African children, cast your mind back to last week's news story involving Zoe's Ark, a French charity some members of which are currently being held in Chad pending trial for kidnapping Chadian children and attempting to smuggle them abroad as Sudanese orphans.
Science is still trying to explain paedophilia. Experts suggest that some people suffer a developmental disorder in which they do not stop being attracted to children after their own childhood ends. Others suggest that traumatic experiences in childhood can lead to an over-compensation of love for children, which manifests itself in sexual attraction. These are but two of many explanations though.
While the scientists figure things out, it falls to us be aware and to protect our children; not just our own children but those around us, especially the most disadvantaged as they are more vulnerable to people with big wallets and evil intentions. Parts of Ghana’s tourist industry are already rising to the challenge. Staff at Novotel have, for example, been trained to apply procedures aimed at completely eliminating sexual tourism involving children in line with the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. Anyone interested in finding out more or getting more involved can contact local agencies like the Ghana Working and Children’s Protection Association (GWACPA) and the Ark Foundation, or international groups like UNICEF for information and advice. Of course, the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (formerly WAJU) of the Ghana Police Service can be contacted immediately in critical situations.
If you see something suspicious, say so. Look away too long, on the other hand, and by the time we lift our heads out of the sand, witches and wolves may tell tales of Ghanaian children abroad that will not have fairy tale endings.
Ghana Working and Children’s Protection Association (GWACPA): 021.252.600
The Ark Foundation: 021.511.610
Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU): 021.662.438
This article was printed two years back in the Sunday World newspaper