The bitterness she had kept erupted, “he is gone. My house is empty. My children are homeless,” as she shied away from further questions.
This is the situation in the Republic of Togo. Death toll is increasing in the political crisis. Many more are wounded and hundreds arrested by security forces.
Clashes between protesters calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe and security forces have virtually placed a shadow of war over the small Francophone country.
Participation of women
The resistance in this year’s uprising is stronger with women playing major roles. The sight of women clad in red, some half naked at road intersections has given a new twist to the political protests in the country.
Another new trend is the circulation of gory pictures of violent attacks in social media with children witnessing the worst form of humanity in military-civilian brutalities in street corners and communities.
The absence of online child protection system is exposing innocent citizens, especially children to cyberbullying.
Though only a few children and teenagers are involved in the pro and anti-government demonstrations, the massive engagement of women in the street protests has made children more vulnerable to abduction, trafficking and sexual exploitation with increasing need for access to healthcare, nutrition and education.
Pupils and students in the country are unlikely to begin the academic year this September due to the political crisis just as it happened in the 1993 revolt against President Faure’s father, Eyadema Gnassingbe.
In that year, pupils and students stayed home for a year because of the unrest with a few parents relocating their children to neighbouring Ghana and Benin to enroll in schools. Those who remained in Togo however had their education delayed for a year, with some dropping out completely.
The current uprising is likely to worsen the situation where most parents are already unable to afford the education of their children due to poverty.
Indications are that some wealthy parents have started sending their children to schools in Ghana and other countries, unsure of the political future of Togo and of course, doubts over the safety of children in the school environment.
There are reports of soldiers raiding homes at Be and Deckon-a commercial centre in Lome, allegedly assaulting people including children and teenagers.
Teenagers and young adults were also recorded in a video rolling on bare floor as men in police uniform beat them with truncheon.
These are different from children who are battling psychological trauma in silence following the death or arrest of their parents in the protests, with no child protection activity in sight though the country ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Togo has been criticised for its human rights policies and poor governance for years, necessitating cut in development aid in 1992.
The Borgen Project says Child welfare is a huge issue in Togo, with 49.5 percent of impoverished being under 18 years of age and one out of every eight Togolese children not living to see their fifth birthday. This is due to diseases, violence, exploitation and human trafficking.
Kokuvi Amediku, a farmer, in Lome told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that children are paying for the failure of leaders to commit to peace and wished he could afford to send his four children to schools across the border in Ghana.
He said children are normally kept indoors during political demonstrations with feeding difficulties, no access to healthcare and education, aside the scare of violence.
A middle-aged trader, only known as Tasivi, said the safety of children could no longer be guaranteed with security forces searching homes to assault suspected anti-government protesters.
Investigations by the GNA revealed that a good number of children in Lome were being sent to relations in Tsevie, Voga, Glidzi, Anehor and other villages, which are relatively quiet with less political activities.
Ablavi, 52, a trader in second hand clothing and a key member of the women demonstrators, said she sent all her three children and a grandchild home to Sevaga for safety.
Though the countryside appears safer for children, access to healthcare is a big challenge in the villages. This is because poverty rate is higher and families living in those areas experience difficulty in accessing basic medical treatment.
Sick children are therefore not given any special attention. At best, they are given medicines bought from drug peddlers or sent to herbalists.
Again, children in the countryside are mostly engaged in fishing and farming. It is worth stating that child labour in the country is said to be almost 30 per cent, with children coming from extreme poverty leaving school to support their families.
Though the Togolese government in 2015 started working towards eliminating the worst forms of child labour by adopting a new penal code that would implement harsher penalties for human traffickers and other forms of child abuse, the system obviously has become ineffective during this period of political crisis.
It is therefore important for the Africa Union to mobilise international support to prevent escalation of the conflict because conflict prevention is the most effective way to shield civilians and children from the plight of war.
It is unfortunate that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ignored all early warning signs leading to violent street protests but it is time it sets new norms that will guide the parties through democratic procedures other than the use of arms.
Civil Society Organizations are also expected to monitor the parties to adhere to agreements and help reconstruct the social system and build trust among the people for peace.
Finally, help must come for children who are suffering in silence with no voice. Their education must not be truncated. Their right to health and protection from violence and abuse must be upheld.
By A.B. Kafui Kanyi