We Are Family
The Children's Act of 1998 and the Juvenile Justice Act of 2003 require Ghanaian parents, guardians and community leaders to protect the rights of children and nurture their development. Yet today, even with a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection on the job, many young people lack the protection that lawmakers enacted.
Landmark human rights legislation gains meaning when it becomes everyday law. In Ghana and elsewhere, obstacles often block that path. Enter Youth Bridge Foundation, an NGO based in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Its bold initiatives center on arming young people with rights that can improve socio-economic and mental conditions.
Cultural bias prevents vast numbers of children — especially children with economic or physical constraints — from becoming full-fledged citizens. Barring equal participation imposes a social cost for all. It deprives Ghana of a talented population with a vital stake in the nation’s future.
The unjust consequences of prejudice propel "Puzzled," a popular television series that Youth Bridge has co-produced. A compelling narrative reveals injury and legal penalties when children are mistreated or ignored.
Few Youth Bridge initiatives are bolder than the Access to Justice Project, launched with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Ghana’s Department of Social Welfare, and the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service.
Attorney Esther Attipoe, Youth Bridge legal and advocacy manager, heads the Access to Justice program. She practices family law in Accra at the private firm Ayine and Felli but two days a week — and innumerable weekends — she works on behalf of disenfranchised young Ghanaians. A general legal practitioner, she handles all sorts of cases that imperil families.
“There has to be a way to make the next generation better,” Ms Attipoe insists. “That is the drive that makes me feel life.”
Familiarity with gender bias in her own childhood spurs Ms Attipoe to champion social causes. Her father worked as a mechanical engineer in gold mining, a job that took him away from home for long periods of time. Repairing mining machinery generated a good income, but he used it mainly to support his brothers and sisters. “We were girls,” says Ms Attipoe, “and he preferred to have a son.”
The hard job of raising four daughters fell to Ms Attipoe’s mother, a teacher and later a school administrator. “My mom did everything to ensure we were okay,” recalls Ms Attipoe with great pride in all her mom accomplished.
During high school, despite her own difficulties, Ms Attipoe began to help others. She joined Children and Youth in Broadcasting (CYIB) as a volunteer. Together with colleagues, she invented new ways to expose injustice. Ms Attipoe encouraged children to share their stories of injustice, isolation and abandonment as a way to bolster humanitarian support. “We called ourselves “Curious Minds,” Ms Attipoe recalls. Across Ghana, CYIB still leverages media to inform and mobilize young people. It informs Ghanaians in local languages about their rights.
After high school, Ms Attipoe majored in psychology at the University of Ghana and earned her law degree from the Ghana School of Law. Along the way, a volunteer stint at Centre for Public Interest Law reinforced her dedication to justice for all victims of bias.
Young people must know their rights to demand accountability. Toward that end, Access to Justice translates policy documents into user-friendly language. “When situations arise, even when we are not there, people can stand up or their rights,” says Ms Attipoe. “This is the law. Make it a human rights cause. That is the essence of the project I handle here.”
Phase One of Access to Justice sounds ambitious: “Securing the Future of Young People in Ghana through Improved Juvenile Justice Administration.’’ It assists young people entangled in the criminal justice system by shedding light on rules, processes and procedures that hamper justice.
A recent outcome improves access to justice for visually impaired people. In April 2019, Youth Bridge and OSIWA presented copies of the first ever braille version of Ghana’s Child and Family Welfare Policy (2015) to the Akropong School for the Blind. Phase Two expands access to justice for the hearing impaired and others who are physically challenged by traumatic injury or loss of limb.
As a prominent spokesperson today on human rights, Ms Attipoe welcomes chances to engage young social activists. “They can engineer and influence change,” she says. Like her, they are eager to make a difference. “As young persons,” she says, “we should be able to give back.”