The lack of effective and timely government support and funding for social protection services and amenities have caused existing structures to become heavily overburdened. In rural communities in Northern Ghana, there are limited structures to provide protection and security for community people. Sadly, human rights infringements are the highest in these deprived communities.
To respond to these violations, ActionAid created the Community-Based Anti-violence Teams (COMBATs), a community structure that allows rural community members in remote areas to access social protection amenities and structures such as Police Stations, in pursuit of their rights.
COMBAT refers to a group of rights-minded and development-oriented men and women who have undergone extensive training and sensitisation by the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DoVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service. These advocates pursue the realization of human rights in their various communities by campaigning against child marriage, domestic violence, Female Genital Mutilation, and other rights abuses. They are the eyes and ears of DoVVSU and the Ghana Police Service in their communities, providing crucial information and evidence on human rights abuses.
Consisting of seven (7) members, COMBATs work within their communities to enforce the rights of community members, especially women, and children. To promote ActionAid’s campaign on End Child Marriage presently sponsored by UNICEF, we have trained COMBAT members from various communities in the Greater Accra, Upper West, Upper East and Brong Ahafo regions where the project is being implemented. The COMBAT members have been sensitised on how to effectively fight child marriage in their communities.
In the Upper West region, ActionAid has established many COMBAT groups who meet to review the community security and child protection issues, discuss campaign challenges and share best practices from their communities.
Among this team in the region, one of the COMBAT members who has benefitted from this training is 40-year old Fredous Balali. A mother of five children (three girls and two boys), she lives in the Sakalu community of the Sissala East District in the Upper West region with her family.
Fredous’ involvement with COMBAT began in 2011 when she underwent a number of trainings and workshops on Gender-Based Violence and the incidence of child marriage. According to her, at the time, at least five girls were victims of child marriage every three months on average, a startling figure she, along with other COMBAT members in her community, have helped reduce. Fredous has also been involved in not only rescuing 27 girls from child marriage but returning them to their families and ensuring they are back in school to continue their education.
As a trained advocate against child marriage, Fredous has been working along with other COMBAT members in the Sakalu community to prevent and reduce the incidence of child marriage. However, she never knew that would soon be tackling child marriage in her own home.
According to Fredous, the knowledge of human and child rights and the laws of Ghana has empowered her to rescue her own child four times from child marriage.
At 15-years old, my daughter, Adilata Balali was abducted by a young man while returning home from school and taken to the Walembelle community in our district. When I got hint of this, I said to myself, knowing the consequences, that, “I would never allow any of my daughters to suffer through child marriage!” So I went to that community the next day and brought her back home. Two months later, she was again abducted to the Nankpawie community. I followed her once again and brought her home with me. Just before turning 16 years, she was once more abducted and taken to a community known as Vamboi, which is where my mother hails from. I was not deterred and went to that community to rescue her and send her back to school. The fourth time was the final straw for me.
I reported this last incidence of child abduction and child marriage to DoVVSU and the ActionAid Office in the Upper West region to seek justice. I was not afraid and wanted to pursue justice for my daughter and set an example for her two sisters, while at the same time dissuade potential abductors from attempting to kidnap them for marriage. More importantly, I wanted to give them an opportunity to live a more empowered life and enjoy their rights. DoVVSU wrote a letter summoning the perpetrators to report to the Police Station with my daughter the next day and they did. They were cautioned and my daughter given back to me. I brought her home and she is currently in Form Two at the Junior High School level. I am filled with pride that I did it. I thank ActionAid and their supporters for building my confidence.
Fredous says that her greatest joy as a member of COMBAT was being able to rescue Adilata, not just once, nor twice, but four times from child marriage
ActionAid has rescued more than 170 girls from child marriage in over 57 communities in the Upper West Region through our unique collaboration with DoVVSU, community members and the relentless efforts of COMBAT members.
All across our programme communities, men and women like Fredous Balali are ensuring the protection and promotion of the rights of residents of their communities, especially girls, and are leading the fight against child marriage and human-rights abuses.
Fredous is a true example of ActionAid’s belief and strategy of empowering people living in poverty and suffering injustices; to create change for themselves, their families and their communities.
Communications Officer, ActionAid Ghana