Ghana goes to the polls on 7th December, 2016. As peace loving people, various groups have started beating the peace drum for over six months ago. There are some who have also questioned the significance of the overwhelming peace groups and messages in the country. For those who think it is not necessary to engage in peace campaigns have failed to measure the impact these massages have had on Ghana’s elections in the past.
Peace treaties are being signed here and there; election related courts have also been instituted to expedite adjudication of election related disputes. Some even went the extra mile to have suggested that social media should be shut done on Election Day. All these initiatives are deliberate efforts directed at ensuring peace and security before, during and after the December polls.
In a related development, there has been recent call by a section of Ghanaians to keep children out of school on Election Day, but it appears we are never going to have that. On Friday December 2, government issued a statement through its communication minister – Dr Omane Boamah, stating that December 7 is not going to be a holiday for the public as well as schools. Meanwhile some groups have also advocated that the statutory public holiday [farmer’s day] celebrated on December 2 should have been shifted to Election Day to pave way for people to exercise their voting right.
I am not worried about the fact that Election Day is not going to be a public holiday, but it sends shivers down my spine about how pupils are going to be kept in school on Election Day. If civil society groups have been singing and drumming peace for over 6 months, it simply means that violence or something untoward is anticipated before, during or after Election Day. Our experiences over the years showed that a chunk of the heinous election related crimes and disorders were recorded on Election Day. Incidences of gunshots, ballot box snatching, stabbing, verbal or physical assaults are usually recorded at various locations among electorates on Election Day. How can children be kept in schools on a day characterized by these possible threats to security?
One will say teachers will be with them to ensure their safety. We should also not forget about the fact that most of these teachers will be leaving classrooms to their polling stations to join long queues, in order to exercise their voting rights. This could take them several hours before getting back to school; some might not even go back to school at all. For instance, a school has a staff population of about 12 and you have about 8 of them leaving school to vote and about 2 serving as Electoral Commission officials, maybe 1 also seeking formal permission to travel in order to exercise his/her voting right; how many teachers will be left in that school to ensure the security of pupils on Election Day? Just 1, isn’t it?
As soon as a pupil arrives in school, such a child is no more under the care and security of hi/her parents, but care and security become the full responsibility of the teacher. Should the child be harmed in any way, while in school, teachers are required by law to be held responsible. I fear that the high level of absenteeism we are going to experience in various schools across the country on Election Day, on the part of teachers, will not guarantee adequate security and care for the overwhelming number of pupils in our schools. I have no doubt about the capabilities of our security services on Election Day, but that does not mean we should leave something we could have prevented to chance.
We have all heard of the pockets of violence incidences which characterized the limited voter registration and voter transfer exercises. According to the EC Chairperson, about 23 violence cases were recorded at different locations in the country, during the limited voter registration exercise. She however maintained that the commission has also earmarked 85 constituencies as hot spots and basketful of 5,000 polling stations as potential hot spots, ahead of the elections. A significant number of these schools could be among the 5,000 polling stations identified as hot spots. Most of these school premises also serve as polling stations.
With most of these schools serving as polling stations on Election Day, characterized by noise pollution and possible distraction from voting related activities, it will even defeat the very purpose of keeping pupils in school.
Judging from the political circumstances and the possible outbreak of violence anticipated on Election Day, it is not safe to keep our children in school on December 7. No child should suffer discomfort, injury or lose his/her life in school or on the way home as a result of election related violence. Our children deserve our protection, and the best protection the State could give to them on December 7 is to keep them at home by a way of a holiday.
I think this should also be a wakeup call to various child right activists to stand up for the safety of our vulnerable children on Election Day.