It’s been almost one week since Ghana’s ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, shocked the collective conscience of the nation with a 90-minute video documentary, which showed graphic details of a heart-wrenching revelation of pain, terror, and reckless abandon of children at the Osu Children’s Home in the hands of supposed care-givers.

Disguised variously as a reverend minister and a Malian female philanthropist, Anas reveals how some of the children in the orphanage died, sometimes without the knowledge of the care-givers.

Little offences such as lying have the ultimate punishment of a one-month solitary confinement, a place Anas describes in the documentary as terror in the Osu Children’s Home.

The award-winning documentary showed how Anas struck a fine cord with the children and offered them the love and care they have been denied for the many years they have been staying in the home.

Indeed, the chilling footage chronicles the untold hardships of the inmates of the hitherto Ghana’s flagship orphanage, which is supervised by the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare.

Appropriately labeled “Osu Children’s Home or Hell”, Anas brought to the focal point of public consciousness, the daily, routine dehumanizing physical abuse that the inmates are regularly subjected to.

As a humanist, the past week has been very traumatic in my life as I painfully watched the footage repeatedly on various television networks, revealing man’s chilling inhumanity to fellow human beings.
“It was meant to be the citadel for orphans, a home for the abandoned but as it turned out, the Osu Children’s home, for now, is anything but safe for the under-privileged children in the country,” Anas wrote in a preamble to the documentary.

So what went wrong, and at what stage did the children start suffering such indignity?

The whole nation was united in condemning “the dehumanizing and degrading treatments being meted out to inmates of the home”. The nation was swift in demanding answers to “the troubling questions about the kind of supervisory role being played by the Social Welfare Department and all concerned institutions on the activities of some of these homes”.

Of course, such collective knee-jerk reaction should always be expected. As a nation, we pride ourselves as being very religious. We display our religious faith on our sleeves, always ready to exhibit our “Christian life” through incessant prayers and outdoor programs, even if our activities are totally opposite to these claims.

Religious believers are accustomed to being accused as perpetrators of intolerance and violence, and there is enough truth to such charges to take them to heart. Critics cluck their tongues and note the contradiction whereby religion, which is supposed to be based on love, has the potential to turn into strife and hatred. The critics note the close parallel to the family, where love can so easily turn into hate.

For months, Anas Aremeyaw Anas operated as an undercover reporter and had the opportunity to witness at first-hand, the living conditions of children in the Osu Children’s Home. Ironically, Anas operated in the disguise of a fictional Rev. Abednego Akpabli from the equally fictional Christ of Jah Church, which created the trust and confidence for the children to open up and enable the ace investigative reporter to piece together chilling tales that have remained untold for years; tales that recount the many traces of neglect, abuse and maltreatment which have led many of the inmates to their graves.

To those innocent children, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Koby Stephens, Victor Atta, Cynthia and other forgotten souls of the Osu Children’s Home needed the attention that only a trusted Servant of God like Rev. Akpabli could put forth.

The more you recount the details of the footage, the more disturbing questions keep popping up. What would make a human being who professes to be religious, keep disabled children in stationery posture, force them to eat and respond to nature’s call at the same spot?

The peculiar nature of the disabled children called for the needed intervention by this reporter, who changed his guise to play a second role as a rich female philanthropist from Mali called Hajia Balkisu, to unravel the mystery surrounding the deaths of the children in the leading child care Home in Ghana. The investigations gave special attention to the disabled children in the Home, who have over the years registered the most preventable deaths in the Home. Hajia Balkisu witnessed the life and death of Yaw Moses.

For a moment, what was unfolding on our screens was akin to a playback of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in real time: innocent, vulnerable children being indecently stripped of what is left of their dignity.

I can state here without any fear of contraction that all the care-givers at the Osu Children’s Home and other similar orphanages across the country would lay claim to one religious faith or the other. In a country where more than 75 per cent of the population wears the badge of Christianity, it would be safe to assume that the supervisor of the Osu orphanage would be associated with one of the faiths that preach sanctimonious sermons daily to those classified as pagans.

From the cradle to the grave, Ghanaians never waiver in trumpeting their righteousness to those considered to be unbelievers. Yet, such dehumanizing activities as exposed by the investigative report are not particularly isolated. Many homes across the country record daily cases of violent physical abuse of children.

As a society, we know such atrocities are widespread, even though we are more comfortable in our pretentious, sanctimonious life. Cases of many step-children and house-helps being denied food for several hours – even while they slave – are common in our society.
And yet those who perpetuate these inhuman acts call themselves Christians.

No wonder, some critics ask “Why is there religion at all, of any kind?” Ultimately the only satisfactory answer is that it enlightens people about the meaning of life, of how they should live their lives. Religion is what gives meaning to human existence. Therefore, it follows, to abandon religion would mean abandoning all hope of meaning, to which the secularist nods and says, “Precisely!”

The secularist position, which has a long history, is that the religious search for meaning is an illusion; but that, even when successful, is a bad thing, they argue, because human beings should not be encouraged to think about ultimate realities.

American Pragmatism is perhaps the clearest example of this. It argues that we can choose moral positions, and orient ourselves in life, not by asking what is true or false but simply on the basis of what seems to work. We might claim, for example, that all human beings have worth and dignity but, if someone asks why this is so, we are not required to answer. It just is.

Of course religion is problematic. It discriminates between those who believe and those who do not. It stereotypes. It divides. It says I am right and you are wrong, or you are right and I am wrong. It judges people. It motivates wars. It even kills. The track record of religious violence is long and bloody and too public to deny.
But religion also gives life. It heals. It guides. It gives many people a sense of purpose and direction.

It builds inner peace and outer altruism. It is compassionate to the poor, the orphan, and the needy. So, if we look closely enough, we can find an equally long track record of religion promoting peace and human prosperity.

In answering the question “is religion good or bad?”, Ola Mohamed, a blogger and a senior Political Science and International Studies double major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes “we must cautiously avoid two pitfalls of logic: 1) personifying religion and 2) objectifying religion. Religion is not a person. It cannot divide, stereotype, judge or kill. By the same token, it does not give charity or serve food at soup kitchens.

Therefore, we cannot blame or praise religion as a monolithic and tangible entity responsible for the good or bad in our societies”.

Obviously, religion entails belief and belief motivates action. Religion requires human agency to put its principles into practice, and it is through the filter of human agency that religion takes on its character as “good” or “bad.”

Ronit Avni, filmmaker and human rights advocate of Just Vision, notes “religion in itself is neutral. Our interpretation of religious texts and traditions and our application of them is what give religion its true color”.

In assessing its role in our lives, we must also avoid objectifying or “essentializing” religion. As Appleby argues above, religion should not be confined to the narrow categories of “good” and “bad.” Religion is complex. Just as religion has undeniably motivated people to commit grave injustices in the past, from the Atlantic Slave Trade to September 11th, religion has also undeniably mobilized people to uphold justice and give graciously to their fellow humans in need. From Mother Theresa and Mohandas Gandhi to millions of individuals who are moved by their faith to do charitable works every day, the ambassadors of religious compassion are many.

History, too, has many stories to tell about religion, some good and some not so well. When all is said and done, I believe the answer to the question before us depends upon how we translate faith into action.

Credit: By Nii Noi Vanderpuye
Words work in many ways, and how we choose to put them to work in our daily lives is what makes all the difference.
Clearly, the dehumanizing footage from the Osu Children’s Home is a serious indictment on us as a society, not least those of us who are obsessed with portraying a pious public posture without giving meaning to life.