Ghana is an ideal hunting ground for Dutch child sex tourists. Paedophiles present themselves as benevolent benefactors and, despite Dutch and Ghanaian law, enjoy impunity for engaging in sexual acts with children.
Ruth is 17 and since 3 am, she has been awake, nervous. “Why?” she wonders. This is her tenth time in court, and she has returned even though she knows her opponent, a Dutch millionaire, will fail to appear just like all the other times.
But, just in case, at exactly 9 am, she takes her place on the wooden bench in courtroom 20 at the Coco Affairs Court in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
Her Uncle Asare, who made the five-hour trip from his village, is sitting to her left. To her right, her ward ties a red ribbon on Ruth’s pigtails to match the turtleneck shirt she put on for the occasion. “So the judge can see she is decent girl,” says the Ghanaian woman who has been taking care of Ruth since they together reported the case one and a half years ago.
“I was eight years old when I was first raped,” says Ruth, “he pretended to take care of me and paid my school fees.”
“Whenever he visited Ghana, he asked for me to be brought to him to come and collect my money. Every time I had to stay and sleep with him.” According to Ruth, the man, who is from the Dutch province of Limburg, has abused at least two other girls. “I know because I slept next to them when he did it,” she says.
He is not the only Dutch paedophile in Ghana. The Dutch expatriate community is well aware of compatriots with paedophilic tendencies. 'The Meat Merchant' is a rich importer whose affection for small children was reported to the police by his own daughter. There was a 50-something who likes wearing Ghanaian clothes and has had a “more than father-son” relationship with several boys who lived with him, according to his own housemates. Then there’s 'Tall Ad', whose neighbours describe how he drives slowly through the streets seeking “water-vending girls who smile back at him.” The ones he likes he invites to his home for fried rice and watching movies on his laptop.
Two Dutch expatriates talk about how the men would discuss their conquests at night in the pubs. Tall Ad was usually present. “He would say: ‘You got a 21-year-old chick? Old for me!’”
In 2006, the Ghanaian NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child announced that it was not only the Dutch who were abusing local children. German, British, American and other Western tourists were also guilty. According to the report ‘Commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism’, more and more Ghanaian children are being abused.
Is Ghana becoming the new Thailand? Since laws on child sex and prostitution have become stricter in Asia, more child sex tourists have shifted their operations to Africa and Latin America, concludes the report. Ghana has been declared “safe” on websites for paedophiles.
Ghana has become an ideal holiday destination for Western child sex tourists, declares Irene Aborchie-Nyahe, a lawyer who started two pro bono networks: FIDA (free legal assistance for women and children) and GLAN (for her neighbourhood).
Her office is nearly empty: two couches, a wooden desk, a fan and a single wall painting showing the scales of justice. In fact, Aborchie-Nyahe provides the most adornment to the space, with a sparkly broche pinned to her jacket, wearing fake pearl earrings and necklace. “I pay for all of this on my own,” she states, signalling to the room’s stark interior.
Initially, it was only couples who sat in her office “mainly to discuss terms of their divorce”. At present, she handles cases of domestic abuse and children who are being sexually abused.
Handing out candy
KLM has daily flights to Accra. A ticket costs about 700 euro, the same price point as a roundtrip flight to Thailand. The flights are fully booked with volunteers, backpackers and adventurous businessmen.
“The world has changed over the past years,” says Aborchie-Nyahe. “At first, only missionaries and philanthropists came to Africa. Today every Westerner can catch a plane to Ghana, including those with bad intentions. “But most Ghanaians are not aware of that. Our children believe that all white people are good,” says the lawyer.
In the Netherlands, children learn to watch out for strange men offering candy. In Ghana, they learn to run towards such people. Whites have money, that’s what Ghanaians know. So when a mother sees that her 10-year-old daughter has befriended a white person, she encourages that, sometimes because she overestimates the person’s goodness, not realizing her daughter could be abused. Sometimes poverty forces the virginity of a child to be exchanged for food for the family.
Ruth experienced both of these difficult realities. Her father died at an early age and her mother was the victim of a stroke, rendering her incapable of taking care of her children. At age five, Ruth and her siblings ended up with their Uncle Asare, who already had seven young children.
A single woman invited Ruth to come and move in with her. Before long, Ruth was calling her uncle, saying she was very happy in her new village and he was pleased to have found a suitable solution for all concerned. He was also pleased to hear the following year that a rich Dutch man had “gladly offered to take care of her”.
Maybe his niece would even be able to make it to university! Uncle Asare had heard that the white man was involved in developments projects in the village where Ruth lived. The idea that the philanthropist was expecting Ruth to share his bed with him never came up. The single woman knew of the man’s intentions but was awarded a house in return for her silence. Ruth entrusted her secrets only to her diary.
The fact that Ruth reported her molester to the police can well be attributed to the staff of the Dutch philanthropist. She trusted the woman who is now her ward enough to share her horrifying secret. The ward informed her uncle and, together, the family decided to report the case to the police. “We hope that he goes to jail, but also that the judge will rule that Ruth’s school fees must continue to be paid,” states Uncle Asare.
“When a Ghanaian child has been forced to have sex with an adult, the child probably won’t talk about” it, notes Aborchie-Nyahe. “The relationship between parents and their children in Ghana differs from the West. Children are taught to obey, no questions asked. It is not a regular habit to discuss with each other the day’s events, much less ones they find embarrassing.”
The fact that Ruth’s family is fighting the case in court is extraordinary. “In our culture, these types of cases are taken care of out of court,” says Kofi Kumah. The coordinator of the Ghanaian NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child drops in on Ghanaian child organization projects each week.
“I visit communities where everybody knows each other. That means that a girl is mostly abused by somebody she knows – a family member or the town drunk. And if she must testify in court, then everybody will know she has had sex and she’ll be judged by the whole community,” he explains
In spite of this, last year the Accra police’s domestic violence unit registered 338 cases of child abuse. “These were mostly cases in which a secret got out, for example, because the culprit was caught red-handed,” states Kumah.
According to him, even in those cases, the chance that justice will prevail is minimal. We can accuse somebody, but guilt needs to be proved. That is difficult with sexual abuse, especially in Ghana.
Only in large cities are there police hospitals where medical examinations can be conducted. DNA testing is not done here. So in court, it’s the word of the suspect versus the word of the young victim. And if the suspect is rich and pays the judge some money, he will almost always walk free.
Kumah gives the example of Prophet Jesus One Touch. In January, he was sentenced to 10 years for raping his 11-year-old step-daughter before mass. By March, he was a free man. That is how it’s possible that, despite the hike in child sex tourism, only one convicted paedophile has been jailed. He filmed eight Ghanaian children licking his penis. Only one girl was prepared to pressed charges.
For the family, it’s better and more lucrative to settle a case out of court. “How much money the perpetrator has to pay differs from case to case,” says Kumah. “In some communities, for example, you must sacrifice a sheep if the abuse took place in the bush.” Sometimes payments must be made to cleanse the body and, in incidents of homosexual sex, to cleanse the mind. Only after that will compensation for the victim be discussed.
“Do you think it’s weird that Ghanaians take the law into their own hands, while the whites can freely continue what they’re doing?” The question comes from Esenam, a 40-year-old contractor from Tall Ad’s neighbourhood.
He continues: “I often find myself drinking a Star beer at the roadside bar. In the afternoon Tall Ad drives along, finished with his city tour. That was how it went the day he was attacked. I was slightly tipsy, so I didn’t really notice that six or so men were trying to drag Tall Ad out of his car through the side window. I helped him escape because, after all, he is a white. It’s impolite to kill your guest.”
Another Dutchman wasn’t that fortunate. Gerard, a car dealer who mostly worked in the north of Ghana, started molesting boys in their early twenties, according to his Dutch business partner. “But often, his bedfellows would scream in their hotel rooms in the middle of the night. He ‘solved’ the problem by giving them money. In an effort to prevent this type of problem, Gerard decided to take younger, less savvy bed partners.” But these kids have families. A brother or an uncle of one of the victims probably discovered his secret. “I think that Gerard refused to pay,” says his business partner. “Three years ago Gerard was found hanging on a tree about 10 kilometres from his house. The police asked me to identify him.” Gerard’s death never made the paper in the Netherlands.
Beach bar or orphanage
One imprisoned and one killed is not enough to stop future child abusers, says Jane. The 24 year old works as a waitress at the popular La Pleasure Beach.
According to the Coalition on the Rights of the Child, in the afternoon and on weekends, this beach is the hotspot for “circumstantial child molesters.” These men are qualified as ‘Type 1’: guys who wouldn’t dare to think about sleeping with teenage girls at home, but don’t mind ‘giving in’ to the plentiful young available girls here.
“When tourists arrive, the beach starts to get crowded with folks seeking to earn some money, men selling DVDs, women manicuring nails and prostitutes,” says Jane. They slide up to men sitting under an umbrella drinking beer. “Sometimes a man doesn’t know whether there’s the woman is a regular girl or a prostitute,” says Jane. “Then they ask me. I sometimes get requests to arrange for a younger one, under age 16. But, hey, I don’t do it. For that, they must go sit at the bar with the blue seats.” Over at the bar with the blue seats, they point precisely towards Jane’s beach tent.
A child sex tourist ‘Type 2’ comes to the beach during the day, when no curious onlookers are present but children too poor to go to school are. These men are TSOs – travelling sex offenders. They are sexual criminals whose visit’s sole purpose is to abuse children. Among them are retirees who live in Ghana and take in “houseboys” and “housegirls” as well as those who volunteer at orphanages.
A perfect alibi: while back on the home front, the single man travelling to Thailand is a pervert, the visitor to Africa is an altruistic hero helping the poor.
The Dutch government has made fighting child sex tourism a priority. That was the intention in 2010, when the then new government, headed by Mark Rutte, issued a special website against sex tourism and the ‘Break the silence’ campaign was launched at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the military police “regularly control for passengers who are engaged in sex tourism”.
Last December, Dutch Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten and Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal announced they would “pull out all the stops” to fight child sex tourism.
“In Dutch law, there is no specific article on child sex tourism,” says Ed Kraszewski of the Dutch National Police Services Agency (KLPD). “But the Dutch public prosecutor can prosecute perpetrators in accordance with the articles 248b (on receiving services of minor prostitutes) and 244 (on sex or sexual intentions with minors under age 12). The Dutch penal law is also applicable to Dutch citizens who commit crimes in foreign countries.”
In theory, the implication is that the Dutch public prosecution could prosecute The Meat Merchant and Tall Ad for their behaviour in Ghana. Similarly, they could prosecute Ruth’s alleged assaulter who raped her for several years “provided the acquired evidence was in accordance with Dutch legal standards,” says Kraszweski. Almost implausible circumstances when you consider that public prosecutors in Ghana don’t even have computers. Ruth’s handwritten statement was stored in the investigating officer’s filing cabinet.
Yet when police on the case were tipped off, in January 2010, two KLPD officers found themselves travelling to Ghana. However, since the Dutch millionaire was arrested that April in Ghana, the case was Ghana’s; the Netherlands could only look on. The fact that the suspect was released the same day as he was arrested didn’t change a thing. According to a spokesperson of the Ghanaian domestic violence unit, he walked after paying a large sum of money, despite the fact that a suspected child abuser cannot be released on bail in Ghana.
Meanwhile, Ruth is waiting in court again. 9 o’clock becomes 10 o’clock. 11.30. The judge hasn’t called the case yet. Tired from the heat, the ward is dozing off. Ruth teeters on the edge of the bench. Who knows, the man might show up today. 1.30 pm. He’s not coming. The judge adjourns the case. A new chance in two weeks.
Uncle Asare sighs. “Luckily, this is just a case about compensation. In a criminal case, they wouldn’t let him get away with this.” After an encouraging pat on Ruth’s shoulder, her uncle disappears. He might make it home before dark.
Ruth is taken aside by her lawyer. “About the criminal case...prepare for the next battle. Your file got ‘lost’ in the transfer from one office to another.” As Ruth and her ward visit the police for the umpteenth time, her alleged assaulter is enjoying a holiday. In Ghana.
In early May, on departing from Schiphol Airport Amsterdam, he was not stopped for checking by the Dutch Ministry of Defense. In the Netherlands, his image is that of a philanthropist. His plan to start an orphanage becomes more concrete by the day.
In real life, Ruth goes by another name. She wants to carry on with her life and marry a nice man; it’s therefore better that her real name not be mentioned by OneWorld. For fear of retribution, the Dutch expatriates in this article have gone unnamed. Because the defendants in this story are innocent until a court has ruled otherwise, we have chosen not to reveal their names. The identities of all the involved parties are known to OneWorld’s editors.
‘Paradise for pedos’ has caused quite a stir. That's understandable. The article is about a serious wrongdoing in Ghana, one in which the Dutch are involved. A high volume of responses have also appeared on oneworld.nl. Partly on the urging of the concerned parties, we decided to remove the comments.
DISCLAIMER: Not all Dutch people in Ghana are engaging in child sex tourism or other forms of exploitation.