Children and Agency : the case of orphans living in an institution in the Ashanti Region of Ghana
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The lives of orphans living in institutions need to be well understood by adults and their experiences also need to be appreciated. One of the best ways of doing that is to talk to children themselves or by giving them the chance to be heard about their situations and experiences not just to be seen. It is in view of this that this study was conducted to explore how children living in an institution in Ashanti Region of Ghana are able to cope with their adverse circumstances. It furthers seeks to explore the experiences and living conditions of the children. The social studies of childhood and structuration theory formed the theoretical framework that guided the study. This is because children live within the social structures and are affected by structural conditions as competent social actors with agencies. As a qualitative study which is ethnographic-inspired, data were collected using multiple participatory methods such as participant observations, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. My major informants were children from the ages of 14 to 17, though 3 caretakers were interviewed. The findings of the study revealed that most of the children did not like the idea of them being sent to such institutions. They have come to the home for many reasons of which poverty was the prevalent factor. Some of them live in the home with no knowledge of the family members. However, they argued that their lives are better as compared to their peers who are less privileged living outside the home and their families they were living with before coming to the home. Children living in the institution notwithstanding their claims that their lives are better face a lot of challenges affecting their overall development as children which make them more vulnerable. However, the children do utilize their agencies in many ways to cater for some of their basic needs by adapting a variety of coping strategies to cope with their situation. Also, children sometimes assume the role as caretakers and parents to provide care to their peers and other children and offer also help to their caretakers. Based on the findings, it was concluded that the children are competent social actors who are capable of forming their own views on matters relating to them. However, children living in the institution’s agencies and competencies can be influenced, enabled, shaped and limit by social structures such as their caretakers and rules and regulations of the institution and resources available to them.