What if age was not just a number, or something you never considered in your day to day life? What if you could change your age? In Ghana, the government often changes people’s ages as they realize that there are more benefits that come with being older or younger. For example, those who are nearing retirement but realize that their pension will not be able to sustain them through their non-working years, push their year of birth forward to seem younger and work for longer. Children who are around 14 years old change their ages to 18 years old to vote; and football players may add or subtract years from their age in order to fit into certain age categories for age-restricted competitions.
In Ghana, it is fairly simple to get your age changed. One simply visits the Commissioner of Oaths, gives a compelling reason as to why one’s date of birth is wrong and should be changed, and then signs an affidavit. One reason why changing your age in Ghana is so easy is because it is believed that many parents were illiterate when they gave birth to their children or just failed to sign the birth certificate papers, undermining other government documents. For example, you can say that when you initially recorded your date of birth, you said it was on the same day a government leader was elected; however, because the exact date that this leader was elected was not recorded by the government, you can manipulate the information, informing you that you were born (and that this leader was elected) on a different day than previously specified. Newly elected President Nana Akufo-Addo has promised to eliminate this system and other forms of government manipulation by implementing a system where citizens have an ID with unchangeable biometric data on it.
However, the social effect that this has had on the Ghanaian people is special. Compared to the West where age is viewed so seriously, Ghanaians do not consider age to signify more than just a number, because it is not necessarily always accurate. Some may call this a disregard for age in Ghanaian society, but in fact, Ghanaian culture values respecting elders and taking care of the young. There seems to be a balance.
So what would you do if you could change how old you were for a day? Would you become an 18 year old so you could vote? Dial it back by one year so you could play in Africa’s U17 football games? Or would you even become 21 to get into a New York city nightclub?
By Natalie Carr ’19