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USA reports on Ghana Human Rights Abuses: Women

Young Bajan
2003-04-01 18:14:29

Country reports for 2002 on Human Rights Abuses. Hot off the press from the US State Department, announced yesterday by Colin Powell himself.

Nuff Respect, Young Bajan.

Ghana - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - March 31, 2003


Violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, remained a significant problem. A 1998 study revealed that particularly in low-income, high-density sections of greater Accra, at least 54 percent of women had been assaulted in recent years. A total of 95 percent of the victims of domestic violence were women, according to data gathered by the FIDA. These abuses usually went unreported and seldom came before the courts. The police tended not to intervene in domestic disputes. The media increasingly reported cases of assault and rape. The police administration's Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU) handled cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, and juvenile offenses. With offices in nine cities around the country, the WAJU worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, FIDA, and the Legal Aid Board. As of September 30, WAJU recorded a total of 3,155 cases, including 1,052 instances of assault, 380 cases of defilement, 113 rapes, and 53 abductions.

FIDA presented the draft of the country's first domestic violence bill to the Director of Legislative Drafting of the Parliament, who was responsible for converting proposed bills into proper legislative format for eventual consideration by Parliament. On November 11, the Attorney General's office held a public consultative forum on the draft bill; however, the bill had not gone before Parliament by year's end.

In late 1998, a series of "mysterious" murders of women occurred in the Mateheko area of Accra. There were more than 30 murders between 1993 and 2000, which were referred to as "serial murders." In May 2001, a suspect who police had arrested confessed to eight of the murders. On August 7, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The sentence had not been carried out by year's end.

The Criminal Code bans the practice of customary servitude (known as Trokosi), protects women accused of witchcraft, makes the age of criminal responsibility 12 years, criminalizes indecent assault and forced marriages, and imposes punishments for defilement, incest, and prostitution involving children.

Belief in witchcraft still was strong in many parts of the country. Most accused witches were older women, often widows, who were identified by fellow villagers as the cause of difficulties, such as illness, crop failure, or financial misfortune. Many of these women were banished by traditional village authorities or their families and go to live in "witchcamps," villages in the north populated by suspected witches (see Section 1.d.). In the past, in addition to banishment, suspected witches were subject to violence and lynching. The women did not face formal legal sanction if they returned home; however, most feared that they could be beaten or lynched if they returned to their villages. The law provides protection to alleged witches. There were no definitive statistics on the number of women living in northern witchcamps, and international and domestic observers estimated that there were between 550 and 1,150 women in the camps. The CHRAJ and human rights NGOs mounted a campaign to end this traditional practice but have met with little success. Various organizations provided food, medical care, and other forms of support to the residents of the camp.

There were no developments in the following 2001 cases: The January case of two elderly women in Komenda, Central Region, who were accused of being witches by their nephew and subsequently abducted and tortured to obtain confessions (one of the women died 2 weeks later); the April case in which a man living in Tongor in the Volta Region chopped off the hands of an elderly aunt, claiming she was a witch; and the June case of a woman in Abutia-Kloe, Volta Region, who was beaten to death by persons who accused her of using witchcraft to mastermind the May 2001 stadium disaster in Accra (see Section 1.a.).

There were no developments in the 2000 case in which a local teacher accused an 80-year-old woman in the Volta region of being a witch.

There were several traditional discriminatory practices that were injurious to the health and development of young girls. In particular female genital mutilation (FGM) was a serious problem. A 1998 study estimated that between 9 and 12 percent of women have undergone FGM, but some estimates were as high as 30 percent. A Ministry of Health survey conducted between 1995 and 1998 found that FGM was practiced among nearly all the northern sector ethnic groups, up to 86 percent in rural parts of the Upper West and Upper East Regions. Often it was performed on girls under the age of 15. Officials at all levels have spoken against the practice, and local NGOs made some inroads through their educational campaigns to encourage abandonment of FGM and to retrain practitioners. Traditional chiefs became more outspoken in their opposition to the practice of FGM. The law prohibits FGM; however, members of the legal community advocated legislation to close loopholes in the law and extend culpability to those who aid in carrying out FGM and to citizens who commit the crime outside the country's borders. On September 6, two women were arrested in Kpatia, Upper East District, for assisting another woman in the circumcision of 5 of their teenage grandchildren. The women cooperated with police; however, the woman who performed the circumcision was not found by year's end. In some cases in which FGM was performed, the victims actively sought out practitioners, sometimes without their parents' knowledge, in a quest to become ready for marriage.

There were no laws that specifically protect women from sexual harassment.

There is a Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs to address gender and children's issues; however, women continued to experience societal discrimination. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance to women entering nontraditional fields persisted. Women, especially in rural areas, remained subject to burdensome labor conditions and traditional male dominance. Traditional practices and social norms often denied women their statutory entitlements to inheritances and property, a legally registered marriage (and with it, certain legal rights), and the maintenance and custody of children.

Women's rights groups were active in educational campaigns and in programs to provide vocational training, legal aid, and other support to women. The Government was active in educational programs, and former President Rawlings and his wife were among the most outspoken advocates of women's rights.

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