Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in 2016 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; corruption in all branches of government; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and exploitative child labor, including forced child labor.
The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. This included the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). Impunity remained a problem, however.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women but not spousal rape. Sexual assault on a male can be charged as indecent assault. Prison sentences for those convicted of rape range from five to 25 years, while indecent assault is a misdemeanor subject to a minimum term of imprisonment of six months.
Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems. Survey data released in 2016 suggested 28 percent of women and 20 percent of men had experienced at least one type of domestic violence in the 12 months prior to the study.
The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Board, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate resources and logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, hindered the full application of the Domestic Violence Act. Pervasive cultural beliefs in women’s roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. According to a 2014 study, almost one-third of girls and women ages 15-24 believed wife beating could be justified. The Domestic Violence Secretariat’s management board was not established by the new administration until March.
Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills, shelter facilities, and other resources to assist victims. Few of the cases wherein police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate resources and training on investigatory techniques, police prosecutor case mismanagement, and, according to the DOVVSU, lack of resources on the part of victims and their families to pursue cases. There was also no shelter to which police could refer victims. In cases deemed less severe, victims were returned to their homes. Otherwise, the DOVVSU contacted NGOs to identify temporary shelters. Authorities reported officers occasionally had no alternative but to shelter victims in their own residences until other arrangements could be made.
The DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. There was also an SGBV workshop provided for police in January.
Due to limited resources, a hotline for victims of domestic violence was suspended, although the DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. The DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and SGBV, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than 18 years. Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent.
For more information, see Appendix C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. A man was arrested in December 2017 and confessed to killing an elderly woman to use her body parts to perform a ritual. In the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” were banished by their families or traditional village authorities to “witch camps.” Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which persons with mental illness were sometimes sent by their families to seek spiritual healing. Some persons suspected of witchcraft were also killed. According to an antiwitchcraft accusation coalition, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000-2,500 adult women and 1,000-1,200 children. One camp had seen its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not have the resources to do so effectively.
The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the north, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, widows are required to undergo certain indigenous rites to mourn or show devotion for the deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.
In August, Second Lady Samira Bawumia launched the Coalition of People Against SGBV and Harmful Practices. UNFPA provided support. Its mission is to pursue high-level advocacy for resources to assist SGBV victims and increase prevention efforts in the country.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas, women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, government contacts indicated that children would not be denied access to education on the basis of documentation. The country’s 2016 automated birth registration system aims at enhancing the ease and reliability of registration. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development were in talks about a proposal to issue birth certificates to children through the age of 15 as part of efforts to curb trafficking. There were no further specifics provided by the government, and it remained unclear how authorities would implement the policy.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. In September 2017 the government began phasing in a program to provide tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, beginning with first-year students. Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than 16 years with or without consent, incest, and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. In July the Ghana Education Service fired four high school teachers in the Ashanti Region for sexually assaulting some students, although four other teachers in the same region were kept on the payroll but transferred to other schools. The DOVVSU’s Central Regional Office reported a 28 percent increase in cases of sexual abuse of girls younger than 16. According to the Ghana Police Service, reports of adults participating in sexual relations with minors rose by almost 26 percent in 2017, with the highest number of cases reported in Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely had sufficient resources, such as transportation and equipment, to effectively respond to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years. The law makes forcing a child to marry punishable by a fine, one year’s imprisonment, or both. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the three northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. Through September the CHRAJ had received 18 cases of early or forced marriage.
The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry launched the first National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26). The framework prioritizes interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address issues of neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society stakeholders, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit also created a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, distributing 6,000 copies throughout the country, and created social media accounts to try to reach wider audiences. In November the country hosted a two-day summit on ending child marriage. First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo delivered opening remarks at the African Union-organized event, which convened gender ministers, civil society organizations, and technical advisors from across the continent.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years, and participating in sexual activities with anyone under this age is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of up to 5,000 penalty units (60,000 cedis or $13,300), or both.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region kill “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who are suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness about causes and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing.
Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children were often forced to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child prostitution and the school dropout rate. Girls were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation while living on the streets.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to public spaces with “appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability,” but inaccessibility to schools and public buildings continued to be problems. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf. The government lifted a hiring freeze and hired 27 persons with disabilities who were trained teachers to work in the mainstream education sector. As of September there were 150 pending applications from persons with disabilities for a government internship program through the Nation Builders Corps, a government initiative to address graduate unemployment. Overall, however, few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities.
Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them. The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.
Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for seven consecutive days, and physically assaulted. In his statement about his 2018 visit to the country, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted, “Persons with disabilities and families with a disabled child face a double burden of poverty.” Officials took few steps to implement a 2012 law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority. The Ministry of Health discontinued data collection on persons with disabilities in 2011. In July 2017 officials from the Mental Health Authority rescued 16 persons with mental disabilities whom they found chained at a prayer camp in Central Region; the individuals were later taken to the Ankaful psychiatric hospital for treatment. Despite these efforts, Human Rights Watch reported in October that it found more than 140 persons with real or perceived mental health conditions detained in unsanitary, congested conditions at a prayer camp. In December the Mental Health Authority released guidelines for traditional and faith-based healers as part of efforts to ensure that practitioners respect the rights of patients with mental illness.
There was public outcry when Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin remarked that the ministerial appointments of persons with disabilities had led to the National Democratic Congress party’s defeat. Bagbin tried to retract his remarks, but organizations such as the Ghana Blind Union expressed disappointment he did not apologize. Ivor Greenstreet, a person living with disabilities who ran in the 2016 presidential elections, called the remarks “unsavory and unacceptable” and “un-befitting …the high office of … Speaker.”
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. In June, following his visit to the country in April, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted that stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons made it difficult for them to find work and become productive members of the community. As of September the CHRAJ had received five reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI persons also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons, although some activists said that police attitudes were slowly changing. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.
While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons during the year, stigma, intimidation, and the attitude of the police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse.
Media reported in August that 400 members of the LGBTI community had registered with the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family “to undergo voluntary counselling and reformation.” Amnesty International earlier in the year criticized authorities for conducting involuntary medical tests on two young men who were allegedly found having sex. According to one survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals.
Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on these issues because of their social and political sensitivity. Speaker of Parliament Mike Oquaye said in May he “would rather resign than subscribe to these delusions,” referring to gay rights legislation. He also said it was unacceptable that foreign governments or groups champion homosexuality and bestiality as human rights. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bagbin said in a radio interview in April, “Homosexuality is worse than [an] atomic bomb” and “there is no way we will accept it in (this) country.” In November 2017 President Akufo-Addo made remarks in an interview interpreted by many citizens as supporting same-sex marriage. After much criticism the Office of the President issued a statement in April in which a bolded line read, “It will NOT be under his Presidency that same-sex marriage will be legalized in Ghana.” President Akufo-Addo later delivered remarks at an evangelical gathering where he assured the audience, “This government has no plans to change the law on same-sex marriage.” Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma surrounding the disease, as well as a fear that men getting tested would immediately be labeled as gay, continued to discourage persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and those who tested positive from seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. As of September the CHRAJ received nine cases of discrimination based on HIV status. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing to citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to respect confidentiality.
A 2016 law penalizes discrimination against a person infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS by a fine of 100 to 500 penalty units (1,200 cedi to 6,000 cedis, or $265-$1,330), imprisonment for 18 months to three years, or both. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV/AIDS and those suspected of having HIV/AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment/work, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV/AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.
As part of World AIDS Day, the Ghana AIDS Commission organized activities across three regions centered around the theme of antistigma and antidiscrimination. In the culminating event to mark World AIDS Day, the minister for sanitation and water resources read a statement on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo encouraging people to get tested.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Chieftaincy disputes, which frequently resulted from lack of a clear chain of succession, competing claims over land and other natural resources, and internal rivalries and feuds, continued to result in deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. According to the West Africa Center for Counterextremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest source of insecurity and instability in the country. Throughout the year disputes continued between Fulani herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. In April, for example, one person died and several houses were burned down when clashes between a farmer and Fulani herdsmen escalated. Similar clashes led to the deaths of two persons who were shot by suspected herdsmen, according to January reports.
In May a long-standing land dispute between the communities of Nkonya and Alavanyo in Volta Region led to violence when an assailant shot and killed one woman and injured another. Citing 85 lives lost since 1983, the Volta Regional Peace Council called for an end to reprisal killings. Earlier in the year, a chieftaincy dispute resulted in five injuries and 10 arrests. Early in the year, the National Peace Council began peace-building training with two towns in the Northern Region.
There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Such vigilantism was often seen as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing the police and judicial sectors.