Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted on December 7 were generally peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.
The Ghana Police Service, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for maintaining law and order; however, the military, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure and by enforcing measures to combat COVID-19. The National Intelligence Bureau handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on the press, including violence and threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although rarely enforced; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. 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 man may 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. Domestic violence is punishable by a fine or a sentence of up to two years imprisonment. Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems. Authorities did not enforce the law effectively.
In November the parent-teacher association of a school in the Volta Region reported to the police and petitioned the Ghana Education Service to investigate allegations of rape and sexual assault against the head teacher. The teacher allegedly tried to convince a pregnant student to have sex with him and threatened and raped her. Media reported the man made sexual advances on six other girls.
The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Commission, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund, the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, including the absence of private rooms to speak with victims, hindered the full application of the law. Pervasive cultural beliefs in female roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. For example, media reported that the central regional coordinator for DOVVSU stated that “denying your spouse sex amounted to emotional abuse” and suggested that men whose wives denied them sex could report them to the DOVVSU.
Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills and shelter facilities to assist victims. Few of the cases in which police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate 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. Police could refer victims to one NGO-operated designated shelter. 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 the officers’ 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. It had one clinical psychologist to assist domestic violence victims. 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 sexual and gender-based violence, 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 age 18 in some 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. According to the 2017 to 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), women in rural areas were subjected to FGM/C three times more often than women in urban areas (3.6 percent compared with 1.2 percent). Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions.
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. In the Northern, North East, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, families or traditional authorities banished rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” to “witch camps.” According to a local group, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000 to 2,500 adult women and 1,000 to 1,200 children. One camp saw 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 do so effectively.
Most of those accused of witchcraft were older women, often widows. Some persons suspected to be witches were killed. In July several individuals beat to death a woman age 90 suspected of witchcraft in Kafaba, in Savannah Region. Government officials denounced the killing, and police arrested and charged five individuals for murder.
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, some widows were required to undergo certain 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.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but often lacked the information to do so. Some religious groups opposed what they termed “artificial” contraception. The government provided for sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the National Health Insurance Scheme.
In 2017 the maternal mortality rate was 308 per 100,000 live births, according to the UN Trends in Maternal Mortality report. A lack of skilled birth attendance, especially in rural areas, was a major contributing factor. According to the UN Population Fund, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 27 percent for women ages 15 to 49.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government officials.
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.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, 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. Following his visit to the country in 2018, 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. According to a 2018 survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals.
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. While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons, stigma, intimidation, and the negative attitude of police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.
Some activists reported that police attitudes were slowly changing, with community members feeling more comfortable with certain police officers to whom they could turn for assistance, such as the IGP-appointed uniformed liaison officers. Activists also cited improved CHRAJ-supported activities, such as awareness raising via social media. As one example, the CHRAJ published announcements on an LGBTI dating site regarding citizen rights and proper channels to report abuses. Activists also stated they noted fewer discriminatory statements from public figures.
A coalition of LGBTI-led organizations from throughout the country, officially registered in 2018, continued to hold meetings. Its objectives included building members’ capacity, assisting with their access to resources and technical support, and fostering networking. Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on LGBTI problems because of social and political sensitivity. Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.
LGBTI activists reported that in June, one LGBTI individual was severely beaten in Kasoa in the Central Region. Although police arrested the perpetrator, they requested money from the victim to pursue prosecution, and the victim eventually dropped the case.
LGBTI activists also reported attempts to blackmail LGBTI individuals were widespread and that it remained difficult to attain prosecution due to discrimination. For example, in October a gay man reported to police his landlord’s collaboration with a blackmailer. The police sided with the landlord, forced the victim to unlock his mobile phone, “outed” the victim to his family, and forced the victim’s family to pay money to the landlord.