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Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but not spousal rape. Convicted rapists may be punished with prison sentences ranging from five to 25 years. Rape and domestic violence was significantly underreported and remained a serious problem. The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, the Legal Aid Board, and several other human rights NGOs to address domestic violence. In 2015, the latest year for which data were available, the DOVVSU received 322 reports of rape and reported 127 arrests and three convictions. At the end of 2015, 237 cases remained under investigation.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, it continued to be a problem. Survey data released in August suggested 27.7 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. In accordance with local law and international definitions, the study analyzed the incidence of social, physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence. The law stipulates that a person in a domestic relationship who engages in misdemeanor domestic violence is liable on summary conviction to a fine, a term of imprisonment not to exceed two years, or both. The court also may order the offender to pay compensation directly to the victim. Inadequate resources and logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, hindered the full application of the law. 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. In many cases victims were discouraged from reporting abuse and from cooperating with prosecutors because they were aware of long delays in bringing such cases to trial. Victims frequently did not complete their formal complaints due to fees associated with physicians’ documentation for police medical forms. Victims also did not report domestic violence or rape because of fear of retaliation. According to the DOVVSU, of the 264 rape and assault cases the unit sent to court in 2015, only 17 resulted in convictions. The DOVVSU reported receiving reports of 5,520 assault suspects and referred 186 cases to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. It was rarely performed on adult women, but the practice remained a serious problem for girls under 18 years of age. According to the 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 4.2 percent of women and girls were victims of some form of FGM/C. FGM/C was most prevalent in the Upper West and Upper East regions, where 41 percent and 28 percent, respectively, of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone the procedure. Type II FGM, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora, was most commonly practiced. According to the 2011 MICS, the vast majority of girls face this procedure prior to age five. Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions. Local NGOs continued educational campaigns to encourage abandonment of FGM/C and to train practitioners for alternative employment.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. In the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions, where adherence to indigenous religious beliefs remained strong, rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” were banished by their families or traditional village authorities to “witch camps.” At these villages in the north populated by suspected witches, some of those interned were accompanied by their families. Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which persons with mental illness were sometimes sent by their families. Most accused witches were older women, often widows, whom fellow villagers accused of being the cause of difficulties, such as illness, crop failure, or financial misfortune. Some persons suspected of witchcraft were also killed. NGOs provided food, medical care, and other support to residents of the camps. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection monitored witch camps. The CHRAJ had an office in the Northern Region that monitored three witch camps and supported efforts to protect the rights of those accused of being witches. According to the CHRAJ, the Kukuo camp had a population of 123, the Tindaan Shayili-Kpatinga camp 34, and the Gnani camp 20.

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 Region, 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, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s hair, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. If a widow engages in work or economic activity after the spouse’s death, she may be regarded as adulterous, considered the cause of the spouse’s death, or be declared a witch. In these instances the widow may be forced to undergo purification rites or leave her home.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code. Women’s advocacy groups, including the Ark Foundation, reported sexual harassment remained a widespread problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but often lacked the information to do so. According to the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), use of modern contraceptive methods by married and sexually active unmarried women rose from 17 percent in 2008 to 22 percent in 2014. The UN Population Division estimated 25.1 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception.

According to 2015 WHO estimates, there were between 216 and 458 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. While more than 95 percent of women received some prenatal care, the quality of that care was widely perceived to be inadequate, contributing to the high maternal mortality ratio. The 2014 DHS found 74 percent of deliveries occurred with the assistance of a skilled health-care provider, likely due to free pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum care being included in benefits under the National Health Insurance Scheme. Postpartum care indicators showed that 78 percent of women had a postnatal checkup in the first two days after birth. Health organizations, however, reported nearly 60 percent of all pregnant women were anemic, and both women and their developing fetuses frequently experienced increased susceptibility to malaria. The 2014 DHS found anemia contributed to perinatal and maternal mortality. According to the survey, factors preventing women from seeking medical care included the inability to get money for treatment (42 percent) and the distance to a health facility (25 percent).

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. Traditional practices and societal norms, however, often denied women their statutory entitlements to inheritance and property, a legally registered marriage with associated legal rights, and the right to adequate resources to maintain and exercise custody of children. Women often did not have property or assets to use as collateral for loans, thus effectively preventing them from gaining access to credit. Rural families often focused on educating male children at the expense of female children since females typically married into other families. Women also continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, pay, and housing.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in or outside the country if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen; however, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than four in 10 children were not registered at birth, citing related vulnerability to exploitation, trafficking, and early and forced marriage. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. The lack of a birth certificate or other proof of identity and age also constitutes a barrier to ensuring children receive appropriate protection, assistance, and fair treatment, for example when in contact with the justice system as victims, offenders, or witnesses. If children are separated from their families during natural disasters, conflicts, or as a result of exploitation, reuniting them is made more difficult by the lack of official documentation. Some children were reportedly denied education because their births were not registered, although having a birth certificate is not a legal precondition to attend school. The country launched an automated birth registration system during the year, aimed at enhancing the ease and reliability of registration.

Education: The constitution provides tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. Approximately half of students completing junior high school and the Basic Education Certificate Examination continued on to senior high school. Parents incurred other costs associated with children attending school, such as uniforms and materials. Girls in rural and the northern regions were less likely to attend school due to negative social perceptions about girls and formal education, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’ education, distances between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and concerns over generally poor educational outcomes. The 2014 DHS showed the greatest disparity in education in the Northern Region, where 66 percent of women and 47 percent of men have no education–compared with 19 percent and 9 percent nationwide, respectively. A 2014 Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection report stated that in the Upper West Region teachers instructed girl students to fetch water, cook, wash their clothes, and sweep their rooms. In the Western Region, sexual abuse of female students reportedly increased during exams, when students travel for the five-day exam period to examination centers in nearby communities.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits defilement (sex with a child younger than 16 years with or without consent), incest, and sexual abuse of minors. In 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the DOVVSU received 1,195 complaints of suspected defilement and 15 cases of attempted defilement; the true number of cases was believed to be much higher. Statistics on defilement are reported separately from other cases of rape. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. Female and male victims often were reluctant to report these incidents to their parents, and social pressure often prevented parents from going to authorities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem. According to the DHS, 21 percent of women ages 20-24 were first married or in a union before the age of 18 in 2014, the latest year for which data was available. This survey indicated child marriage was most prevalent in the Northern (36 percent), Upper West (33 percent), Upper East (29 percent), and Eastern (25 percent) regions. Child marriage disproportionally affected girls, with only 2 percent of men ages 20-24 married before the age of 18, compared with 21 percent of women. Girls from rural areas were twice as likely to become child brides as those from urban areas. The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection led governmental efforts to combat child marriage, for example, by setting up an e-mail platform of government and civil society child marriage stakeholders (including the government, civil society, traditional and religious leaders, and youth organizations) in the country and leading public outreach through social media. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage, with participation from key government and civil society stakeholders, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing on child marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information on girls under 18 in Women section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years, and defilement is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. There is no legislation specific to child pornography, but it can be prosecuted as an “offense against public morals” and is punishable by imprisonment for a period not to exceed three years and/or a fine ranging from 120 to 600 cedis ($30-$150). UNICEF, with local and international NGOs, such as Rescue Foundation Ghana, Child Rights International, and Challenging Heights, worked with the government to promote children’s rights and were somewhat successful in sensitizing communities about protecting the welfare of children.

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


The Jewish community had 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

Persons with Disabilities

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, judicial proceedings, or the provision of other state services, 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 a problem. Children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf, but few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Psychiatric hospitals were overcrowded and unsanitary, and the country had a severe shortage of mental health professionals. 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 national schools for deaf and blind students. Diagnosis and adaptive instruction for students with disabilities remained a challenge.

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.” Residents were typically chained for weeks against their will in these environments with little challenge to their confinement, denied food and water often for seven consecutive days, and physically assaulted. While the country passed a Mental Health Act in 2012, officials took few steps to implement the legislation.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses 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.” It is a misdemeanor offense if the individuals involved are 16 years of age or older and a felony offense if one of the individuals is under 16. The offense applies to persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships, but not to individuals in same-sex female relationships. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. They also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons. Gay men in prison were often subjected to sexual and other physical abuse. The trial of an individual charged with assaulting a gay man because of his sexual orientation, which took place in 2015 in Nima, Accra, was underway at year’s end.

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.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. In the 2014 DHS, only 8 percent of women and girls and 14 percent of men and boys ages 15-49 expressed accepting attitudes on four indicators of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. The 2014 national HIV Stigma Index Study also identified cases of stigma and discrimination towards persons with HIV: One-fifth of respondents reported abuse of their rights as persons with HIV, yet three-quarters of them did not seek redress. The study attributed this mainly to a lack of knowledge on the part of persons with HIV concerning their rights and lack of supportive policies.

Fear of being stigmatized continued to discourage persons from being 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. 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.

According to UNAIDS Ghana, continuing mandatory pre-employment HIV screening in security agencies impeded efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination. Security agencies, including the military and police service, used HIV status as a screening criterion in their recruitment processes and peacekeeping assignments.

The CHRAJ managed an online reporting platform to improve the reporting and tracking of cases of stigma and discrimination experienced by persons with HIV/AIDS and key populations, in particular female sex workers and men who have sex with men. As of November there were 75 cases reported using the online platform. Primary complaint categories include disclosure of protected health information (17), blackmail/extortion (15), harassment/threats (14), and violence/physical abuse (11).

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of ritual killings. 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.

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