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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In some cases authorities described these killings as having taken place in an “exchange of fire.”
In July police killed seven persons near Kumasi in an incident that sparked riots when authorities claimed the victims were suspected robbers. In September the ministerial committee established to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths submitted its initial report to officials. After studying the report, in a statement issued in November by the minister of information, the government directed that 21 police officers be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations. According to the statement, the government determined there was no evidence the victims were armed robbers. News coverage indicated that police headquarters had not yet received a copy of the committee’s investigative report.
As of November authorities had not been able to provide any further updates regarding police service enquiries concerning four officers implicated in the 2016 killing by police of a suspect in Kumasi. The government did not prosecute any officers for the incident, but it dismissed one officer and reprimanded five others.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. By September the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) had received 77 cases of police brutality and investigated 14 of those reports.
In December the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) completed an investigation into the brutal assault by military personnel against a 16-year-old boy in April 2016 for allegedly stealing a phone. The CHRAJ investigated the case according to the constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture among other related charters and conventions, and ultimately recommended payment to the victim of 30,000 Ghanaian cedis (approximately $6,400) and that the military personnel be tried according to the Armed Forces Act.
In February the United Nations reported that it received a complaint of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Ghana deployed in the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations investigated allegations that members of the unit were having sexual relations with women at one of the protection camps. Forty-six Ghanaian police officers were subsequently repatriated on administrative grounds. Ghanaian authorities continued to investigate.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated that it held 14,985 prisoners (14,827 men and 158 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began holding some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.
In October foreign diplomatic representatives observed that several prisons suffered from severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and limited rehabilitation programs. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, prison overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more inmates than designed capacity. In July, following two days of hearings, a judge at the Kumasi Central Prison granted bail to 53 of 105 remand prisoners who had applied under the Justice for All program. According to reports, officials were still working to release remand prisoners who received bail in 2017 but who remained in custody because they could not meet the bail terms. Civil society organizations estimated Kumasi Prison alone had more than 400 remand prisoners.
The government reported 30 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis B, infection, heart failure, severe hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and septicemia.
While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service procured five pieces of equipment, including four mechanical planters, to improve agricultural production. Construction of a new camp prison was reportedly making progress as part of efforts to improve food production and decongest the prisons. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.
Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam a medical officer was recruited to operate the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to properly transport inmates off-site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held at least three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.
Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.
Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that construction of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they faced challenges accessing health care and recreational facilities.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. As of September the Prisons Service reported receipt of 1,381 complaints on various issues, including communication with relatives, health, food rations, sanitation, and court proceedings and appeals. In April a public relations officer from the Ghana Prisons Service wrote an opinion piece for an online newspaper, disputing claims inmates received food only once a day and were subjected to forced labor. The author, however, also called for bolstering resources for inmate meals and recognized overcrowding remained a serious difficulty. Information available in September indicated there was one report of two officers physically abusing a prisoner. They were tried administratively and awaiting a final verdict.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited fulfillment of this right.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, economic crimes, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in all 11 police administrative regions.
Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in February 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.” In July police killed seven suspected robbers, stirring outcry when the local Zongo (predominantly Muslim enclave) community maintained the young men were innocent. In November the minister of information called for 21 police officers to be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations.
The Office of the Inspector General of Police and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. Through August the PPSB had recorded 1,144 complaints, of which 210 investigations were completed and 934 remained under investigation. Over this period the PPSB investigated 233 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 217 of misconduct, 201 of unfair treatment, 160 of undue delay of investigation, 59 of unlawful arrest and detention, 77 of police brutality, 34 of harassment, 14 of fraud, 37 of extortion, and one of rape. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government is not required to provide it, although legal counsel is generally provided to those charged with first-degree felonies. As of September the government employed only 20 full-time legal aid lawyers, who handled criminal and civil cases, and 45 paralegals, who handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance at a later court date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.
The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5 percent of all complaint cases PPSB received through August.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated 1,944 prisoners, just under 13 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failing to investigate or follow up on cases, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation of criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances. Inadequate record keeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.
Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.
Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.
A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.
Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.
Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.
Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.
The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.
Violence and Harassment: The Media Foundation for West Africa counted 17 cases of attacks on journalists from January 2017 to March 2018. Earlier in the year, police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. Officials reported an investigative report was submitted to administrators in May and provided no further information as of September. In June there were reports that a member of parliament criticized and incited violence against a prominent journalist whose investigative crew produced a film about corruption in Ghana soccer, including involvement by government officials.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 38 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. In an effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government in 2017 imposed a ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after increased reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. Media investigations during the year revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of October, there were 36 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported from refugee camps, in addition to 46 cases of verbal assaults and threats. UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and the Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Scheme, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrator and presumed victims.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays. As of November the government had a backlog of 1,192 asylum seekers whose petitions were pending adjudication, plus another 43 individual asylum seekers who are awaiting a second decision following an initial rejection of their petition.
Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.
Durable Solutions: In 2011 nearly 18,000 residents of Cote d’Ivoire fled to Ghana because of political instability following Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 presidential election. From January to early November, UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 258 Ivoirian refugees–a slow but steady increase the agency attributed to better assistance packages and better information provided to Ivoirians about the situation in their home country. Although the government granted Ivoirian refugees prima facie refugee status during the initial stages of the emergency, by the end of 2012, the government had transitioned to individual refugee status determination for all Ivoirians entering thereafter.
In late November a group of Sudanese refugees began camping outside the UNHCR office in Accra, calling for improved assistance related to health, shelter, food, and resettlement. The population is part of a protracted backlog of cases. A decision from the Ministry of Interior regarding possible integration as a durable solution remained pending.
In 2012 UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration assisted with the voluntary repatriation of more than 4,700 Liberians from Ghana. Approximately 3,700 Liberians opted for local integration. UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue the Liberians passports, enabling them to subsequently receive a Ghanaian residence and work permit. As of May the Liberian government had issued 352 passports to this population. As of November an estimated 200 Liberians were still awaiting passports. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.
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.