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.
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. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; violence against journalists including assaults, death threats and one journalist shot and killed; censorship of a free press including arrests and the closure of two radio stations for ostensible licensing irregularities; corruption in all branches of government; crimes of violence against women and girls, to which government negligence significantly contributed; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and 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 passage and signing into law in May of the Right to Information Bill that seeks to improve governmental accountability and transparency. 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.
In February traditional authorities in the Central Region punished a man who allegedly raped a woman. Under customary procedures, they fined him three sheep and six bottles of schnapps for having sex in a cemetery with her, to avert, they said, a curse on the community and the suspect’s family. Police later arrested the suspect under a formal rape charge, and he received bail while awaiting trial.
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 Commission, 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 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 Domestic Violence Act. Pervasive cultural beliefs in female roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence.
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 wherein 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. There was one NGO-operated designated 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 stays. 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. 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 SGBV, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.
In November DOVVSU commemorated the 20th anniversary of the unit’s establishment through a four-day program of events and activities that emphasized their work to support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Key program participants and panelists included representatives from government institutions, NGOs, and international organizations; and the Second Lady of Ghana Samira Bawumia delivered the keynote address.
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. 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. According to the 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).
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. 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.” Such camps were distinct from “prayer camps,” to which families sometimes sent persons with mental illness to seek spiritual healing. Most of those accused of witchcraft were older women, often widows. Some persons suspected to be witches 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. According to officials, one other camp was closed following the successful reintegration of 37 women. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not 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.
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. According to the MICS, birth registration increases with levels of education and wealth and is more prevalent in urban centers than in rural areas.
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 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 2018 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 in 2018 reported a 28 percent increase in reported cases of sexual abuse of girls younger than 16. According to the GPS, 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 were able to effectively respond to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect.
Media reported several cases of child abuse throughout the year. In January police arrested a woman for wounding her five-year-old stepson with a machete and allowing the wound to fester until his hand required amputation. A local NGO donated 5,000 cedis ($1,000) to support the boy.
In August the press reported that a man appeared before court for having sexual relations with his daughter from age nine to 14. In September press reported that another nine-year-old girl, taken to different hospitals for her deteriorating health, had allegedly been sexually assaulted by her grandfather.
In February Child Rights International (CRI) noted a surge in child abuse cases in the country. CRI reported that the lack of proper documentation and presentation of issues of child abuse cases largely affected the outcomes of cases within the country’s judicial system.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18. 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 five northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. Through September the CHRAJ had received 18 cases of early or forced marriage. According to the MICS, child marriage is highest in Northern, North East, Upper East, Savannah, and Volta regions; lowest in Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Ahafo regions.
In January the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) reported child marriage and gender-based violence against girls in schools were prevalent in the Kadjebi District in the Volta Region, with most cases of child marriage occurring in predominantly Muslim communities. AWLA recognized that child marriage occurred in all regions in the country.
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.
For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16, 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 $11,500), 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 often had to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child sexual exploitation 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/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and protects the rights of persons with disabilities’ access to health services, information, communications, transportation, the judicial system, and 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. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs, in particular schools for the deaf. As of November the government hired 80 persons with disabilities through the Nation Builders Corps, an initiative to address graduate unemployment. Overall, however, few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities in the formal sector.
In January the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations reported that women with disabilities faced multifaceted discrimination in areas of reproductive health care, and because of the mistreatment, they were unwilling in most cases to visit a health facility for medical care.
Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Authorities did not regularly investigate and punish violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. 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.
In February laborers rescued a two-and-half-year-old boy with cerebral palsy buried alive in an uncompleted building in a suburb of Cape Coast in the Central Region. Local residents believed his parents may have buried him because of his disability.
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 days, and physically assaulted. 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. Human Rights Watch reported in October 2018 that it found more than 140 persons with real or perceived mental health disabilities detained in unsanitary, congested conditions at a prayer camp. In December 2018 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 disabilities.
In February at a political event the president said that “only those who are blind or deaf” would not be aware of the work done by the government. Following criticism from the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations, he apologized “for any unintended slight from the ‘political metaphor.’” The president of the Ghana Blind Union said nevertheless such comments impeded efforts to end stigmatization of persons with disabilities.
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.
LGBTI persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. In June 2018, 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. According to a 2018 survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals. As of September the CHRAJ had received 34 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. 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. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.
In August LGBTI activists reported police abuse involving a young gay man robbed en route to meet a person he met on a dating site. When the man reported the incident to police, they took him briefly into custody because he mentioned to them that he was gay. Amnesty International reported in 2018 that authorities conducted involuntary medical tests on two young men who were allegedly found having sex.
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 about citizen rights and proper channels to report abuses on an LGBTI dating site. A leading human rights NGO held a legal education workshop for law enforcement for the first time in the conservative Northern Region.
A coalition of LGBTI-led organizations from throughout the country, officially registered in November 2018, held its first general assembly in September. 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 these issues because of the topic’s social and political sensitivity. Speaker of Parliament Mike Oquaye said in October LGBTI persons should not be killed or abused, but rather should be handled medically or psychologically. Second Deputy Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin said in a radio interview in April 2018 that “Homosexuality is worse than [an] atomic bomb” and “there is no way we will accept it in (this) country.” President Akufo-Addo delivered remarks in April 2018 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.
In a September 27 radio program, an executive of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values asserted that the Comprehensive Sexuality Education program, developed by education authorities in partnership with the United Nations, had a “clear LGBT agenda,” sparking an anti-LGBT backlash as religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, vehemently voiced their opposition to the educational proposal. The issue prompted President Akufo-Addo to assure them that government would not introduce a policy that is “inappropriate.”
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 many of 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 two cases of discrimination based on HIV status. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing and treatment for 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 $230 to $1,150), 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.
In April the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) raised concerns about how high stigma and discrimination contribute to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. GAC cited the Bono, Bono East, and Ahafo regions where, because of fear of stigma, sexually active persons did not use free HIV/AIDS voluntary counseling and testing to ascertain their status and help prevent the spread of the virus. GAC noted a growing population of female sex workers in the regions, and other experts reported that persons in rural areas mostly had unprotected sex.
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 Counter Extremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest sources of insecurity and instability in the country.
The 17-year-old contested leadership succession for the Dagbon traditional area, one of Ghana’s most prominent and long-running chieftaincy disputes, was peacefully resolved in January.
Throughout the year disputes continued between Fulani herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. Clashes erupted intermittently between two factions over land in the Chereponi district, killing three persons and displacing almost 2,000 residents, according to the National Disaster Management Organization. Police and military deployed personnel to the township.
There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Community members often saw such vigilantism as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing the police and judicial sectors. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.”