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 was significantly underreported and remained a serious problem. The DOVVSU 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 combat domestic violence. In 2013, the latest year for which data was available, the DOVVSU received 312 reports of rape and reported 106 arrests and 78 prosecutions, resulting in six convictions; 231 cases remained under investigation at year’s end.
Although the law prohibits domestic violence, it continued to be a problem. 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 of not more than 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 because they could not afford the fees doctors charged to document the abuse on police medical forms. Victims also did not report domestic violence (or rape) because of fear of retaliation. According to the DOVVSU, of the 255 rape and domestic assault cases sent to court in 2013, only 16 resulted in convictions.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, and although it remained a serious problem for children, it rarely was performed on adult women.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: 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 CHRAJ claimed the number of women in witch camps in the Northern Region decreased slightly in recent years. According to a June survey by the Anti-Witchcraft Campaign Coalition, however, the camps contained 785 female residents and 490 children; in 2010 the CHRAJ reported 175 female and eight male residents.
The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection monitors witch camps. The CHRAJ has an office in Tamale in the Northern Region, which supports efforts to protect the rights of those accused of being witches and monitors four of the seven camps that exist.
In 2013 the minister of gender, children, and social protection, accompanied by HRAC staff, visited the Gambaga Witch Camp in the Northern Region. Following the visit the HRAC issued a statement claiming that the conditions of the camp violated article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls for an adequate standard of living for health and well-being.
The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and no perpetrators were prosecuted. In the north, especially in the Upper West Region, widows are required to undergo certain indigenous rites to mourn or show devotion to the deceased spouse. A 2013 study by the CHRAJ found 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 declared a witch. In these instances the widow may be forced to undergo purification rites or leave her home.
Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although some sexual harassment cases were prosecuted under provisions of the criminal code. Women’s advocacy groups, including the HRAC, reported sexual harassment remained a widespread problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of pregnancies. According to the government’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), use of a modern contraceptive method by women (married or in a relationship) rose from 17 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2011.
According to 2013 UN statistics, there were 380 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. The 2011 MICS found 67 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 for mothers lagged, however, as at least 26 percent of women who delivered in a health facility left within the first 12 hours after the birth. In addition health organizations reported nearly 60 percent of all pregnant women were anemic, and both women and their developing fetuses frequently experienced increased susceptibility to malaria.
An estimated 10 percent of the population knew their HIV status. Approximately 30 percent of HIV-positive pregnant mothers received antiretroviral medications to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal treatment of all persons under the law, but traditional practices and societal norms 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 also continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, credit, and education (see section 7.d.). Women typically 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, their educational needs were often overlooked.
Women’s rights groups, including the Ark Foundation, were active in educational campaigns and in programs to provide vocational training, legal aid, and other support to women. The government was involved in educational programs targeting women, and many officials were advocates of women’s rights. The Ministry of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs conducted research during the year on how to eliminate harmful traditional practices that targeted women, including FGM/C, forced marriages, and witch camps.