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 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 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 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 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. 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 the 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: 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 also monitored four of the seven witch camps and supported efforts to protect the rights of those accused of being witches. According to a September survey by the Anti-Witchcraft Campaign Coalition, six of the seven camps were active and contained 580 female residents, 273 male residents, and 267 children.
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 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 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 some sexual harassment cases were prosecuted 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. 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.
According to 2013 WHO estimates, there were between 210 and 720 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 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.
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 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. Women also continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, pay, and housing (see section 7.d.).