Secrecy Obstructs Justice for Incest Victims in Ghana
Every day Madame Amina Sato (not her real name) goes through unbearable pain as she remembers how her husband defiled their nine-year-old daughter in Dedeso, a farming community in Fanteakwa district in the Eastern Region.
The first time he defiled their daughter, Madame Sato did not report it, but the second time she worked up the courage to inform an elder of her husband’s family, who called a meeting to discuss the matter. the question. The meeting was attended by the Stool’s father (the head of the clan), the clan elders and his brothers-in-law to “sit down to business”.
The elders judged that her husband had committed an abomination against the gods and his wife, and he was fined two poultry and two bottles of schnapps to appease the gods. He was also asked to buy six yards of cloth and minerals for his wife and a crate of eggs for his daughter, to soothe her soul.
“As it was the second time he had defiled her, the elders sent my daughter to live with my sister-in-law who lives in a nearby village to prevent this from happening again. I was not satisfied with the result, so I declared my intention to consult my family for further measures,” Madame Amina said.
This did not please the elders. They forbade Madame Amina from talking to her family or reporting to the police. They told him that because incest is an abomination and talking about it would put the whole family to shame, it should not be revealed to strangers.
Thus, her 48-year-old husband is still at large while the girl he desecrated has been sent home.
Ideally, incest, which is a crime under the Criminal Offenses Act 1960 (Section 29), should be reported to the authorities. However, since incest is considered a taboo, perpetrators often go unreported and families choose to deal with it discreetly. Therefore, looking at the official data, it would seem that there are few cases of incest. For example, a data report from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Care released in 2017 found that out of over 16,000 cases of violence against children reported to the Domestic Violence Support Unit and Victims (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service in 2014 and 2015, 22 and 19 cases of incest were reported respectively.
However, a UNICEF report published in 2020 observed that there are low levels of reporting of cases of violence against children in Ghana. UNICEF noted that almost 55% of cases involving children are reported through traditional systems such as chiefs and heads of households. Only 38% are reported through the formal court system. Gender norms, power dynamics and the lack of decentralized formal services play a role in keeping cases out of the formal justice system, according to the UN child rights organization.
“Many grave violations (domestic and sexual violence cases) are still being addressed and resolved at the community level with the involvement of local and traditional authorities. In almost all of these cases, the results are disadvantageous for women and children,” the report notes.
Traditionally, incest is handled quietly and only elders and trusted family members sit down to deliberate and seek redress. They are kept in secrecy and sometimes the libation is poured out as a sacred oath.
The public only gets a glimpse of abuse when certain cases are reported in the media. For example, between January and June this year, the Ghana News Agency reported no less than 15 incest cases in which fathers were arrested or sought by the police for incest. Many cases involved fathers and their teenage daughters.
Reported stories include a 14-year-old girl who accused her father of sexual abuse in Tamale in northern Ghana; a 52-year-old father jailed for 15 years for desecrating his 14-year-old daughter in Accra in April, and a 64-year-old father arrested for sexually abusing his 14-year-old daughter in the central region in May.
Additionally, an analysis of 48 media reports of incest that occurred between January 2008 and July 2015 found that father-daughter incest was most commonly reported. Of the 48 reports analyzed, 47 concerned girls and young women aged 3 to 25 and a 3-year-old boy. The researchers found that the perpetrators applied physical or psychological methods to coerce their victims and that the incest usually lasted between one day and 13 years before the disclosure.
Some survivors do disclose to loved ones, but given the taboo surrounding incest, people they confide in may not report it, although section 16 of the Children’s Act 1998 provides that anyone with information about child abuse or a child in need of care or protection should contact the Department of Social Welfare.
In one of the cases covered by GNA this year, a teacher noticed a change in one of the bright girls in her class. Her self-confidence was declining and her performance was declining. When he told the young girl about the change, she confided in him that her father had sexually abused her whenever her mother travelled. The teacher only sympathized with the girl and did nothing more.
In another case, an official defiled his daughter for many years from the age of 14. She suffered in silence and did not find the courage to confide in the school chaplain until she entered high school. She also told her grandmother about it, but none of them offered any help and her father continued to abuse her until one day he physically abused her for not giving in. his requests. Neighbors reported the assault to the police and that’s when the girl told police about the sexual abuse. The father was arrested, brought to trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison for incest and defilement and the daughter said people felt she had brought shame on the family.
Ms. Joyce Larnyoh, Country Director of the International Child Development Program (ICDP), a non-governmental organization working on behalf of women and children, explained that it is often difficult for outsiders to intervene, given the family relationship between the abuser and the survivor.
“Unlike other gender-based sexual abuse cases, the incest case involves a direct blood relationship which is often the father or a stepfather,” she said, adding that it was difficult for a foreigner to address such issues.
Dr. John Boakye, an educator and professional counselor, told GNA that often mothers who reach out to him in distress are reluctant to report their husbands to the authorities because they fear carrying the burden of a failed marriage.
“It is extremely difficult for women to bring criminal charges against their husbands for sleeping with their daughters or daughters-in-law. They face a dilemma. In their quest to protect their marriage and family name, women are sacrificing the welfare of their daughters and that is very sad,” he said.
Dr Boakye said women who have separated from their husbands are more likely to report it because they feel they have nothing to lose. He said that to tackle incest, the dilemma of having to choose between reporting and saving the marriage should be removed. This, he added, can be achieved by empowering women, which in turn will allow them to speak out.
Like Dr Boakye, Ms Larnyoh believes that empowering women economically would help them defend their children against incest. Moreover, she claims that sensitizing women, children, opinion leaders and whole communities would help to deal with cases of gender-based violence, including incest.
On the other hand, lawyer Kwaku Attakora Dwomoh, who drafted Ghana’s incest law in 2019, observed that the disparity between the law and cultural practices surrounding incest, and in particular the lack of powers execution of traditional communities, keeps abuses secret.
Traditional leaders can help bring more cases to the criminal justice system, as a recent case covered by the media highlights. Police have arrested a 60-year-old man for sexually assaulting his three daughters for 15 years in Assin Andoe, a community in the central region. The father impregnated the three girls, who are now 32, 27 and 20.
The abuse only came to light when the 32-year-old woman’s fiancé learned of it. He reported to the traditional chiefs and the man was fined by the traditional council before being handed over to the police.
While there is a clamor for incest to be reported, authorities note that reporting is only half the battle; getting cases through the court process is also a daunting task. Unicef Ghana noted in its 2021 annual report that attrition rates for sexual violence cases brought before the criminal justice system remain very high, with only 15% of cases brought to the gender-based violence court. of Accra ending with a guilty verdict by trial. . This, UNICEF observed, is due to the limited links between social protection and the criminal justice system and the low allocation of resources to decentralized services.
A source from the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police in the Eastern Region who spoke to GNA on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speaking on behalf of the police, said 12 cases were reported between 2020 and 2022.
“Reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and even those who do report complicate the prosecution process because after reporting, the family pressures them to drop the case,” the source said. of DOVVSU.
By Bertha Badu-Agyei
This article was produced as part of the WA GBV Reporting Fellowship with support from the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) with support from the Ford Foundation.