Hundreds of women in northern Ghana are accused of witchcraft and condemned to a life of extreme violence, harassment and isolation, banished from their homes and forced to live in ‘witch camps’, reveals ActionAid in a new report issued today.
The report ‘Condemned without trial: women and witchcraft in Ghana’ documents cases of both elderly and young women abandoned by their families and trapped in the ‘witch camps’ until they die.
Many of the women in the camps have been accused of being witches by relatives or neighbours. Once an accusation is made they are banished from their villages and sometimes chased out by a violent mob.
Often young girls are sent with them to live in the camp as an ‘attendant’ and also live in the same appalling conditions and face terrible discrimination.
The report describes six ‘witch’ camps’ in Northern Ghana, Gambaga, Kukuo, Gnani, Bonyase, Nabuli and Kpatinga.
Some camps came in to existence as long as 100 years ago and mostly consist of mud huts. Women in the camps have to walk many miles to collect water, food is in short supply health and education services are very limited.
ActionAid says the camps are effectively women’s prisons where the inmates have been given no trial, have no right of appeal, but have received a life sentence.
The report highlights the violence suffered by women accused of witchcraft. A mother of three was murdered after being blamed for the death of a child through witchcraft. She was beaten unconscious before being set on fire.
Asana, 27, describes how she came to live in one of the camps. She was accused of being a witch by her ex-husband, who beat and poured melted plastic over her while she was pregnant.
Her new husband and family were unable to protect her and took her to a camp so she could hide there. She has not been able to leave.
Sano Kojo, 66, has lived in a camp for more than 30 years after she was accused of killing her cousin.
“People don’t care about the alleged witches. Once you are here you are forgotten,” she said.
“Women accused of being witches find their lives have been snatched away from them. The violence and brutality many face is shocking. These women are at the mercy of their accusers who destroy their lives and condemn them to a life of imprisonment,” said ActionAid Ghana Country Director Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse.
Almost every woman accused of being a witch is poor and powerless. An ActionAid survey of the camps found more than 70% of women were accused of being witches after their husbands died.
The survey also found one in three women in the camp was not earning money before they were accused of being a witch and were seen as an economic burden by their community.
However, the camps do provide sanctuary for women accused of being witches, as many in their communities believe the women cannot practice witchcraft once they are in a camp.
ActionAid calls on the government of Ghana to ensure the basic human rights of women in the camps are upheld with access to health and education services.
Action Aid also believes the international community and UK government must do all they can to address issues relating to the ‘witch’ camps’ and engage with the Ghanaian government to ensure women’s human rights are protected.
A BBC World Service documentary about Ghana’s ‘witch camps’ No Country for Old Women is broadcast on Saturday September 1st: 2012.