Ghana aims to abolish witches' camps
For years, Ghanaians have banished women from their villages who were suspected of witchcraft. Now, Ghana is trying to ban this practice.
Ghanaian leaders and civil society groups met in the nation’s capital, Accra earlier this week to develop a plan to abolish the witches’ camps in the northern region, where over a thousand women and children who have been accused of sorcery are currently living in exile.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Deputy Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba said the ministry would be doing everything that it could to ensure the practice of families and neighbors banishing women from communities whom they suspected of being witches is abolished by developing legislation that would make it illegal to accuse someone of being a witch and gradually closing down camps and reintegrating women back into their communities.
“This practice has become an indictment on the conscience of our society,” Ms. Gariba said at the conference called Towards Banning “Witches” Camps. “The labeling of some of our kinsmen and women as witches and wizards and banishing them into camps where they live in inhuman and deplorable conditions is a violation of their fundamental human rights.”
Supreme Court Justice Rose Owusu also said that the practice violated numerous clauses in section 5 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution. That section protects human rights and outlaws cultural practices which "dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person." Ms. Owusu also called for the development of new legislation to outlaw the camps and the practice.
The witch camps of Ghana's north
There are currently around 1,000 women and 700 children living in 6 of the witches’ camps in Ghana’s northern region.
Many of them are elderly women who have been accused of inflicting death, misfortune, and calamity on their neighbors and villages through sorcery, witchcraft, or "juju," a term used throughout West Africa.
The women enjoy a certain degree of protection within these camps, located some distance from their communities in which they could be tortured, beaten to death, or lynched, but the conditions of the camps are often poor. The "accused witches," as they are sometimes referred to, live in tiny thatched mud huts, and have limited access to food and must fetch water from nearby streams and creeks.
Forced to flee
An elderly woman named Bikamila Bagberi who has lived in Nabule witch camp in Gushegu a district in the Northern Region for the past 13 years, told the story of how she was forced to leave her village. Dressed in a headscarf, faded T-shirt, and cotton skirt, Ms. Bagberi spoke softly with her head bowed as a district assemblyman translated for the conference delegates.
Bagberi’s nephew, her brother-in-law’s son, had died unexpectedly and after the village soothsayer said she caused the death of the child her family tried make her confess to murdering him through sorcery. She said that when she refused she was beaten with an old bicycle chain, and later her nephew’s family members rubbed Ghanaian pepper sauce into her eyes and open wounds.