GHANA: Children's Rights in the Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity


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Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Gulnara Shahinian


Country visit: 22-29 November 2013

Report published: 1 October 2014

Background: Ghana has a young population, 45 per cent of which are under 18 years of age.3 Enrolment in primary school is high. However, dropout rates are high and the quality of education is a concern, especially in public schools, where some students may pass basic school while being functionally illiterate.4 The adult literacy rate stands at 67.3 per cent.5 A key issue is unequal access to quality education and educational resources, particularly the disparity between the north and the south of the country, and between economically well-off and underprivileged children; the latter constituting 70 per cent of children in Ghana (para 7).

High unemployment rates among youth (40 per cent), increasing alcohol addiction and drug abuse, and high child marriage rates are other challenges facing the young in Ghana.7 The adolescent birth rate stands at 69.7. Child marriage and lack of adequate access to health services in rural areas contribute to high maternal mortality rates (para 8).

Legal framework: Ghana has acceded to or become a signatory to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000). The Special Rapporteur urges Ghana to ratify these at the earliest opportunity. At the regional level, Ghana is a State party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which prohibits slavery-like practices. The Special Rapporteur urges Ghana to ratify and/or adopt implementing legislation with regard to: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (paras 10, 12, 76).

The Children’s Act defines a child as a person below 18 years of age, and sets the general minimum age of employment at 15 (art. 89). However, the minimum age for “hazardous work” is set at 18, and defined as work which “poses a danger to the health, safety or morals of a person”, including inter alia, going to sea, mining and quarrying, and porterage of heavy loads (art. 91). The Act explicitly prohibits “exploitative child labour”, defined as labour which “deprives the child of its health, education or development”.Ghana has also adopted a number of other relevant laws and regulations, including: the Hazardous Child Labour Activity Framework for the Cocoa Sector; a list of the worst forms of child labour occupations (e.g. domestic labour, urban informal work activities such as portering); the Criminal Code (1998) which criminalizes practices such as ritual servitude (e.g. trokosi), and the procurement of a person under 21 years of age for prostitution (on condition the youth is not already known to be a prostitute or person of immoral character) (paras 15, 18).

Social protection programmes:  In 2007, the Government of Ghana launched the National Social Protection Strategy, which aims to provide protection to persons living in extreme poverty through a social grant scheme which secures a basic income and a package of complementary inputs. The Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP) grants are conditional on children’s school attendance and not engaging in child labour (para19).

Policies and programmes on the worst forms of child labour: Ghana launched the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour in 2011, which set out a framework to substantially reduce that phenomenon by 2015. Initiatives were also undertaken to address the problem in specific sectors such as agriculture (cocoa), with the National Plan of Action to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour in the Cocoa Sector. The Government has in addition participated in a number of projects in cooperation with partners such as the United States of America and international organizations. Many of those have addressed the worst forms of child labour, and targeted the commercial agricultural (cocoa, coffee) sectors, mining and to a lesser extent, fishing. They include a range of activities to strengthen prevention through better access to education, livelihoods for families, teacher-training on child labour, surveys, and awareness-raising through community child protection committees.19 Some other collaborative projects have focused on anti-trafficking of children, child porters (kayayee), and rescue and rehabilitation services for victims. Child labour concerns have also been mainstreamed into national agendas such as the Medium-Term National Development Framework of Ghana, and the Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking (para 20).

Institutional Framework: First established in 2001, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs has recently seen its mandate expanded to include social protection, which encompasses the general social welfare system and the management of related programmes, such as the national cash transfer programmes. Now entitled the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, it is the focal point on gender issues, the promotion of equal status for women, and children’s rights (para 22).

Other key government institutions include the Ministry of Employment and Labour, and its Child Labour Unit. The latter is responsible for overseeing activities addressing child labour and serves as the secretariat of the National Steering Committee on Child Labour. The Committee includes three subcommittees in charge of awareness-raising, education and skills training, and the worst forms of child labour in the cocoa, fishing and mining sectors. The Ministry has offices at the district level, where it also oversees child protection committees. Labour inspectors within the Ministry enforce labour laws and can inspect both formal and informal workplaces such as private homes. A total of 36 institutions and government agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry in order to promote better coordination and implementation of the National Plan of Action (2009–2015) to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labour. Government institutions combating human trafficking include the Human Trafficking Secretariat under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (paras 23, 26).

The Special Rapporteur recommends that Ghana mandate a special commission to investigate: (a) the dire situation of children and youth in Ghana, including the underlying issues of poverty, child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, and early marriage and pregnancies; and (b) its consequences for the human and economic development of the country, with the aim of reducing the exploitation of children and child slavery. In this context, provide disaggregated information on the nature and scope of the problem (e.g. as it affects girls, boys, different age groups, regional areas); how administrative lacunae relating to birth registration, identity papers, a formal address, etc. may have an impact on vulnerability and access to rights; ensure the participation of affected groups; and make recommendations to address both short and long-term vulnerabilities in a timely manner; allocate adequate funding, material and human resources to ensure effective enforcement efforts in combating contemporary forms of slavery and human trafficking of both adults and children, including by providing relevant training and equipment and increasing the number of labour inspectors, investigations and prosecutions; provide adequate resources and strengthen relevant units within key ministries, including the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to ensure that they can fully carry out their mandate, and coordinate effectively with other government counterparts, including in relation to policy and programme development and implementation (paras 87, 88, 92).

Child labour in the artisanal fishing sector:  Critical sectors of Ghana’s economy, such as the mining, agricultural and fishing sectors use the worst forms of child labour. It is estimated that thousands of children work in the fishing sector, including deep-sea, lagoon and lake fishing. The Special Rapporteur found that children, usually boys ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old, were entrusted by parents to a middleman who would promise to arrange for a family to take care of the child in return for a few hours of daily work. According to information received, the parents who are generally extremely poor, are sometimes given or promised a small amount of money, in compensation for the work of the child (e.g. ranging from US$ 1 to US$ 25). Many parents however receive no money at all, as they are so destitute they agree to hand over the child simply because they can no longer support the child. In other cases, they trust the trafficker’s false promises to return with compensation once the child has worked for some years. Promises of compensation for two or three years of work, though rarely honoured, amount to US$ 40 or US$ 50. In cases where there is some form of monetary payment for the child’s labour it is given to the parents and not the child (paras 27,28).

Child labour in the fishing sector is sometimes the result of debt bondage and kidnapping. Children may be given to a middleman for a number of years in payment for money lent to the mother (e.g. to buy bread over a period of time), to pay for a funeral, or to save the family’s honour (e.g. in payment of an uncle’s debt). This is frequently accompanied by threats to call the police unless the parent acquiesces. Extended family members, such as an uncle, sometimes use deceit to take the child to the market and sell the child to a middleman, such as when the child is not given voluntarily by the parents in return for forgiveness of his debts. In the above cases, the middleman or intermediary is often a member of the community or a neighbouring community. Random kidnappings of young children by unknown middlemen are also known to occur (para 29).

Lack of effective access to school owing to insufficient places or teachers, distances or related expenses (fees, books, uniforms), was cited by many communities as a key reason why parents sent their children to fishing villages or used them to work in their own community. In two communities the Special Rapporteur visited, 110 children out of over 200 reportedly did not go to school due to insufficient access — there were two teachers for over 200 children — and lack of means. Parents unable to afford necessary equipment (e.g. tractors, motors for boats) were also more likely to rely on their children to assist with fishing or agriculture (para 30).

While many families near Lake Volta know their child will work on the lake, others are given false information on the location or the type of work the child will be doing. In some cases, the parents may never reunite with their children again as they do not know where they are, due to their young age, the fact that they were moved or retrafficked, or because the child is unwilling to reconnect with parents who had “sold” them. Once in the fishing village, the child lives with the receiving family. Receiving families in these communities are usually poor themselves, so that children are at risk of malnutrition, poor living conditions, sickness, and little if any education. Interlocutors noted that it was often the poorest fishing families without motor boats that used child labour, since the work for those with motor boats was easier and faster, thereby making it unnecessary to use hazardous child labour (paras 31, 32).

Fishing activities present multiple dangers for children, including physical injuries or death due to tree stumps in the water, dangerous fish, diving and untangling of nets underwater. The latter can result in drowning when children get trapped in nets which travel with water currents, or which cannot be seen at the bottom of the lake due to the muddy waters. The paddling and hauling of boats can cause permanent physical damage to a young child when it is too demanding, in some situations even death. Children are at risk of physical abuse, which includes beatings with boat paddles or ropes. Young children of 4 or 5 years of age are usually preferred as they are docile and more willing to accept the new “family”. At that age, they begin by scooping water from the boat, then move to paddling as they get older and later to diving. Workdays can begin in the middle of the night and end at 8 p.m. Some girls are also sent to fishing villages. They are used to do household chores, mend fishing nets, smoke fish, and are often subject to rape and sexual slavery (paras 33, 34).

During her field visits, the Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to observe two projects, namely the Tree of Life project, and a child protection programme which is being rolled out in six communities in the Volta region by IOM and UNICEF. Both seek to raise awareness of communities at risk, improve understanding of child development, and protect against child trafficking and the worst forms of child labour. The implementation of these programmes relies on a network of trained local volunteers. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection also implements awareness-raising activities using a Committee Model Approach, whereby local communities which have been trained, in turn expand and raise awareness in neighbouring communities (para 35).

Those programmes have had a measure of success in that they have contributed to prevention, but also to rescue operations of affected children and the establishment of “slavery-free” fishing communities. In one fishing community visited by the Special Rapporteur, 74 children had been rescued from slavery in 2012. Under the leadership of the community chief, the village was subsequently declared a child slavery-free community. In another fishing village, a policy of no child slavery was adopted due to the awareness-raising activities of local volunteers and members of the community’s teacher-parent association. To be sustainable however, the Special Rapporteur stresses the need to support the important work being done by these networks of local volunteers with logistical, material and financial support. In some communities where the lack of access to education was a key issue, projects to combat the worst forms of child labour focused on establishing a school, equipping it, and ensuring sufficient teachers (para 36).

While the Police Human Anti-Trafficking Programme Fund was established to provide assistance and support services to victims of human trafficking, those activities have never been adequately implemented due to insufficient funds. This has resulted in a chronic gap in the Government’s response to child labour in the fishing and in other sectors, namely, the lack of adequate government shelters and care services to assist victims once they are rescued. As such, it is largely NGOs who assist children through the first months following their rescue. In addition to material needs (e.g. shelter, food, education), children are generally provided with counselling services, family reconciliation or alternative care arrangement (foster parents), and livelihood or other assistance to the family (e.g. microcredits). The duration of children’s stay at a shelter will often depend on the situation they have been exposed to, trauma suffered, how long they have been trafficked, and their medical condition. Girls often stay longer due to the trauma and medical problems suffered as a result of sexual abuse. However, local NGOs in this field can often be in a precarious financial situation as their activities are dependent on stable donor funding. It is therefore critical that the Government ensure State protection and care for the most vulnerable persons in society by providing adequate resources towards assistance for victims. Further challenges relate to the lack of data on cases brought forth by the police, prosecutions for human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour, and the need to strengthen law enforcement and NGO legal aid programmes (para 38).

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Ghana intensify efforts to combat child exploitation in artisanal fishing. In this context, take measures to establish effective channels for reporting suspicious cases, and increase monitoring activities, rescues and prosecutions. Target programmes to affected communities, both sending and receiving, including in and around the Lake Volta region; include in prevention programmes: education and sensitization activities targeting those likely to facilitate, or fall victim to, human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour in the fishing sector; improved access to education in affected communities; targeted expansion of social protection programmes to communities at risk; livelihood, microcredit and community development programmes which can eliminate the need for child labour in both receiving (e.g. motors for boats) and sending communities (e.g. improved livelihoods for female-headed households, better access to roads); adequate support to and expansion of good practices (paras 93, 94).

Portering/kayayee: Kayayee is the name given to girls or young women in Ghana who work in city marketplaces as a head porter, i.e. carrying the loads of market vendors and shoppers in buckets or baskets balanced on their head for a fee. The practice was overtaken in the 1970s by young women willing to accept lower fees. Their situation has worsened over time, as the growing number of kayayee has forced wages to plummet further (para 39).

Estimates on the number of girls and women working as kayayee are difficult to ascertain, in part due to the rapid rate of spontaneous urbanization and the often seasonal nature of the work, as they tend to migrate during the dry season in the north. While one estimate places the number of kayayee at nearly 8,000, others estimate that there are tens of thousands of kayayee in Ghana.26 They are between 10 and 35 years of age, although the vast majority are younger than 25. Most girls are functionally illiterate and between 10 and 14 years old when they first migrate to work as kayayee (para 40).

Most girls appear to migrate voluntarily, on their own, to work as kayayee. However, there are indications that organized networks are increasingly recruiting girls from poor families on false promises of good jobs or an education in the city. Once in the markets, they are subject to exploitation. Without sufficient support and resources, many are reduced to living on the streets and sleeping in the open in the markets where they work, or in the most polluted and dangerous slums of the city. Kayayee are vulnerable to forced evictions, disease, work injuries, physical harm including sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, illegal abortions and human trafficking. They often have to accept the “protection” of older street boys or self-appointed protectors, which they pay for through sex or a monetary sum. In some cases, girls can also be lured or coerced into child prostitution (para 42).

During her visit, the Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to meet with a group of approximately 80 young women and children working as kayayee or accompanying them, in one of the markets in Accra. The majority indicated that they had come to the city to do that work in order to survive, help their families at home, or enable their children to go to school. Many had small children accompanying them, ranging from toddlers to 6 to 8 year-olds. The latter, often a family member (e.g. younger sister or cousin) would accompany the kayayee in order to carry her baby throughout the day — thereby freeing the kayayee to do her job. Most slept out in the open in the marketplace, usually in groups for fear of being attacked, raped at night or having their children kidnapped. Very small children, under 2 years old and barely dressed in rags or completely naked, played and slept directly in the mud and garbage of the market floor. A “queen mother” accompanied by a man introduced themselves as representatives and protectors of the kayayee in that market. For that, the kayayee appeared to be expected to provide a fee, to cover the “expenses” (para 43).

Urban informal work, such as portering, has been listed for instance as one of the worst forms of child labour to be eliminated. In order to diminish the need for women and girls to migrate to the south, the Government has also developed some livelihood and skill development projects in the northern regions, including in the context of programmes such as LEAP, and implemented other social protection and cash transfer programmes. However, as those social programmes still have very limited population and geographic reach, many do not have access to them. It was also noted that livelihood projects implemented in northern communities, such as soap-making, often failed to provide a sufficient income, such that girls kept returning to urban areas to supplement it. The seasonal nature of work of kayayee, who generally migrate to work in the city during the dry season, further makes it difficult to ensure continuity in programmes such as skills training provided in the host city (para 45).

NGOs and international organizations such as IOM, UNFPA and UNICEF have also implemented programmes, often in partnership with the Government, to address short and long-term vulnerabilities, and improve girls’ lives within their native communities. Government interlocutors expressed concern regarding the increasing number of kayayee and other forms of “streetism” in Ghana’s expanding cities — a phenomenon largely described as a purely economic rather than a social problem, to be solved through economic development initiatives. The Special Rapporteur regrets that due to that perspective, too little attention has been paid to the gender, child protection and other human rights dimensions of the issue (paras 46, 47).

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Ghana undertake focused research to determine the scope and specificities related to the phenomenon of kayayee, with a view to informing strategies and programmes; develop programmes and policies to address the situation and needs which take into account, inter alia, the situation of both child and adult kayayee (and dependants accompanying them); the human rights, gender, seasonal and urban dimensions of the phenomenon; and that are informed by participatory approaches, which include communities of origin, affected girls and women (paras 95, 96).

Sexual exploitation and abuse: The sexual exploitation and abuse of children and adults in Ghana take many forms. The most blatant manifestation is the growing number of women, girls and increasingly also boys, being used for commercial sexual exploitation across Ghana, including within the tourism industry. One study estimated that in Accra alone, there were over 120 brothels where young girls were forced into prostitution, while many others were sent abroad for the same purpose (para 48).

In other cases, sexual exploitation takes place as a by-product or consequence of children working in the worst forms of child labour, including in the mining, fishing and agricultural sectors. While some boys are also affected, girls sent to work in the households of fishing communities around the Volta region are frequently sexually exploited and used by fishermen and older boys. In the mining sector, it is common for girls as young as 10 years of age to be sexually exploited by mine workers who support them financially in exchange for sex, and by galamsey (i.e. informal mining) gang masters who traffic them into sexual slavery.32 Urban street workers (e.g. vendors, kayayee) and domestic workers most of whom are children, are also at risk of sexual assault, exploitation, or of being trafficked or sold into sexual slavery (para 49).

Children who live on the streets, estimated in one study at 50,000, can be victimized by sexual predators, forced into survival sex (i.e. exchange of sex for material necessities or protection), or subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. Trokosi, a form of religious/ritual servitude still practised in parts of the country, includes the use of the child for sexual purposes by a fetish priest (para 50).

Poverty, migration to urban areas in precarious conditions, and child neglect or abandonment have also resulted in the forming of sexually exploitative relationships, which might not be considered commercial sexual exploitation per se. The Special Rapporteur had the opportunity to meet a group of 50 girls in that situation during an awareness-raising session on reproductive health being conducted at a community centre in Accra by a local NGO. Nearly all the girls, who were between 12 and 18 years of age, came from single-parent households headed by the mother and lived in a precarious social and financial situation. Most often the separation of the parents (often due to domestic violence or alcoholism) or the death or abandonment by the father had left the family in a state of destitution. The experiences and stories narrated by the girls revealed a pattern of dependence on boyfriends and multiple sexual relationships which helped them meet their material needs. A significant number had also borne children from those relationships, thereby limiting their availability to engage in those relationships and placing them at risk of commercial sexual activity, unless they were able to find an alternative form of livelihood. Sexual abuse and exploitation in its various forms not only continue to have an impact on the lives of children into adulthood, but in some cases may become more pronounced, as they may be forced to adopt increasingly risky survival strategies to sustain their dependants and themselves (para 51).

A number of NGOs, such as International Needs, have begun to address the situation of girls at risk or who are already victims of sexual exploitation, especially in urban areas. Some provide comprehensive programmes offering awareness-raising sessions (e.g. on reproductive health, domestic violence), apprenticeships, educational and livelihood support, as well as family counselling and financial assistance (e.g. microcredits, stipends) to assist parents or guardians. Most girls benefiting from the programme range from 12 to 18 years of age. Despite such initiatives, the Government and other stakeholders have paid considerably less attention to sexual exploitation and sex trafficking than to child labour. A number of legal gaps leave children and youth vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The Criminal Code of 1998 prohibits the procurement of any person under 21 years of age, who is not a “prostitute or of known immoral character”. Children who have already been victims of commercial sexual exploitation are therefore unprotected and their “moral standing” subject to scrutiny. The Code also fails to provide specifically for offences relating to pornography and pornographic performances by a child under 18 (paras 52, 54).

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Ghana amend the Criminal Code to ensure protection from sexual exploitation of all children without exception, including children who have already worked as prostitutes; improve targeting of prevention, and legal and social protection programmes to groups at risk of sexual exploitation, including persons who live or work on the streets; have migrated to urban centres under precarious conditions; work in the informal sector; and children who have been abandoned, neglected, or who live in impoverished households and communities (paras 98, 100).

Domestic servitude and slavery: Children, between the ages of 11 and 16, often enter into domestic slavery either through the tradition of “fostering” or recruitment by traffickers among poor rural communities who promise work for the child in the city in exchange for shelter and food, and at times a minimal income. Increasingly, the tradition of fostering has been used as a pretext to commercialize child domestic servitude and has become the domain of traffickers. Children working in this sector are particularly at risk of physical and sexual abuse, long working days of 8 to 12 hours, insufficient rest, and have little or no access to education, amounting to one of the worst forms of child labour as per ILO Convention No. 182. In many instances, they are also subject to other indignities such as not being provided with any sleeping area, and not being permitted to use the same toilet. Their situation is typically characterized by material and financial dependency, as they work for bed and board only, or when payment is given, it is provided to the parents (typically upon receipt of the child or after a period of work by the child). In some cases, the children run away and once in the street need “protectors” who beat, use them sexually or for other types of slave labour (para 57).

According to information received, it is predominantly girls and women from poor regions of the country (e.g. the northern region) who work as domestic servants in metropolitan areas. While girl children are preferred because they are perceived as more easily controlled, boys and adults can also become victims of domestic servitude. The Government of Ghana has listed domestic service in the category of the worst forms of child labour, developed a related national action plan, and put in place anti-human trafficking and labour laws. However, implementation of those laws and policies, which has been weak, is further challenged by the fact that those abuses take place in private homes and the informal sector, which labour authorities seldom monitor (paras 58, 60).

The Special Rapporteur recommends that Ghana undertake field research and scoping exercises to determine the nature and extent of child labour in the domestic service sector, particularly in urban areas; increase public awareness of child domestic servitude as one of the worst forms of child labour, and improve measures to identify, investigate and prosecute those responsible. In this context, strengthen the capacity of child protection and labour inspection services to conduct inspections in the informal working sector and private homes (paras 104, 105).

Ritual servitude: The practice of trokosi is a form of ritual or religious servitude, which has existed for centuries in some areas of the country, whereby a family gives one of their children, usually a young girl between 6 and 10 years of age, to a traditional fetish shrine in atonement for their family members’ sins. Through the ritual of trokosi, the fetish priest becomes the custodian of the girl that has been given to the shrine. Once she has reached puberty the trokosi is given in marriage to the shrine’s priest who is entitled to sleep with her in order to consummate the marriage between her and the gods. In this capacity and as her custodian, she belongs to the priest, who can beat her and use her for sex, in addition to the ritual duties, domestic chores and farming work she must perform. She is expected to work long hours, for which she does not receive any payment. Her family is to provide for her food and any other necessities. In some cases she is not permitted to wear clothes, except for a loin cloth. Although the girl lives in a shrine that is part of a community, she does not mingle or participate in its activities, and is considered evil (paras 61, 62).

Having been raised to accept her life as a trokosi from a young age, girls are not generally in a position to be able to refuse. Moreover, once given to the shrine, it is not acceptable for the parents to change their minds, and reintegration into the original community and family is difficult. If the trokosi has daughters, they will also have certain obligations to the shrine. In some cases, where the family is willing and able to pay for a special ceremony, the trokosi can be released from servitude after several years, although she will continue to perform some of the rituals at the shrine. While she is technically allowed to marry, in practice men will be unwilling to marry a former trokosi. Should she die, the family is expected to replace her with another girl (para 63).

Servile marriages: Servile marriage, which affects both children and adults, is usually characterized by the inability to escape the marriage due to lack of economic or social support (often due to cultural or religious beliefs); social or legal norms which fail to safeguard property, custody or other rights; the presence of sexual and physical abuse, and domestic servitude. Servile marriage occurs most often as a result of forced and early marriage, and affects girls and women disproportionally due to gender inequalities and prejudices. According to UNFPA, Ghana has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with an estimated average of one out of four girls being married before their eighteenth birthday. While the national average is 25 per cent, due to regional disparities rates of child marriage can be as high as 39 and 50 per cent, such as in the Upper East and Upper West areas of the country. Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas (paras 65, 66).

According to interlocutors, forced early marriage is associated with the tradition of fostering, which has over the years been transformed into an exchange. The child, usually a girl, is betrothed in early childhood (e.g. 4 years of age) to an older man (e.g. 40), with whom she goes to live at the age of 10 or 12. This effectively ends her schooling. However, due to legislation, this tradition is largely being driven underground. Once married only an estimated 13.6 per cent of girls use contraception, and of these, few feel that their demands for contraception have been satisfied, resulting in a high adolescent pregnancy rate of 66/1,000 women. In addition to cultural, religious and socioeconomic factors such as poverty, interlocutors noted that children are often married early because they start to “misbehave”, or because of the financial benefit it brings to the family. The issue is especially acute in more remote areas, where there may be insufficient access to schools and girls may get pregnant early (paras 67, 68).

While forced marriage is criminalized and the legal age for marriage is 18 years of age (and 16 with parental consent or approval by a pertinent authority), early marriages continue to be performed as the law is not adequately enforced. Abuses within polygamous unions often include early marriages, which are unregistered, and the different status of the different wives, which renders some vulnerable to mistreatment. Experts on the practice noted how the inability to sustain the many children resulting from polygamous marriages resulted in the need to marry the children at a young age, so that early marriage becomes an offshoot of polygamy (para 69).

Further recommendations: The special rapporteur recommends that Ghana address the country’s human development deficits, including those contributing to the exploitation of children and women, and establish conditions enabling them to benefit from economic development; adopt a life cycle approach to contemporary forms of slavery and exploitation which is inclusive of adults as well as children; develop stronger legal, regulatory and social measures for the protection of adults and youth; adopt effective measures to improve access to education, enable girls to stay in school longer, and enhance sustainable livelihood opportunities.; publicly denounce all forms of violence against women and girls including wife beating and female genital mutilation, and take necessary measures for the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, including by allocating adequate funding, educating law enforcement officials; adopt strategies for the empowerment of girls and women by facilitating access to education through to high school; offering life skills, literacy and livelihood programmes; and strengthening health care and social services and support. Take measures to facilitate the return to school for girls after pregnancy and offer alternative educational programmes for girls that take into account their financial and domestic obligations. Target these programmes, in particular, to girls and communities most at risk of child marriage and early pregnancies (paras 80, 81, 102, 111, 112).

Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk

21 February 2008

Issues raised:

Gender and stereotypes:  The male head of household model prevails, which makes all domestic chores the exclusive responsibility of women and girls. Although women are more often than not the family’s main source of income, men are perceived as the “provider”.12 This sexual division of labour corresponds to the obedience of women to male authority and their conformity to differential sexual norms upheld in society. In this respect, infidelity is tolerated for men, but constitutes a social taboo for women. Children - girls and boys - are groomed from an early age to internalize these stereotypical gender roles. (Paragraph 18).

Forced marriage: In some cases, particularly in the three northern regions, young women and girls are exchanged between families to offset dowry payments. Almost by definition, this practice involves a forced marriage for both the bride and the groom; therefore, from the start, seeds of conflict and potential violence are sown into the matrimonial union. (Paragraph 20).

Early marriage: The Children’s Act of 1998 sets 18 as the minimum age for marriage and criminalizes child marriages. However, child and early marriages continue to be performed, because the law is not adequately enforced. This compromises girls’ development and undermines their ability to negotiate unequal power relations to their advantage. Girls married at younger ages are more likely to drop out of school, are socially more isolated and less assertive in pursuing their sexual, reproductive and other rights. According to the 2006 MICS Survey, more than one in four married women (25.9 per cent) were under 18 when they married and 4.4 per cent were under 15. The same survey showed that 2.1 per cent of married women aged 15-19 years (i.e. the age group that should have enjoyed the protection of the 1998 Act) entered into marriage before they were 15. Since these marriages are unregistered, the women also lack access to non-penal forms of legal redress. (Paragraph 22).

Child marriage, early marriage and teenage pregnancy also contribute to high dropout rates among girls. Girls who become pregnant are often ridiculed by their peers and shamed into dropping out. Some districts also seem to have adopted a policy to suspend pregnant girls from schools to deter pregnancy among other girls. Officials at the central Government level assured me that the suspension of pregnant girls, which constitutes a blatant violation of their human right to education, is contrary to official education policy. (Paragraph 28).

Education: Ghana still has a considerable way to go to fulfil the second and third Millennium Development Goals, which call for the achievement of universal primary education and gender equality, including at all levels of education. In 2005, the net enrolment in primary education stood at only 65 per cent for boys and girls alike. A wide gender gap emerges from the early stages of the schooling cycle, because far more girls than boys drop out of primary school. In 2005, only 69 per cent of girls who enrolled completed the full course of primary education (compared to 75 per cent of boys). The trend continues in secondary school, where the 2005 net enrolment rate was 37 per cent for boys and 30 per cent for girls. (Paragraph 23).

High levels of extreme poverty continue to be a major obstacle to achieving universal education for all children, but particularly for girls. It is not surprising that the country’s poorest districts in northern Ghana tend to have the lowest school enrolment and retention rates. The Government has invested considerable funds into a capitation grant programme. This programme aims at freeing families from the burden of school levies imposed at the district level, while providing schools with a much-needed inflow of funds. (Paragrtaph 24).

These initiatives seem to have contributed to a substantial increase in enrolment. The Ministry of Education estimates that enrolment at the primary level in 2006/2007 has increased by 7.8 per cent in comparison to 2005/2006. At the junior secondary school level an 8.8 per cent increase was noted. In particular, the increase in the enrolment of girls in basic education was slightly higher than that for boys. (Paragraph 26).

Poverty is only one aspect of the problem. High dropout rates among girls are also rooted in differential values attached to the education of girls and boys. Many families take their daughters out of school, because they see education as a mere distraction from a girl’s domestic responsibilities. Donors have launched innovative programmes to create incentives for families to keep girls in school. The WFP launched a pilot project in 2006, which provides girls in the late stages of primary school and in junior secondary school (i.e. girls with a high dropout risk) with take-home food rations if they achieve at least 85 per cent attendance. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided girls in remote areas with bicycles so that they can complete their morning household chores and still get to school in time. Such programmes are helpful, but cannot replace sustained efforts on the part of the Government, civil society and the international community to change the underlying discriminatory mentalities themselves. (Paragraph 27).

Health: The World Food Programme (WFP) supports these laudable Government efforts through an on-site school feeding programme, which targets impoverished districts in the north and will provide 290,000 primary school children with one cooked meal a day to encourage increased attendance and enhance the capacity of malnourished pupils to follow the lessons. (Paragraph 25).

Violence: Unlike wife beating and marital rape, society does not condone incest. Yet, families will often try to cover up the crime to avoid shame, rather than ensure that the perpetrator is punished and the child protected from further harm. Tanya, a girl from the Eastern Region, for instance, was 14 years old when her father raped her on repeated occasions and injured her severely.24 Tanya’s stepmother refused to help her, but she was able to report the assault to the police with the help of a neighbour. Tanya’s family pressured her to drop the complaint, telling her that she was possessed by demons that would turn her into an adult woman at night and make her seduce her own father. When she refused, she was ejected from the home. (Paragraph 40).

Harmful traditional practices: A practice known as tazaba (direct translation: sister in bed) is reportedly still practised in some communities in Bongo District, Upper East Region. A daughter of a man without any sons  is given to a paternal cousin to produce a male heir for the family name. The girl does not marry her cousin (who may already have a wife) and any son born from that relationship is considered to belong to the family of the girl’s father. After giving birth to a son, the girl is freed and may get married, but due to the stigma of single motherhood it is unlikely that she will find a husband.2 (Paragraph 41).

Some communities in the southern Volta Region and certain districts of the Greater Accra Region still practise an outlawed custom, which involves ritual servitude and sexual exploitation of girls. The custom requires a family to offer a virgin daughter as a trokosi 26 to a traditional fetish shrine to ward off the punishment of the gods for crimes or moral wrongdoings committed by a family member. The misdeeds for which atonement is sought may often date back generations. One former trokosi, for instance, told me that her family gave her to a fetish shrine when she was 8 years old, because her great-grandfather had failed to repay a debt and subsequently family members had started to die from seemingly mysterious causes. (Paragraph 42).

A girl designated to become a trokosi is usually committed at a very young age (6 to 10 years old) to the shrine, where an initiation ritual betrothing the girl to the gods is performed. The ritual establishes a relationship of spiritual bondage between the girl and the shrine. From the moment of her betrothal, the trokosi must wear special insignia indicating her status and outsiders are prohibited from having any sexual contact with the girl. If a man sleeps with a trokosi, his family is believed to have incurred the wrath of the gods, therefore, must also offer a virgin daughter to the shrine. Meanwhile, the girl with whom the man had sexual relations is ritually “purified” and remains a trokosi at the shrine. (Paragraph 43).

In addition to performing ritual duties and domestic chores at the shrine, a trokosi is usually also expected to work long hours on farmland belonging to the shrine. She does not receive anything in return for her labour and her family is required to provide her with food and all other necessities. (Paragraph 44).

Once a trokosi reaches puberty, the shrine’s fetish priest (tronua) is entitled to sleep with the girl to consummate the marriage between her and the gods. Groomed from a very young age  into accepting their servitude at the shrine, the girls are not in a position to refuse. Daughters born from such sexual relations also have certain obligations to the shrine. (Paragraph 45).

After serving several years at the shrine, a trokosi may be released from servitude if her family pays for a special ceremony, but she will retain a relationship with the shrine and continue to perform certain rituals there. Released trokosi are allowed to marry, but are often unable to find a husband. If a trokosi dies, her family is expected to replace her with another girl and the cycle of ritual servitude and exploitation recommences. (Paragraph 46).

In 1998, the Government passed a law against ritual servitude (among other things), criminalizing the practice of trokosi, although there have been no prosecutions under the law. Government officials were under the impression that the practice had since almost vanished. Information obtained from other sources indicates that the practice continues to thrive. Reportedly, there are at least 23 shrines in the Volta Region and 3 in the Greater Accra Region which still accept trokosi.27 (Paragraph 47).

In many districts, the local authorities are reluctant to enforce the law against ritual servitude, fearing a popular backlash. Some also seem to fear adverse spiritual consequences for themselves. While a number of national authorities, including the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice and the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs have taken a strong stance against the practice of trokosi, there are many other elected politicians who fail to publicly denounce it in order not to alienate key constituencies. (Paragraph 48).

Certain intellectuals defend trokosi as an indigenous religious tradition that provides girls with a form of apprenticeship. None of the former trokosi, with whom I have spoken, shared this view. One 17-year-old girl, the daughter of a trokosi and a fetish priest who had herself served in a shrine, asked me why only girls and not boys had to suffer to atone for the misdeeds of their families. (Paragraph 49).

International Needs Ghana (ING) and other non-governmental organizations have led efforts to liberate trokosi and put an end to the practice. According to ING’s own estimates 3,500 girls have so far been liberated and 50 shrines have stopped accepting trokosi. ING seeks to liberate trokosi with the cooperation and consent of affected communities. Communities willing to cooperate are provided with much needed development infrastructure such as schools and boreholes. Fetish priests and shrine owners are encouraged to accept livestock or monetary donations, instead of girls, from families seeking to appease the gods. Once liberation is agreed, a ritual will be performed to break the spiritual bondage tying the trokosi to the shrine. Liberated trokosi are provided with the skills to reintegrate into ordinary life at the ING Vocational Training Centre, which is also open to other girls and women from affected communities. (Paragraph 50).

FGM:  Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been traditionally practised by several ethnic groups from northern Ghana. Victims can also be found among immigrants from neighbouring countries, where FGM is highly prevalent. UNICEF has estimated that 5.4 per cent of all women in Ghana aged 15-49 have been subjected to FGM.28 (Paragraph 51).

In 1994, Ghana criminalized the practice. Since then, successful prosecutions of those performing FGM have been reported from the Upper West and Upper East Regions. In 2007, Parliament further strengthened the law against FGM by increasing the maximum penalty to 10 years of imprisonment and extending the range of persons who can be prosecuted for involvement in an act of FGM. Officials at all levels of Government, including the President, have also publicly condemned FGM. (Paragraph 52).

While there are indications that the practice of FGM in Ghana may be declining, new cases continue to be reported. Civil society organizations and medical practitioners note that FGM is increasingly performed on younger girls, who are less likely to resist or report the crime. Some families apparently also send their daughters abroad to have the procedure carried out. The fact that in some neighbouring countries FGM is not criminalized or the legislation against it is not enforced, and since Ghanaian law does not apply extraterritorially, makes it difficult for the Ghanaian authorities to take action, even if they find out about such cases. (Paragraph 53).

Child labour: Ghanaian law sets the minimum age for formal and informal employment at 15, although children are permitted to engage in “light work” from the age of 13, provided that it does not harm their health or development, or school attendance and the capacity to benefit from schoolwork. Children under 18 are not allowed to undertake certain types of hazardous labour and are prohibited from working at night. Yet harmful child labour remains a problem. A 2004 International Labour Office (ILO) study estimated that about 11 per cent of school-age children in Ghana and 56.5 per cent of rural school-age children in northern Ghana are engaged in some form of labour.29 A World Bank paper on child labour in Ghana found that girls were more likely than boys to engage in harmful forms of labour.30 (Paragraph 54).

Many rural families living in extreme poverty send their daughters to urban areas to live with more affluent families, where they serve as domestic workers in exchange for shelter, food and sometimes a minimal income. The ILO found that most child domestic workers started their work between the ages of 11 and 16 and worked 8 to 12 hours per day without sufficient rest, which would imply that they are engaged in one of the worst forms of child labour as defined by ILO Convention No. 182.31 (Paragraph 55).

Girls also migrate on their own from impoverished areas in the north to the big urban centres in the south, where they work in the markets and streets as head load carriers (kayaye), informal petty traders or in other menial jobs. Most of the girls are only 10-14 years old when they first migrate and some are even younger. The girls, an estimated 90 per cent of whom are illiterate, typically migrate to escape extreme poverty and a lack of opportunities. Many girls also see the kayaye experience as an opportunity to acquire the items they will need in order to get married later on in life. (Paragraph 56).

Exploitation: Family problems, including exploitation and abuse, are often additional factors pushing girls to leave their homes. In accordance with local culture, some children are sent to live with paternal or maternal relatives, who were traditionally meant to foster family solidarity and kinship ties. However, with the erosion of social convention, today these children are often exploited and abused by their relatives. Amina from Tamale, for instance, was 6 years old when she was sent to live with an aunt, who made her sell food in the local market. If she sold well, she would receive food, if not she would be beaten. When she was 8 ye amount of money from her aunt and took the bus to Kumasi (Ashanti Region) to work as a kayaye. Disappointed by the little money she made in Kumasi, she returned to Tamale only to head south again to Accra when she was 10 years old. (Paragraph 57).

The girls seem mostly to migrate on their own, encouraged by their peers and often with the knowledge of their family. Some reports indicate that organized networks increasingly approach impoverished families to recruit girls. (Paragraph 58),

Once they arrive in the urban centres, the kayaye work and live under dangerous and miserable conditions. They usually live on the streets, having to pay owners of wooden market stalls for a place with a roof to spend the night. Being vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, they often have to seek the “protection” of older street boys in exchange for sex. As a result many end up getting pregnant outside marriage and are often ostracized when they return to the north as single mothers. Some girls occasionally prostitute themselves to add to their earnings, which increases the prejudices they encounter once they return home. (Paragraph 59).

Education: Girls Growth and Development (GIGDEV) in Tamale is a civil society organization that helps former kayaye integrate back into society, by providing them with vocational training and basic education. Fatima, 18 years old, is one of the girls taking part in GIGDEV’s programme. She told me that she had to live with her aunt after her mother and grandmother had died, because her father was unwilling to take responsibility for her. The aunt exploited and abused Fatima, and at the age of 10 she migrated to Accra to work as a kayaye in the Agbogboloshie wholesale market. When she was 14, her boyfriend, a fellow street boy, raped her and she became pregnant. She gave birth and returned to the north. Fatima is learning to sew at GIGDEV and wants to buy a sewing machine with a microcredit loan. (Paragraph 60).

Child prostitution: Some girls abandon kayaye work altogether and are fully drawn into Ghana’s growing child prostitution sector, which increasingly also seems to cater to foreign child sex tourists. Girls have reportedly also been trafficked and subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in other West African countries and Western Europe. While the Government has reacted by adopting a comprehensive Human Trafficking Act in 2005, still more needs to be done to enforce the Act and strengthen Ghana’s anti-trafficking cooperation with other countries. (Paragraph 61).

Violence: In 2005, the Ghana police service transformed its Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU) into a Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit (DoVVSU) tasked to investigate all crimes involving domestic and gender-based violence. (Paragraph 80).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover


Report published: 10 April 2012

Country visit: 23 - 30 May 2011

Legal framework: Ghana has ratified several international treaties recognizing the right to health. These include the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Constitution, adopted in 1992, establishes several health-related rights including care of children and protection of the rights of the disabled and sick. However, there is no explicit provision concerning the right to health in the Constitution. Article 28(2) concerns protecting children from unhealthy work; 28(4) concerning non-discrimination against children with respect to health care. Various other laws contain relevant provisions concerning the elimination of child labour (paras 8, 10, 54).

Health system: From independence to 1985, the Government provided free health care through a tax-based health financing system. However, economic crises in the 1970s and 1980s led to sizeable revenue shortages and resulted in the introduction of a “cash and carry” scheme, which imposed user fees in 1985.7 The introduction of this system of payment significantly reduced health service utilization by creating sizeable financial barriers to access, especially for the poor.8 The Government recognized this problem and attempted to create user fee exemptions for vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, older persons, children, the poor and others. However, in practice, the exemption system was not successful in providing access to health care for exempted groups, for a variety of reasons (para 11).

The Special Rapporteur was informed that the provision of immunoglobulin to newborn infants to prevent transmission of hepatitis B from infected mothers was not covered under the insurance scheme, even though a one-off payment of around 500 USD for treatment would prevent transmission in nearly 100 per cent of cases, and thereby save significant costs associated with lifetime management of the illness (para 18).

HIV/AIDS: HIV prevalence in Ghana is among the lowest in West Africa at 1.9 per cent of the population aged 14 to 49. Although knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Ghana is high, this broad awareness has not translated into knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention. This awareness has more importantly failed to reduce the still potent stigma directed against people living with HIV (PLHIV). The realization of the right to health requires that greater efforts be made to ensure adequate access to ART for PLHIV (paras 20-22).

Newborn health: Ghana has made remarkable progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing child mortality. The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey recorded that the infant and under-five mortality rate declined from 64 per 1,000 live births in 1999- 2003 to 50 per 1,000 live births in 2004-2008. Furthermore, measles-related deaths have been completely eliminated as a result of a comprehensive immunization campaign. While not strictly related to women’s obstetric care, additional illnesses or diseases – comorbidities – may require treatment to ensure the health of pregnant women. However, treatment of comorbidities is not currently part of the maternal health benefits package. Women are therefore required to make additional payments in order to receive treatment for these illnesses. Such additional payments may bar pregnant women from treatment or discourage them from seeking otherwise subsidized maternal health services, which may result in significant negative health outcomes. For example, gestational diabetes, a common comorbidity during pregnancy, may result in a number of negative health outcomes for the child, namely it may be at an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes and obesity. Although traditional birth attendants are essential for point-of-care service delivery, in many cases they are not best suited to emergency maternal care or situations in which complications arise. In such situations, appropriate and timely treatment is necessary to prevent both maternal and foetal mortality and morbidity (paras 35, 38, 39).

Traditional practices: Trokosi– the practice of surrendering girls as young as 10 to village priests as an act of atonement for family sins. Practices such as this continue to occur, predominately in the more remote regions such as the Volta, where women and girls are often already vulnerable to violations. The right to health requires that the Government make concerted efforts to prevent and remedy the effects of harmful traditional practices that may generate stigma and discrimination against women. Although the Special Rapporteur is pleased to note that this practice has been criminalized in Ghana, enforcement is lacking and the practice continues to occur in remote regions, particularly in the Volta. More must be done to promote the discontinuance of trokosi, including greater community awareness-building and improved enforcement efforts. In a promising development, local priests have begun taking steps to prevent the surrender of women and young girls in this manner Effectiveness of the law is largely dependent on significant cultural change, which likely cannot be made through criminalization alone. Community-led efforts should be encouraged, as they present the most effective and sustainable solutions to eradicating harmful traditional practices (paras 41, 42).

Malaria: While malaria is widespread, the most vulnerable groups of society still bear the overwhelming burden of the disease. Disparities remain within the health system at large, and accessibility and availability of necessary goods and services for vulnerable populations, such as children, are even lower in rural areas and for the poor. Infants born to mothers with malaria are more likely to be of low birth weight, the single greatest risk factor for death in newborns. The incidence of low birth weight has been rising and contributes in part to the 20,000 children dying annually in Ghana due to malaria. Malaria can also lead to long-term disability in survivors. Repeated bouts of malaria have also been known to impair as much as 60 per cent of a child’s schooling, impacting on opportunities and productivity in life (paras 43, 44).

The provision of free treatment through the NHIS to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and children, is a welcome initiative. However, despite the scaling-up of GFATM interventions throughout the country and improvements in many districts, the target treatment rate of 60 per cent for vulnerable groups by 2010 was not achieved (para 45).


ACCRA (30 May 2011) – 


Issues raised:

Regarding maternal mortality, Mr. Grover noted that the issue has been declared a national emergency and that the authorities have taken steps to address maternal deaths, such as MDG Acceleration Framework. However, he stressed that “further concerted effort is needed to effectively address this serious human rights issue.” In his view, a country must have a range of mechanisms for monitoring, accountability, and to redress maternal mortality.



Requested visits

  • Special Rapporteur on education (requested in 2007)



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