GHANA: Inhumane Aspects of Cultural Practices
Nations differ from nations, origins from origins, beliefs from beliefs, as well as cultures from cultures. Though nations differ from nations, it must be noted that within a nation the people also differ. The reality of these differences is to distinguish people from people.
In nations where there are many different people, tribes are what they usually identify themselves with. These tribes also have different cultures. The Encarta Dictionary defines culture as the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular nation, or people. It is also a group of people, whose shared beliefs and practices, identify the particular place, class, or time to which they belong.
In Ghana, and many parts of Africa, due to the existence of many tribes and languages, many cultures also exist. Some of these cultures, though the initiatives of ancestors, are still being practiced today. Despite the fact that culture was meant to control the values and norms of the society during those era, today the majority of them seem to undermine people's fundamental human rights, especially that of women.
Puberty rites are one of the most cherished cultures in Ghana. The Akans, of the Western Region in Ghana, call it Bragro; the Krobos of the Eastern Region - Dipo and the Gas of the Greater Accra Region - Otofo. It is normally performed for girls, when they have their first menses (Menstrual Period). It is done to initiate them into the world of womanhood.
According to people of these tribes, the main purpose for the practice of this culture is to inculcate in the adolescent female, the relevance of keeping one's virginity intact before marriage.
It is considered a great shame to the family of a young girl, if she is found to have been deflowered (lost her virginity), before the performance of this custom. According to them the inculcation of these practices put a sort of dignity in the girls and society they belong to. It is this shame and embarrassment, which prevents the young girls from indulging in pre-marital sex, hence decreasing the number of teenage pregnancy cases in such societies. They also have the notion and belief that, if they undergo the rites, a good husband awaits them in the future.
Child betrothal and Poverty
Child marriage can simply be explained as marrying a girl off before the age of puberty. Whereas some tribes deem it an honour and importance, to allow a girl to grow till the appropriate time for marriage, others deem it as irrelevant and pointless.
In many parts of the world, child marriage is being practiced without any sense of remorse. This practice can be found in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Malawi and certain parts of northern Ghana.
According to Mrs. Charity Sampah, who has her family roots in the Northern Region, this is mostly practiced by families who are in desperate need of money, and in a hurry to collect their children's bride price.
In such cases the unfortunate child is married off to a rich person, who in most cases could be as old as their grandfathers.
In a nutshell, the central cause of this practice is poverty. Poverty being the case for child marriage being practiced excessively in the world is not very surprising, since according to inquiries made, 25,000 lives are lost everyday from hunger and poverty.
Poverty causes poor families to spend over 70% of their income on food. The UN observing the standard of living in Niger, also has described Niger, in West Africa, as the worst place to live in the world, because the life expectancy there is 44.6 years, while 71 per cent of adults are illiterate and 79 per cent of children don't go to school.
In the northern parts of Ghana, according to research, many people live in poverty and it is considered to be the poorest are in the country. Many families living in such extreme poverty prefer to marry off their children, for money to make a living, and also take care of the other children.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) female genital mutilation is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, or procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs, for non-medical reasons.
Procedures can cause severe bleeding and urinary problems, and later potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths. It is mostly carried out on young girls, between infancy and the age of 15.
The practice has no health benefits for females, and in Africa about three million girls are at risk of FGM annually. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls, and women worldwide, are currently living with the consequences of FGM. According to those into this practice, it is meant to deter girls from committing fornication, since the removal of the external genitalia takes away any sort of desire or pleasure for sex.
It is a customary rite practiced in the Volta Region of Ghana, especially among the Ewe tribe. With this practice a virgin girl is taken to a shrine to pay for the wrongdoings of a family member, especially the parents. The girl is bestowed to the shine, so loses the chance of getting married to any man, since she is believed to be married to the fetish priest immediately the rite is performed.
The priest, due to this, begins to have sex with her at a tender age of about 13. Decisions concerning her life lie in the hands of the priest, her husband.
Agitation against this practice, by some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights activists, has yielded some results, with a large number of girls being freed from captivity, over the past years.
This rite surprisingly still exists in many remote communities. It is a rite that many spouses, especially women, have to undergo after the death of their partner. Though it is being performed in many countries and societies, its practice differs from society to society.
Some of these women have to go through hair shaving, ritual bathing and confinement in a room for days and sometimes, years. Not long ago, three very old women in a royal house were confined in a room for about nine years, simply because their husband who was the king was dead. They had no choice than to spend nine years of their lives, cooped up in a room.
Such women, apart from the humiliation they go through, also experience social, economic and emotional trauma.
The perpetrators of some of these awful rites seem not to be aware of the consequences of their actions. Apart from puberty rites, which instill a sort of morality in adolescent girls, the rest are acts which infringe fundamental human rites.
Child marriage and trokosi tend to shatter the dreams of many girls. Education always becomes a topic of less importance in this case and girls are not given the opportunity to exhibit freely what they are capable of doing in future.
Their so-called husbands indulging in sex with these under-aged girls, is also an infringement of the law under defilement. The result is that these under-aged mothers suffer undergrowth and have complications when in labour.
Just imagine, a child giving birth to a child. Not even telling the number of women these men had already slept with, with the dangers associated with indiscriminate sex lurking.
Females, who cannot handle the situation, end up running away from home. This in the long run makes them resort to either engaging in manual work, or prostitution, for their survival.
FGM and widowhood rites are internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls. The government of Ghana, realizing the plight many women go through, in terms of certain culture practices, brought about the creation of a body known as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
Its purpose is to help people identify their rights, owing to the reason that many people in the country do not know the rights. Imagine a country without laws governing human rights, people will engage in all manner of chaos, atrocities and inhuman treatment of others, simply because they do not respect them as equal human beings.
The commission has the mandate to investigate complaints on rights, abuse of office, unfair treatment by public officers and corruption.
Since the establishment of the commission, it has pursued an agenda, aimed at realizing a vision of a free, just and equitable society, where fundamental human rights are protected and power is accountable.
CHRAJ believes that the resilience of the peace we enjoy in the country, is attributable mainly to the growing culture of respect for rights and human dignity, and that it educates the public on the human rights and responsibilities of society.
Without further disagreement, one can say that, surely these practices really served the purposes it was meant to serve in time past, however with the presence of modernity and the practice of democracy, these practices seem to go way beyond the abuse of the fundamental human rights of innocent people. Some have to be abolished and others remodeled to suit these times, for not all traditions/cultures and beliefs are that bad.
AUTHOR: Helena Selby
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