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Parliament: It’s now criminal to call anyone witch in Ghana

The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, has declared that it is now an offence to accuse any person of being a witch in the country following the passage of the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2022, by Parliament last Thursday.

The Bill explicitly criminalises the practice of witchcraft accusation and proscribes the declaration, accusation, naming or labelling of another person as a witch, and its related matters.

The object of the bill is to amend the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), to prohibit the practice by any person as a witch doctor or witch finder.

It formed part of the broad policy measures to deal with attacks and human rights violations arising out of witchcraft accusations.

Unanimous support 

During the debate that preceded the third reading of the bill, all the members of Parliament, who took part in the debate, unanimously called for the criminalisation of all witchcraft activities and accusation of witchcraft, as well as the abolition of all witchcraft camps in the country.

That, they argued, would deter accusations of witchcraft and its attendant human rights abuses, provide a legal framework for law enforcement agencies to prosecute offenders of human rights arising out of such accusations, among others.

The bill was laid in Parliament on March 31, 2023, by the Member of Parliament (MP) for Madina, Francis-Xavier Sosu, on behalf of other co-sponsors.

They are Mr Sosu, MP for Pusiga, Hajia Laadi Ayii Ayamba; MP for Wa East, Dr Godfred Seidu Jasaw; MP for Krachi, Helen Adjoa Ntoso, and MP for Afram Plains North, Betty Nana Efua Krosbi Mensah.

The Speaker of Parliament, subsequently, referred the bill to the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary for consideration and report to the House.

Background

Per the report of the committee, witchcraft was seen as a common practice in the 16th and 17th centuries in England and the Witchcraft Act, 1735 was passed by the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament to criminalise accusations of witchcraft.

The reference to the old UK legislation was to indicate that over the years, depending on the level of sophistication of the society, appropriate laws had been enacted to protect vulnerable people.

The report said the lack of knowledge and education had resulted in some vulnerable persons, especially elderly women, some of whom might be suffering from dementia, being intimidated, beaten and sometimes coerced into admitting to being witches and subsequently banished from their communities or even lynched in some cases.

The lynching of 90-year-old Akua Denteh in broad daylight at Kafaba in the East Gonja Municipality in the Savannah Region on accusation of witchcraft on July 23, 2020 provoked the introduction of the Bill.

Following the unfortunate incident, The Sanneh Institute officially petitioned Parliament on August 4, 2020, to pass a legislation criminalising the practice of witchcraft accusation.

“It then became evident that action had to be taken since the incident raised a matter of serious public interest. The bill is, therefore, meant to deter persons who may want to accuse or harm others of being alleged witches,” the report said.

Demography of inmates

The report said the committee noted with amazement that while witchcraft belief was widespread across Africa and other parts of the world, only Ghana had established “witch camps”.

It said the need for public policy interventions to deal with the social canker of witchcraft beliefs and its attendant human right violations became more relevant considering the number of inmates in the various camps and the uninhabitable conditions under which the inmates lived.

“Information gathered by the committee indicates that in 2021, the number of inmates in the five prominent Witch Camps in Ghana, namely the Gnani Camp, Kukuo Camp, Gushegu Camp, Gambaga Camp and Kpatinga Camp totalled 539.

“Out of this number, the females constituted 498, representing 92 per cent and the males were 41. The inmates were all vulnerable persons, consisting of older women, single mothers, widows and unmarried women,” the report said.

The report said the Universal Declaration on Human Rights provided for the respect of the freedom, equality, dignity and rights of all persons.

Reason/conscience

The declaration, it said, further proclaimed that all human beings were endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

“These very important tenets of human rights are reinforced by the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, which also provides for the prohibition of all forms of practices that are dehumanising or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person (Article 26(2) of the 1992 Constitution),” it said.

It indicated that Article 15(2) of the Constitution also provided for the respect for human dignity and projects that, “no person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained, be subjected to; (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being.”

 

 

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