Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Witch Camps In Ghana? Abolish Them


The Northern Region of Ghana houses six “witches’ camps,” where women who are accused of witchcraft are detained and subject to inhumane treatment.
Ghanaian leaders and civil society groups met in the nation’s capital, Accra, last week to develop a plan to abolish the witches’ camps in the northern region, where at least 1,000 women and 700 children who have been accused of sorcery are currently living in exile.
An Indictment On The Conscience Of Our Society
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.”
Many of the “witches” 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 “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, spoke at the conference about how she was forced to leave her village.
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.
When asked whether she could return back to her village she said the family couldn’t bring her back into the community because of the fear that she will harm others.
As In 17th Century England, So In 21st Century Ghana
This tale reflects eerily many of the accounts of women hanged for witchcraft in England in the seventeenth century. An unusually bad harvest, the sighting of a raven near an old woman’s house, the unexpected death of a child, a smallpox outbreak, were all possible reasons to label a woman a “witch” and condemn her to death.
In Ghana, innocence or guilt is determined by how a chicken dies; in England it was determined by tying a woman’s hands and feet together and tossing her into a river. If she sank, she was proclaimed innocent, but by then she was already dead. If she floated, she was proclaimed guilty and condemned to death.
The idea that similar arbitrary reasoning still exists in the 21st century is both alarming and tragic.
Take Action Now
If you too consider this practice outrageous, click here to sign our petition asking the Parliament of Ghana to pass laws that will disband the camps and to support education to change people’s attitudes toward the practice of detaining women for witchcraft.

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