Is old age in Ghana a curse?

…as the aged are accused of witchcraft

By: Helena Selby

One of the victims being chased away by the youth (Left), One of the victims sleeping on the bare floor (right)

The higher the life expectancy rate of a society the more its people are considered healthy and more responsible of their lives. In Ghana, the life expectancy rate is 56 years, however, in some areas of the country, like in the northern parts, the life expectancy rate is way above 56 years.

Even though this ought to be considered a blessing, it isn’t always. Old age in the northern parts of the country is considered more of a curse rather than a blessing, especially women, as they are most often accused of possessing witchcraft.

Instead of the people seeking the advice and wisdom of these aged people in moments of misfortune, they rather vent their anger on them, and accuse them of being responsible for their misfortunes, due to their beliefs.

This rather weird belief of the people makes them attribute bad dreams, poor harvest, sickness and epidemics to witchcraft manipulations.

The vulnerable, especially, old and weak women, are the group of people who always fall victim, when the suspicion of the existence of witch or wizardry arises among a family or society.

Witches Camp in the Northern Region of Ghana

Many of the customs and beliefs of the majority people in the in the northern parts of the country, are that women are suspected, or seen as agents of witchcraft.

In many of these societies, apart from the victims being beaten and driven out of the village, they are sometimes forced to drink concoctions to prove their innocence, or are strangled to death.

Normally, women who are widowed are those who fall victim to this kind of practice, especially, when their husbands died under strange circumstances.

At a program organised by the Southern Sector Youth and Women’s Empowerment Network (SOSYWEN), it was disclosed that this practice has been in existence in the various societies of the northern parts of the country for ages, but the recent brutality added to the practice, is what is causing the abuse of their fundamental human rights.

The level of false accusations and maltreatment by the youth, coupled with the humiliation the victims go through, makes life unbearable and full of panic for women, especially, when one is heading towards old age.

The youth, forgetting that old age is a gift of long life, and also forgetting that they will one day be old as well, do not think twice about their actions, but go ahead to maltreat older women who are supposed to be taken care of.

So far, the intensity of this practice has resulted in the creation of three camps in northern Ghana.

They include the Ngani Camp in Yendi, the Kukuo Camp in Bimbilla, and the Gambaga Camp.
According to SOSYWEN, the Ngani Camp consists of 750 women and 400 children; the Kukuo Camp consists of 130 women and 171 children and the Gambaga Camp 86 women and 36 children.
Members of this camp are normally left on their own to fend for themselves without the help of any family member.

As old as they are, they are forced to undertake various tedious activities, just to get their daily bread.

Standard of living in the camps

The accusations leveled against them, that they are witches, has resulted in society showing no concern about the nature of their environment or place of abode.

It is very pathetic to note that all of these existing camps are in very bad shape, and not even appropriate for human dwellings.

Most of the houses in these camps are mud huts, very small in size, and sometimes with many cracks on them, and also have no doors.

The inmates of these camps have a very poor standard of living. Their engagement in agriculture does not favour their standard of living, since their weak level of manpower to engage in such activity does not enable them to cultivate much crops, even for their personal use.

They have very unhealthy sources of water, which always puts their health at risk. Their lack of access to potable water, and the nature of their sources of water, is such a way that they have no choice than to wait for the dirt, including clay and sand, to settle before they are able to use it for domestic chores, and boil before drinking.

They have to go through the trauma of being infected with all manner of diseases, as the majority of them have not even been registered in the National Health insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Conclusion

It is against the laws of the land to subject a fellow human to inhumane treatments such as this.
False accusation or slandering, and the brutalisation of a fellow human is punishable by law, and even against the norms and values of our various societies, but in practices such as this, these norms are being ignored.

In a democratic state such as Ghana, when one is suspected of possessing witchcraft, and has allegedly caused destruction with it, it will be important and necessary for society to report the instance to the chiefs of the land, as they are able to determine the truth through spiritual agents.

It is an abuse of human rights if one is subjected to brutality without any kind of in-depth investigation.

The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs has tried its best to eradicate this practice, but it is unfortunate that the beliefs of the people seem to overshadow these efforts.

It is up to the Ministry to intensify its efforts to save these aged women from abuse.

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