ACCRA, – Reporting rape is traumatic for anyone, but having to pay two months’ wages to complete the medical form prevents many in Ghana from seeking justice, said a leading actress whose campaign to waive fees has reached the presidential palace.
British-Ghanaian actress Ama K. Abebrese – who starred with Idris Elba in the award-winning 2015 drama “Beasts of No Nation” – started a petition after hearing about the prohibitive charges in the West African nation where rape convictions are rare.
The minimum doctor’s fee for filling out a police medical form is 300 cedis ($52) – twice the average monthly earnings of informal workers, said Abebrese, one of Ghana’s most influential TV hosts who started out as a teenager presenter in London.
“If you can’t afford it, it is almost like you are denied justice on the basis of money,” said Abebrese, whose petition has attracted more than 14,000 signatures in a month.
“If you don’t get that medical report, essentially, the case to prosecute dies right there and then.”
Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are significantly underreported in Ghana and the police lack capacity to effectively investigate cases, which can take years to reach court, according to women’s rights groups.
Community leaders sometimes negotiate for rapists to pay compensation to victims’ families but they have come under fire in recent years for not taking the crime seriously enough.
Abebrese said she was hopeful that the government would scrap the medical fees after she met with Ghana’s first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, who said the president had been made aware of the situation, and with gender minister Cynthia Morrison.
A gender ministry spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they were “working on it”.
Police spokeswoman Sheilla Abayie-Buckman said many people could not afford to complete the medical form.
“It is quite expensive for an ordinary person. I guess not more than 50% are able to afford (it)” said Abayie-Buckman, who was unable to provide statistics on rape reports.
Doctors charge 300 to 800 cedi to fill out police medical forms and 1,000 to 2,000 cedi for giving a medical opinion for legal purposes, according to a Ghana Medical Association (GMA) document seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Frank Ankobea, president of the GMA, which represents medics and sets the fees, said they were necessary to cover doctors’ transport and expenses if called to court.
“Professionals charge that and it is so with all other professions,” he said, adding, “the government can absorb (the cost) and make sure all these provisions are made.”
Since starting the campaign, Abebrese said she has received dozens of calls from victims of sexual assault who were unable to seek justice because of the cost.
“(For) so many people, their cases were never prosecuted, it has really opened my eyes,” she said.
“You think you have an idea but you have no idea the magnitude,” said Abebrese, who recently called for a relationship expert who said in an interview that “every rape victim enjoys the act” to be banned from Ghanaian television.
Most Ghanaians believe that women are to blame for rape if they wear revealing clothes, according to a government survey.
Rape victims also struggle to access justice in other African countries, said Jean-Paul Murunga, a Nairobi-based programme officer for the women’s rights group Equality Now.
He said that rape survivors in Kenya have to pay $10 to $15 for a medical report and free post-rape care is only available in centres run by charities in many countries.
Murunga called on African governments to live up to legally binding promises, made in a pan-African women’s rights pact known as the Maputo Protocol, to ensure access to justice.
“The protocol … obliges African states to provide budgetary and other resources for preventing and eradicating violence against women,” he said. “This is yet to be realised.”
Accra, Ghana, – Salamatu Abubakar spent years of her childhood picking up scraps of plastic on the streets of Accra, the African coastal city that is the capital of Ghana. Her dad took the plastic to an open air market, selling it in bulk to recyclers and scrap dealers, and barely earning enough to get by.
In that same market, Samuel Ganyo, who had come with his mother to Accra from a poorer city in Ghana, sold slices of sugar cane to marketplace vendors, shoppers, and people passing by in cars. A popular snack across Africa, sugar cane didn’t pay enough for Samuel and his mother.
Daniel Lomotey started working in another Accra market when he was 10. He dropped out of school then, and started working for his uncle pushing a handcart hired by vendors to move their products in the Mandela marketplace. It was hard work, and it didn’t pay very much. And because Daniel, like Salamatua and Samuel, wasn’t going to school, his prospects for the future looked grim.
When Daniel was 12, he met Sister Anthonia Orji of the Daughters of Sacred Passion, a Nigerian religious sister working in Ghana. Sr. Anthonia helped kids do hard, heavy work on the streets, and helped them get back to school.
Sr. Anthonia is the centre manager and education officer at the Welfare, Empowerment Mobility Centre in the Archdiocese of Accra. Her work is part of the Rays of Hope project, which aims to help Ghana’s street kids, like Salamatua, Samuel, and Daniel, by giving them a home, and getting them enrolled in school.
Daniel is 18 now. He met Sr. Anthonia in 2014. And he told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, that meeting her is the best thing to happen in his life.
“Through her guidance and support, I am now a final year Junior High student at the St. Peter’s Catholic School in Ayikuma. Apart from that, I have acquired the skills in sewing and barbering through training at WEM,” Daniel said.
Samuel, who is 16, also lives at the center, along with 22 other young people.
“I have learnt a lot like farming and barbering of hair as an additional skill to my schooling and I advise all vulnerable children who have the opportunity like me to make good use of it,” said Samuel.
The center doesn’t discriminate based upon religion. Though a Muslim, Salamatu said she has come to love Catholicism, through the guidance of Sr. Anthonia, whom she said is her mentor and mother.
“I picked polythene on the streets for my dad to sell in the Ashaiman market to earn a living. But thanks to Rays of Hope, I now live a life of dignity,” she told ACI Africa, adding, “Through the skills training and way of life at the center, I can pray the rosary and other Catholic prayers very well even though I am a Muslim.”
Ghana’s constitution prohibits many types of child labor. But Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa that the constitutional law is not always followed, and that many poor children are put to work because of the poverty of their families.
Sr. Anthonia lamented school drop-out, child mortality, child labor, child trafficking, rape, prostitution and defilement of vulnerable children and urged Ghanaians to create a sense of belonging in street children.
She said that with the outbreak of COVID-19, the children ranging between the ages of 7 and 15 in residence at the WEM Center have been placed in various homes.
All the children, she said, were schooling at the St. Peter’s Catholic School.
“For the fear of the spread of the coronavirus at the WEM Center, 20 out of the 23 children have been placed in various homes of volunteer families and they are monitored daily by our re-integration staff,” Sr. Anthonia told ACI Africa.
The main aim of the center is to help Ghana’s street children get to school, and stay healthy, while staying connected with the parents and extended families of the children. The religious sister said that a lot of effort goes into establishing a frequent contact between the street survivors and their families.
“We believe that what God has created and bound together should not be separated. The connection to one’s family is the most valuable foundation for becoming a successful and responsible member of society. Therefore, we are convinced of putting all our effort, patience and love into the reintegration process of our beneficiaries,” she said.
Sr. Anthonia said that Christians have been endowed with the ability to perceive, appreciate and understand the situation of the vulnerable person, identify their needs, design needed services and facilitate the provision of requisite intervention to bring relief to them.
She appealed to parents and opinion leaders to jointly take steps to curb drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancies, armed robbery, occultism and cyber fraud among the youth, especially those on the streets.
The work of her project, she said, begins with finding street children eager to go to school, and families willing to approve that.
“We search the streets of Ashaiman, Tema, Accra and its environs from the First Contact Place. Every year, we search for street children in the major cities in Greater Accra and those who are willing to be supported, along with their families, sign a contract for onward enrollment every September,” she told ACI Africa correspondent.
She explained that the center’s educational approach is divided into pre-school classes, formal education and informal education as well as moral and religious aspects of life.
“Pre-school” isn’t for younger kids, as the term denotes in the West. At WEM, all new recruits are prepared for school life through intensive one-year pre-school classes.
“The children who were once on the streets and not schooling will have to be prepared to enhance their reintegration into school life,” the nun said, and added, “This demands patience, energy and love.”
“In pre-school classes, we focus to improve their oral, literary and arithmetic skills through a structured curriculum, and in the later stage of their development in pre-classes, other subject areas are introduced.”
There are 36 children at the collection center who are being prepared for school life. The collection point, in extreme cases, serves as a temporary shelter for beneficiaries, whose relatives or parents have not yet been located.
The Nigerian nun explained that at the collection center, the beneficiaries come on a daily basis to be taught mathematics, English language and other subjects by the class teachers and volunteers.
“They are also educated on personal hygiene, social, religious and moral skills through classes and special programs,” she added, and explained that the children have a period of morning devotion after their chores, before they go into their classes for lessons.
The classes, she said, are divided into three levels to meet the children’s individual academic needs, as they undertake five hours of classes per day.
When they complete the one-year pre-class, they are enrolled into basic school after they have met the criteria, which include punctuality and discipline, ability to read and write, to calculate simple arithmetic, personal hygiene like bathing, washing, and neatness in dress, Sr. Anthonia said.
The children are admitted into Catholic schools because “we believe the environment and as well as the Christian routine will help grow their moral and religious values,” said Sr. Anthonia.
As part of its humanitarian activities, Rays of Hope sponsors the former vulnerable children from the basic to the tertiary level of education, providing shelter, food, accommodation, and school fees.
Sr. Anthonia said that passion to restore dignity among young people who have made mistakes in life inspires her apostolate.
“The work at Rays of Hope for me is not just work but rather it is a ministry and a call. Ordinarily, when you look at it with human eyes, you might not want anything to do with it,” she said.
“It is all about a call from God and a passion to make an impact in the young people’s lives.”
PRESS STATEMENT BY THE GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE ON ACCEPTING FORMER GUANTANAMO BAY PRISONERS IN GHANA
We, the members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, have received news of the transfer of two former Guantanamo Bay prisoners, namely, Mahmoud Omar Mohammed Bin Atef (36 years) and Khalid Shayk Mohammed (34 years) to Ghana with great distress and sadness and wish to call on our Government to act responsibly and in the interest of the nation by sending these men back to wherever they came from.
Having learn that of these two former prisoners, Mahmoud Bin Atef fought for the late Osama Bin Laden at one time, while Khalid Shayk Mohammed is known to have trained with the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, we wish to pose these questions, among others, for our Government’s response: What is their mission here in Ghana? Does their presence not constitute or pose a clear danger to us? If indeed these two persons are harmless and if they have been “cleared” of any terrorist act by the US Government, as our Government and the US Government and some others want us to believe, why were they not sent back to Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where they come from or taken to the USA which found them harmless? Did our representatives in Parliament discuss the merits and demerits of their resettlement here in Ghana? We need urgent answers to these and other questions because we think that their presence clearly poses a threat to Ghana. Continue reading Press Statement By The Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference On Accepting Former Guantanamo Bay Prisoners In Ghana→