For centuries most African countries including Ghana have struggled with the practice of witchcraft accusations.
Often elderly women risk banishment, physical abuse and sometimes lynched once they are accused of being a witch.
Ghana’s parliament last Friday passed a bill into law to protect such vulnerable people.
The new law makes witchcraft accusation and the abuse of victims a crime. It is also a crime to send such persons away from their communities.
In 2020 there was a huge public uproar when a 90-year-old woman was lynched in Ghana’s Savannah Region after some of her relations accused her of being a witch.
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A fetish priest had confirmed that the deceased, Akua Denteh was a witch.
A woman’s death sparks reform
In a disturbing video the old woman, who could be heard refuting allegations that she is a witch, was pushed down by a mob and beaten mercilessly.
The video captures some women, slapping, whipping and hitting the old woman’s head with a heavy item, with the community members cheering them on.
Both local and international rights groups condemned the incident and it sparked several steps to tackle the issue.
A court this month sentenced two women to 12 years imprisonment for their roles in the murder of a 90-year-old women.
The two women, Hajia Mohammed Serena and Latifa Bomaye were instrumental in the lynching of the elderly woman, Akua Denteh at Kafaba in the Savannah Region.
The two convicts were charged with attempted murder and murder. Seven others who were also arrested in connection with the incident were however acquitted.
A bill was sent to Ghana’s parliament as part of those efforts to address the old age practice which has left thousands banished and languishing in misery away from their communities and families.
Rights groups elated by bill passage
Two organisations, ActionAid Ghana and The Sanneh Institute who played a key role in advocacy for the ban on witchcraft accusations have expressed happiness about the new law.
“The passage of this vital bill demonstrates Ghana’s commitment to addressing a deeply rooted societal menace that has caused immense suffering and injustice to countless innocent lives,” a joint statement said.
The bill now awaits the signature of Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo to take effect.
ActionAid Ghana and The Sanneh Institute have urged the Ghanaian president not to delay in assenting to the passed bill into law.
“As we celebrate this significant achievement, we appeal to the President, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo to take steps to assent the passed bill into law. We also call on the government to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Criminal Offences Amendment Bill, 2022,” the statement highlighted.
But the two groups want sensitisation and the education of people on the harmful impact of the practice to be prioritised as well for major success.
“We believe that sensitisation campaigns, education, and awareness- raising programs are essential to challenge harmful cultural beliefs and practices that perpetuate witchcraft accusations. Moreover, it is imperative to strengthen social support systems and provide protection mechanisms for victims and survivors,” it said.