Thu, 19 Sep 2013 Social News

Forced witchcraft confessions: Woes of women

By Daily Graphic
Forced witchcraft confessions: Woes of women

Witchcraft, superstition or reality? It is gradually becoming a scourge and a business.

Efforts by the government and society to control and restrain the activities of some self-styled traditional priestesses who claim they can detect and exorcise the spirit of witchcraft from society have yielded little results.

The number of such priestesses is increasing by the minute and they are causing more harm than good. The priestesses sometimes force the suspected witches to drink concoctions in an aggressive bid to tap confessions from them.

In many cases, their victims rather have died than uttering any true confessions after taking such concoctions. The priestesses are also said to have been demanding a fine of GH¢400, a cow, a sheep and a carton of gin from every accused person.The practice of exorcism by these priestesses is nothing more than extortion.

The term 'witches' is being used in this article to generalise the belief and advance the argument because it is not common for a man to be accused of being a wizard, not because there are no men believed to be wizards.

Human rights violations
There is evidence of violations of the fundamental human rights of the accused persons. The accused is not supposed to take food or water; he or she is not allowed to either urinate or defecate and is made to stand for several hours or even till daybreak as a punishment for being a witch. Sometimes, the accused are always beaten for them to tell the truth.

One case which really struck me was the three men of Zorko who denied  being wizards and were made to drink cement to vindicate them and after drinking the cement, two of them passed on. It is worth mentioning the humiliation and shame the family members of the accused go through. Some accused are even ostracised from their families. Another observation is that more girls, apparently lured by the financial gains in the practice, are now abandoning school to enrol as apprentices in shrines belonging to such priestesses and set up their own shrines upon completion of apprenticeship.

The shrines have also become offices for young men who parade themselves as shrine guards reportedly not because there is anything to protect but because there is always free alcohol to drink in those shrines courtesy of accused persons. The embrace of this practice by a number of young people is worrying as it holds potential damage not only to the youth but to the national economy as well.

The 'tigari' is a business venture and people engage in it just to make money as such they try by hook and crook to convict the accused so as to charge him or her exorbitantly. The accused is also subjected to severe maltreatment so as to allude to the accusations levelled against him or her.

Human rights and gender activists have therefore called on the government, especially the Ministry of Women, Gender, Children  and Social Protection, development agencies, civil society organisations and human rights bodies, such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), to intervene and protect the rights of people who are unlawfully accused. The Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service also has a role to play.

Working in the north two years ago, I handled a witchcraft case in which a woman was accused of being the cause of a young lady's sickness; she was hauled to a shrine in Sirigu in the Kasena-Nankana District in the Upper East Region. This accused woman was taken through all forms of traditional rites to prove her innocence. A relative of hers happened to know me and we intervened for her to be released and we caused the arrest of the priest.

A headmistress of a community school, Mrs Bibiana Abilla, said in 2008, her school admitted some primary one pupils and later, it was realised that one of them had witchcraft. 'I also believe in witchcraft. I have nothing to test, but circumstances and science made me to believe. I'm a Christian and it's in the Bible; and once I believe the Bible, I believe that there is witchcraft. But I don't believe in the treatment that they give to them.'

Outcome of research
A research conducted shows that some teachers and headmistresses tend to abandon their classrooms and schools due to perceived toment they receive from schoolchildren linked to witchcraft and wizardry.

An advocacy group in the Upper East Region of Ghana believes the practice of exorcism by priestesses is nothing more than extortion.  The pressure group, Save Our Women Foundation, has urged the government to help restrain the activities of some self-styled traditional priestesses who claim they can detect and exorcise witches and wizards from society. The leader of the group, Eugene Savio Alagskoma, told this writer that his group was working hard to abolish the practice from the society.

By Joseph Osei
The writer is an investigative journalist.