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30.11.2005 Regional News

Law needed to promote consensual union

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Accra, Nov. 30, GNA - An ongoing research by WILDAF Ghana, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO), has revealed that the absence of any legal legislation on consensual union often put women at a loss when it got to property inheritance.

Ms Bernice Sam, National Programme Coordinator, WILDAF Ghana, said a large number of people were in consensual unions due to either financial constraints or other reasons and the need for a legal backing should be given to protect the interests of both parties should there be a break in the relationship.

Ms Sam, who was addressing a press conference to make public some of the discoveries of the research, said scenarios during the study revealed how vulnerable women were, when it got to issues of inheritance, especially in cases of persons living with HIV/AIDS. She said the study was to create much public awareness on issues such as women's right to inheritance, right of children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS as well as to spark a wider debate on the need to advocate a law on consensual unions.

''The research is also to support the efforts of the Ghana Aids Commission in advocating for equal rights for PLWAIDS (People Living With AIDS)," she said.

Ms Sam said a number of issues that inhibited the physical as well as the socio-cultural and economic development of both women and children were uncovered during the pilot studies in the Greater Accra and the Western Regions.

She said until stringent measures were put in place to enforce existing laws and policies regarding the right of women and children, they would continue to be voiceless in their development areas. She said it was detected that while most families often kicked out women whose husbands had died of HIV/AIDS, others still practised wife grabbing, a culture where widows were forced to marry their husband's brother.

"This is a very serious cultural practice, which should be totally abolished, in the era of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other communicable disease such as hepatitis B and most women preferred to keep their HIV/AIDS statuses secret for fear of being thrown out of their home or facing stigmatisation," she said.

She called for public support for the findings of the research to ensure law reforms that recognised women's rights and roles in national development and also to provide legal backings for their welfare. Mr Paul Osei-Kufour, Research Officer of the Project, said there was a backlog of consensual union cases pending in the various law courts in the Western Region and because of the non-availability of a law to deal with such cases they were often treated as breech of promise. "There is the need to look at the economic implications of women of consensual unions and further examine its prevalence in order to design concrete policies to address it," he said "We need a more formal law to protect the interests of women, who are often the losers when their male partners fail to honour their promises of formal marriage," he said.

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