The debate over the disbanding of witches’ camps in Ghana and re-integrating the women there into their communities has been reignited following the gruesome killing of a 90-year-woman over accusations of being a witch.
In recent times, many groups and individuals, including women activists and human rights organisations, have described the practice, which dates several decades back, as dehumanising and unacceptable.
Yet, some of the inmates of the camps see them as safe havens, since, to them, returning to their communities where they were accused of being witches will sound the death knell for them.
Last year, the Nabuli Witches’ Camp in the Gushegu municipality in the Northern Region was closed down, while in 2014 the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, in collaboration with some women and children’s rights organisations, closed down the Boyanse Witches’ Camp in the Central Gonja District in the then Northern Region, now the Savannah Region.
In spite of the closure of some of the camps, the remaining continue to receive more women accused of witchcraft.
Checks by the Daily Graphic revealed that about 200 alleged witches, with their children and grandchildren, are currently in four witches’ camps in the Northern and the North East regions.
They are the Kpatinga Camp in the Gushegu municipality, the Gnani Camp in the Yendi municipality and the Kukuo Camp in the Nanumba South District, all in the Northern Region, and the Gambaga Camp, considered to be the oldest, in the East Mamprusi municipality in the North East Region.
Songtaba, a women and children’s rights organisation based in Tamale which has been championing the cause of the alleged witches in the camps, believes the time has come for the nation to take the bull by the horn and take a firm decision on the witches’ camps.
The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which has also been working to decommission witches’ camps in the country, has also expressed worry over the state’s inaction towards the plight of witches in those camps.
The commission, in collaboration with Action Aid, some churches and some other civil society organisations (CSOs), decommissioned the Nabuli Camp in the Gushegu District.
It was one of the six camps pencilled in for decommissioning by CHRAJ and its partners in the Northern Region.
Arrest and prosecute
The Senior Programmes Officer of Songtaba, Mr Mohammed Amidu Alhassan, told the Daily Graphic yesterday that it was untenable that in the 21st century those camps would continue to exist.
He said instances in which alleged perpetrators of such crimes had not been arrested and prosecuted had emboldened people to indulge in criminal acts that violated the rights and dignity of women.
He said as part of efforts to end the issue of witchcraft accusations and reintegrate inmates of the camps into their families, there was a Regional Re-integration Committee in place, with membership from CHRAJ, the clergy and CSOs, to help.
Speaking with the Daily Graphic yesterday, the Commissioner of CHRAJ, Mr Joseph Whittal, expressed disappointment that the state was not taking the lead in protecting the vulnerable in society and seeing to their well-being.
He said alleged witches bore the brunt of being totally vulnerable.
“It beats my imagination as to how the state and the police will look on while these women are abused,” he said.
Mr Whittal said the state had to bear the foremost responsibility, through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, to ensure that the rights of such vulnerable people were protected and also ensure their security.
He said when the Nabuli Witches’ Camp was being decommissioned, CHRAJ and its partners ensured that those stigmatised had a means of livelihood to regain some respect in the societies from where they had been banished and in which they lived.
Additionally, he said, the communities from where the witches were banished and the communities hosting them had to be sensitised by the Re-Integration Committee for them to accept those stigmatised as witches.
Mr Whittal challenged the police to rid themselves of the superstition that women were witches and see their protection as the uttermost responsibility of the police.
He urged the police to change their mindset and conduct proper investigations into the death of the 90-year-old woman for prosecution.
He indicted the regional security councils (REGSECs) and the district security councils (DICSECs) for their inaction in proposing solutions to the challenge.
The commissioner charged all to change their mindset towards those accused of witchcraft.
Source: General News