- Hundreds of women in northern Ghana are accused of witchcraft and condemned to a life of violence, harassment and isolation
PUBLISHED: 10:11 EST, 22 October 2012 | UPDATED: 10:26 EST, 22 October 2012
Living in squalor and sentenced to a life of shame and hard labour, these are the women who have been forced to live as outcasts amid accusations that they are witches.
Cut off from their communities and abandoned by their families, they are banished to spend the rest of their days in ‘witch camps’.
Hundreds of women in northern Ghana are accused of witchcraft and condemned to a life of extreme violence, harassment and isolation.
Tribal justice: Residents of the Gambaga camp for alleged witches at a community meeting
Heavy lifting: Most of the residents of the camp are elderly and find manual work difficult. Here, a resident helps her neighbour to lower a bucket of water brought from the communal tap
Many of the women in the camps have been accused of being witches by relatives or neighbours. Once an accusation is made they are banished from their villages and sometimes chased out by a violent mob.
Often young female relatives are sent with them to live in the camp as an ‘attendant’ and also live in the same appalling conditions, facing terrible discrimination.
In some cases, the fate of the women is determined not by the elders of their village, but by the dying contortions of a slaughtered chicken.
If the chicken falls with its head down and its feet in the air, the woman is declared a witch. If it falls feet down, her innocence is declared.
However, regardless of the outcome, once an accusation has been made a woman will be sent to the camp whether she’s ‘guilty’ or not, just in case some villagers do not believe her innocence.
A report compiled by international aid charity ActionAid documents cases of both elderly and young women abandoned by their families and trapped in the ‘witch camps’ until they die.
Hard life: The day begins at dawn for residents of the Gambaga camp for alleged witches, when they gather around a communal tap to draw water
Barren: A resident stands outside the sparse huts of the Kpatinga camp for alleged witches
The report, titled ‘Condemned without trial: women and witchcraft in Ghana’, describes six ‘witch’ camps’ in Northern Ghana, Gambaga, Kukuo, Gnani, Bonyase, Nabuli and Kpatinga.
Some camps came in to existence as long as 100 years ago and mostly consist of mud huts. Women in the camps have to walk many miles to collect water, food is in short supply health and education services are very limited.
ActionAid says the camps are effectively women’s prisons where the inmates have been given no trial, have no right of appeal, but have received a life sentence.
The report highlights the violence suffered by women accused of witchcraft.
‘These women are at the mercy of their accusers who destroy their lives and condemn them to a life of imprisonment’
A mother of three was murdered after being blamed for the death of a child through witchcraft. She was beaten unconscious before being set on fire.
Asana, 27, describes how she came to live in one of the camps. She was accused of being a witch by her ex-husband, who beat and poured melted plastic over her while she was pregnant.
Her new husband and family were unable to protect her and took her to a camp so she could hide there. She has not been able to leave.
Sano Kojo, 66, has lived in a camp for more than 30 years after she was accused of killing her cousin.
She said: ‘People don’t care about the alleged witches. Once you are here you are forgotten.’
Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, ActionAid Ghana Country Director, said: ‘Women accused of being witches find their lives have been snatched away from them. The violence and brutality many face is shocking. These women are at the mercy of their accusers who destroy their lives and condemn them to a life of imprisonment.’
Pounding dawa dawa: Meal preparation is time consuming, and food-related tasks occupy much of the day
Hard labour: Kpajo Gigire, 80, clears the fireplace in the morning at the camp for alleged witches
Superstitious: A young witch hunter is dressed in war attire and goes on his search for witches walking through alleys, dancing wildly standing on roofs hiding behind bushes and interviewing residents
Almost every woman accused of being a witch is poor and powerless. An ActionAid survey of the camps found more than 70 per cent of women were accused of being witches after their husbands died.
The survey also found one in three women in the camp was not earning money before they were accused of being a witch and were seen as an economic burden by their community.
However, the camps do provide sanctuary for women accused of being witches, as many in their communities believe the women cannot practice witchcraft once they are in a camp.
ActionAid calls on the government of Ghana to ensure the basic human rights of women in the camps are upheld with access to health and education services.
Action Aid also believes the international community and UK government must do all they can to address issues relating to the ‘witch’ camps’ and engage with the Ghanaian government to ensure women’s human rights are protected.