Last week, Erastus, our news editor at Kapital Radio, asked us to cover a story he fine-tuned to our proficiencies. He wanted a piece on the prevalence of domestic abuse in Kumasi, with a focus on women and children’s rights. We set off with great enthusiasm to investigate the topic and set up interviews at the Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit (DVVSU) and the Department of Social Welfare. The angle of the story seemed obvious: domestic violence is internationally-recognized as a blatant violation of human rights; abusers should be prosecuted and abuse victims should be helped. All we would have to do is get our hands on some statistics and report on whether cases of domestic violence have increased or decreased. After speaking with George Appiah-Sakyi, Assistant Sub-tenant of the Kumasi Metropolitan Police and Jacob Achulo the director of the Social Welfare Dept., we were happy to discover that there has been an overall decrease of 5.1% in the number of reported domestic abuse cases from 2009 to 2010. This primarily includes defilement, neglect of parental responsibility, rape, and unlawful assault. Of the 38 cases taken to court this year, 10 were convicted. However, we also discovered that there are a number of complex social, structural and economic constraints affecting the efficacy of both DVVSU and the Dept. of Social Welfare’s work.
Ghana’s Constitution guarantees the rights of women and children. Although gender equality is advocated in Ghana, it remains a patriarchal society for the most part. Many African countries practiced, and some continue to practice, polygamy- men being able to take as many wives as they want, while acting as the primary breadwinner. This traditional ideal of male-dominance places women in dependent, subservient roles and can end up in situations of domestic abuse. “Men were thinking they have the right to order women and children around, until the abuses became too much. It was a community decision to advocate for women and children’s rights,” says Appiah-Sakyi. As a state, Ghana has committed itself to protecting these rights by signing on to various human rights doctrines, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Domestic Violence Act and the Children’s Act; however, weaknesses in the social welfare system hinder support for women and children abuse victims. A majority of domestic abuse cases are reported by women, but due to the traditional custom of keeping family and relationship affairs private, many of the cases are withdrawn or not reported at all. It is considered an embarrassment to have someone outside the family circle butting in on one’s domestic and marital issues. It is also very shameful for a woman to admit to a failed relationship. Divorce is an anomaly and reconciliation is considered the ideal solution, keeping some women and their children stuck in abusive environments. As Achulo reveals, the Social Welfare Department’s interest is not in prosecution first. They prefer to use the “alternative dispute resolution approach”: finding a senior family member to act as a mediator in the dispute, interviewing the parties involved and listening to both sides of the story, as well as a series of follow-up surveillance visits to ensure improvements in the relationship are being made and assuring the social welfare of any children that may be involved. However, due to a combination of lack of funding, resources, effective methods for statistical analysis, and budgetary constraints, the Social Welfare Department is unable to provide adequate follow-up and victim support as well as far-reaching educational programs and campaigns.
Appiah-Sakyi emphasizes the obligation of community members in reporting cases of domestic abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice. “The success of policing is not about the number of cases reported and handled, but our ability to maintain law and order. Human behavior is unpredictable and accounts for variations in crime. We continue to educate the general public about the importance of desisting from domestic violence because of its devastating nature- it undermines one’s self-esteem, it brings about broken hearts, broken homes and stress. We urge the general public to be mindful of human right provisions in the 1992 Constitution and also [to] abide by the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Offenses Act and the Children’s Act.” I couldn’t have summed it up better myself.