David Barnett — Daily Express Sept 9, 2016
Hundreds of women are living in poor conditions in the five camps in the north of the country after being accused of dabbling in the occult by superstitious neighbours and even their own families.
Now the British High Commissioner to Ghana, Jon Benjamin, is calling for the camps to be closed. He told a meeting in Ghana last month, “Personally, I believe in the 21st Century, it’s time to say there is no such thing as a witch and to decry the practice of using such a term to dehumanise vulnerable women.”
He added that the witch camps — each one holding around 800 women and up to 500 children — were “a form of human right abuse and must be kicked against by all and sundry so as to create a safe environment for development”.
One camp was closed down in 2014 with the help of a British charity, ActionAid, but there is resistance to closing the rest from both villagers who still fear the “witches” in their midst will harm them and the authorities who worry that women sent back to their communities will suffer violence or even death.
The camps are poorly-maintained ghettos with mud huts and little or no health or sanitation facilities on site. Some women have been there decades, including Sano Kojo, now 70, who has been living in a camp since 1981 when she was accused of witchcraft by allegedly pressing on her cousin’s chest until he died.
“People don’t care about alleged witches,” she says. “Once you are here you are forgotten.”
Another woman, Asana, was viciously beaten when five months pregnant by her ex-husband after he had a dream that she was a witch, and tracked her down to the home she had set up with her new husband.
ActionAid Ghana Country Director Sumaila Abdul-Rahmen said: “ActionAid Ghana has been campaigning and working with Ghana’s Gender Ministry and authorities for the closure of the remaining five camps and the reintegration of more than 400 accused women back into their respective communities.
“Since 2010, we have reintegrated more than 254 women into their communities and we are working hard with communities against sending more women to the camps. The belief in witchcraft is deeply rooted in traditional cosmology. It requires sensitisation and education to discourage accusations.”
Mr Benjamin, stressing that his views are personal ones and not official Government policy, said, “The point is that there are no such things as witches. Some people maintain that the women in these camps are at least in a safe space and not mistreated there as they might be in their home villages, and they may have a point.
“But if people weren’t arbitrarily labelled witches and discriminated against, occasionally violently, on that basis in the first place, then you wouldn’t need the camps at all.”