The cultural practice of abducting girls for marriage is having a severe impact on female education amongst communities in Jirapa.
The abductions have contributed to a 20-50% drop out rate of girls at the basic level of their schooling.
It is believed that approximately 50 girls are taken for marriage every year in the Jirapa and Lambussie-Karni districts of the Upper West Region.
The practice, apart from denying girls their right to education, is illegal because it breaches the laws of Ghana which set the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. When they are abducted the girls are also subjected to rape.
The Chief of Gbare, Gbare Naa stated: “It is frequent in communities and must be stopped. This obnoxious practice is known to be a violation of the rights of girls but there has been no challenge to the practice because it is seen as an attack on the culture of the people.”
The abductions are an age old tradition that see young girls between the ages of 15 and 17 kidnapped for marriage without the consent of her or her parents. Unfortunately this practice is widespread in communities around Jirapa.
In 2009 ActionAid Ghana in Collaboration with Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unity (DOVVSU) informed twenty communities about the concept of Community Based Anti-Violence Teams (COMBAT) with communities selecting seven members as representatives to be trained.
Officials from ActionAid Ghana (AAG), DOVVSU, Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Department of Social Welfare then trained the COMBAT teams, who are being referred to by community members in their local language as “women protectors or women police”.
The COMBAT teams monitor and respond to various forms of abuse by informing community members about state laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, Children’s Act and the Intestate Succession Law.
It is this knowledge of state laws by COMBAT and community members that sparked a war against abduction in Gbare and Vinving communities, where it is no longer acceptable.
Sixteen year old Amanda Dorsah is one example of a girl who was kidnapped. Speaking about her ordeal she said:
“It has never been my desire to get married at an early age. The young man in Sawale village took advantage of this practice of abduction and forced me into marriage. I was kidnapped by some young men he allegedly hired while I was carrying firewood home. When I was sent to Sawale village they provided me with food and water and sent a word to my parents about my whereabouts but they, my parents, did not make any follow up. I stayed there and became more confused but had no immediate plans to go back home until COMBAT members came to my rescue me. Now that I have been rescued without any pregnancy I want all to support me to be in school so that I don’t drop out again. I am now in Junior High school (JHS) form one and my expectation is that I would complete school and be a teacher in the future”.
Felicia Sorri, aged 16, was also in danger of being abducted. She stated:
“Because there is no JHS in my community I have to attend a JHS in a nearby community. One day a young man approached me to talk about marriage but I told him I was not interested in that line of conversation. He responded by saying ‘we shall see’. As I was preparing to go to school the next day I was informed that some young men had laid an ambush for me on the way to my school so I reported the matter to COMBAT who went to the community of Janvur to warn the young man about his action. I am not interested in marriage because I want to complete school and be a trained nurse”.
Twelve other communities are now pushing for the formation of COMBAT in their communities to fight against incidences of abduction among girls.
DOVVSU officials are ready to support ActionAid and the COMBAT to completely eradicate the practice of abduction and other harmful cultural practices in Jirapa that infringe the rights of women and girls, and to create a safe environment for females to enjoy their rights in society.
AAG plans support communities to fight violence by helping with the formation of more COMBAT groups in more communities and by further engaging with the Regional House of Chiefs, discussing cultural practices like abductions which are illegal, and soliciting their commitment to abolish all negative cultural practices.