Ghanaian News

Alleged 12-year-old marriage at Nungua: A-G orders investigation

The Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice has directed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service to conduct an investigation into the alleged marriage of a 12-year-old girl to Gborbu Wulomo of Nungua, Nuumo Borketey Laweh Tsuru XXXIII.

The investigation is to enable the A-G’s Office to take further action on the matter which took place last Saturday. A letter signed and issued by a Deputy Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Diana Asonaba Dapaah, on behalf of the sector minister, Godfred Yeboah Dame, said if proven, the allegations of the child being betrothed, subjected to dowry transaction or married, constituted a criminal offence in line with sections 14 and 15 of the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560).

“The allegations, if proven, constitute a criminal offence for which all persons involved must face prosecution,” the A-G’s Office stated.

Police action
The police service has moved in swiftly to safeguard the child, identified as Naa Okromo, who has now taken on the traditional name, Naa Yoomo Ayemoede, and her mother. In a statement yesterday, the police said they had placed the girl and her mother under police protection.

The police said they were also collaborating with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, as well as the Department of Social Welfare to support the girl. The move aims to ensure their safety and provide the necessary support amid ongoing investigations into the alleged marriage.

The disturbing incident has sparked nationwide outrage, prompting authorities to address the issue with urgency and sensitivity. Concerns have also been raised regarding the welfare of the girl and the potential violations of child rights and protection laws.

The A-G’s Office quoted sections 14 and 15 of Act 560 which provide that a person shall not force a child to be betrothed, subject of a dowry transaction, or to be married.
Under the provision, the minimum age of marriage of whatever kind is 18 years.

Again, a person who contravenes a provision of sections 2 to 14 of Act 560 commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding GH¢3,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both the fine and the imprisonment.

“We would appreciate it if you could cause your outfit to conduct the necessary investigation of the alleged child marriage to enable our Office to do the needful,” the A-G wrote.

Growing concerns
The directive by the A-G’s Office encapsulates the concerns and recommendations of a growing number of organisations and individuals that have expressed shock and abhorrence about the incident.

They include the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), made up of 179 organisations and over 300 individual members; the Paediatric Society of Ghana, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA- Ghana), the Ark Foundation, Ghana, Child Rights International, the GaDangme Lawyers, the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, the GaDangme Traditional Council; Amnesty International Ghana, and the Sempe Mantse, Nii Adote Otintor II.

Illegal cultural practices
The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) said cultural practices that were illegal and unconstitutional had no place in the country’s democracy. A statement issued yesterday and signed by its chairperson, Kathleen Addy, pointed out that while the Nungua Traditional Council contended that the union was voluntary, it was unclear how a pre-pubescent, pre-teen minor could consent to such an arrangement.

“The 1992 Constitution of Ghana recognises and even encourages Ghana’s many ethnic groups to practise and extol their culture.

“However, the commission calls on the Nungua Traditional Council to note that the same 1992 Constitution, in Article 39 also states that “……traditional practices which are injurious to the health and well-being of the person are abolished,” it said.

The statement said over a century, Ghana’s courts had held that traditional practices that were contrary to “natural justice, equity and good conscience” were outlawed.

The commission therefore urges the Nungua Traditional Council to review its traditional practices to bring them in line with the laws and the 1992 Constitution of Ghana and to refrain from actions that may have a negative impact on the youth of Nungua.

The statement also called for the intervention of the National and Regional Houses of Chiefs, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection as well as the Department of Social Welfare to ensure that the best interests of the child were protected and child marriages were removed from customary practices.

Child’s human rights
NETRIGHT, which wrote an open letter to the GaDangme Traditional Council, said the act was a violation of the fundamental human rights of the child involved; her right to life, dignity, respect, leisure, liberty, health, education and shelter.

It said as a country governed by both national and international laws which supersede any tradition and custom, it is disturbing to observe the impunity with which these laws have been taken for granted and disregarded in this instance.

NETRIGHT also cited some international conventions that the country had ratified to protect women and girls against violence. “The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW)(1993) Article (4) indicates that member states should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination,” the letter signed by its Convenor, Professor Akosua K. Darkwah, said.

NETRIGHT called on the council to intervene immediately in the blatant disregard of the laws of the land and act decisively towards protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls in their communities and making communities a safe place for them.

Be good examples
In an interview with the Daily Graphic, the Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, Ghana, Dr Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, said “the betrothal issue is illegal under the law whether we call it a marriage or betrothal”.

“We also believe that our leaders, whether in a public, religious or traditional space should be an example of lawful behaviour in our country,” she added. Dr Dwamena-Aboagye expressed the foundation’s disappointment in the delayed response from state institution to address the issue before it was dragged into the public space.

She explained that the matter actually became known few days before the marriage and said the police should have acted immediately to address the matter.

“The police would have withdrawn the girl and gone after the elders of the community, not to arrest them but educate them. However, if they prove recalcitrant, they then enforce the law,” the Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, Ghana posited.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for Madina, Francis-Xavier Sosu, has petitioned the CID to arrest, investigate and prosecute Gborbu Wulomo for marrying the child.

In a petition to the Director-General of the CID yesterday the MP and human rights lawyer argued that the marriage violated both local and international laws on child care and protection.

Mr Sosu described the action as “illegal, null and void” citing, Ghana’s laws and international conventions the country has ratified.

Prosecute them
FIDA-Ghana called for the prosecution of all persons involved in the ceremony at Nungua in Accra last Saturday between a 63-year-old traditional priest and a 12-year-old child.

A press statement signed by the Vice-President of FIDA-Ghana, Francisca Tete-Mensah, condemned the customary marriage practice, describing it as “unlawful”.
Joining calls for the police to work with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Department of Social Welfare, to bring the perpetrators of the child marriage to book, the federation of women lawyers indicated its readiness to provide legal support to ensure that justice was served.

“FIDA-Ghana, therefore, calls for a close look into the endorsement of child marriage in the Nungua Wulomo customary marriage, as part of the necessary rites and procedures, which need to be undertaken, in order to uphold and respect the traditions of their community,” the statement added.

Psychological problems
The Ghana Psychological Association (GPA), which expressed deep concern about the incident, said a developing child needed love, warmth and acceptance to grow well. “Any other thing will result in major developmental deficits and psychological problems which will impact negatively their adult life,” it said in a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Dr Isaac Newman Arthur.

The GPA said child marriage was a severe form of child abuse that could lead to long-lasting psychological trauma, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and low self-esteem.

It also robbed children of their childhood, disrupted their education and exposed them to the risk of early pregnancy and sexual abuse. The Psychological Association, therefore, commended the Ghana Police Service for the swift action in locating the girl and placing her and her mother under police protection, and encouraged the police and other regulatory bodies to take further legal action against the perpetrators.

Pressure group, OccupyGhana, said child marriage was archaic, illegal and abhorrent, saying aside from being illegal in Ghana it was a terrible and distasteful practice. “Throughout history, every society has had to let go of or sometimes even frankly ban practices, traditions and customs that are or have become indefensible, unfair, barbaric, ossified, even indecent; practices and customs that infringe on the human rights of members of the society,” it said in a statement issued in Accra yesterday.

OccupyGhana cited Gborbu Wulomo’s alleged marriage to the 12-year-old as an example of people in society who refuse to change, who adamantly want to practise and even perpetuate archaic and indefensible customs and traditions.

Quoting the legal provision that proscribe the practice, OccupyGhana said a child did not have capacity to enter into any contract with anyone and, therefore, no child was capable of consenting to a marriage.

While acknowledging the statement from the police that they have identified the girl and are investigating the matter, OccupyGhana called on the Attorney-General to arrest and prosecute without fear or favour, the direct perpetrators and all whose conspiracy and abetment had facilitated the offence.

“We call on the Gender, Children and Social Protection, and the Chieftaincy ministries to do a better job and root out this tasteless practice,” it said, adding that children were the future and protecting them should be a paramount aim of the whole society.

Gborbu Wulomo-Shitse explains
Meanwhile, the office of the Gborbu Wulomo-Shitse has defended the marriage ceremony between the 63-year-old overlord of the GaDangme State and the child, saying it purely bordered on customary relations and not sexual.

At a press conference in Nungua in reaction to the public backlash following a video of the marriage between the girl, identified as Naa Okromo, who has now taken on the traditional name Naa Yoomo Ayemoede, the office explained that the girl would not be expected to fulfil conjugal duties.

Although initial reports indicated that the girl at the centre of the purported marriage was 12 years, a spokesperson for the office of the Gborbu Wulomo-Shitse, Nii Bortey Kofi Frankwah, said the girl was 16 years.

Addressing what he described as misconceptions regarding purported marriage rites involving Naa Okromo, he said the marriage ceremony was a crucial part of the traditions of the people of Nungua.

He said the ceremony was the customary and traditional rites that were performed for Naa Okromo to assume her official role fully as Naa Yoomo Ayemoede, one of the four religious wives of the Gborbu deity.

That role, Nii Bortey Frankwah explained, could only be performed by a virgin and that Naa Okromo whose conception and birth explained her special selection had been groomed for the role, which she had been performing for the past six years.

He said Naa Okromo’s selection for the role was prophesied before her birth and marked by divine interventions, underscoring her unique status. The spokesperson said being one of the wives of the Gborbu deity was a revered role within the community. The wives play various roles in traditional and religious ceremonies, including the cleaning and ablution of the Gborbu Temple during the Kplejoo Homowo festival.

Contrary to widespread belief, Nii Bortey Frankwah said the role of the young girl would not involve marital relationships; rather, it encompassed unique responsibilities deeply rooted in tradition.

He said the Gborbu deity, a cornerstone of Nungua’s heritage, had four traditional and religious wives, namely Naa Ashiele, Naa Ohemaa, Naa Bosuafi with Naa Yoomo Ayemoede assuming distinct duties, including aiding the Gborbu Priest in special rites, feeding deities at cardinal points and overseeing the cleanliness and ablution of the Gborbu Temple during festivals.

Regarding last Saturday’s marriage ceremony, he clarified that the items presented were not items for marriage rites but rather they were to aid Naa Yoomo Ayemoede to carry out her traditional obligations. He said spiritual consultations were undertaken to fill the position which had been vacant for the past 300 years, with individuals selected from specific homes within the community.

Naa Yoomo Ayemoede’s preservation of virginity until assuming the role further highlighted her significance within Nungua’s religious landscape, Nii Bortey Frankwah. The spokesperson of the Office of the Gborbu Wulomo-Shitse said the young girl attended one of the best private schools in the Nungua Community but she was not allowed to live a normal life of a child.

“She does not have friends, she is chauffeured to school and has elderly women who guide her. She is a royal and must live as such,” Nii Bortey Frankwah explained.

The Administrator of the office of the Gborbu Wulomo-Shitse, Rev. D. N. Gyasi Ankrah, debunked the misconceptions and exaggerations relating to the recent event which had led to disaffection.

He reaffirmed the commitment of the office to uphold the Constitution while defending the community’s traditions.

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