Ghana child bride in police protection after outcry

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Man placing a ring on a woman's finger - generic shotImage source, Getty Images

A 12-year-old girl has been placed under police protection in Ghana after it emerged she had been married to a 63-year-old traditional high priest.

There was public outrage after footage of Saturday’s customary wedding was shared on social media.

The office of the influential priest, who serves an indigenous community in the capital, defended the marriage, saying it was only ceremonial.

The legal minimum age to get married in Ghana is 18.

The prevalence of child marriage has declined in recent years, but it continues to happen.

Police say they have identified and tracked down the girl and she is now under their protection, along with her mother.

Contact had been made with the government’s children’s minister and the social welfare department to ensure the 12-year-old gets the necessary support while investigations continue, their statement added.

The story is huge news here – and the move by the police has elicited some praise, though others are questioning why there have been no arrests.

The priest in question, Nuumo Borketey Laweh Tsuru XXXIII, is a much-respected member of a community that lives in the Nungua area of the capital, Accra.

As a spiritual leader, the priest – known as a “Gborbu Wulomo” – performs sacrifices on behalf of the community, prays for their protection, enforces cultural practices and leads traditional rites during events such as the installation of traditional chiefs.

Videos and photos of the elaborate wedding show it was attended by dozens of community members and in the footage women are heard telling the girl to dress teasingly for her husband.

They also advise her to be prepared for wifely duties and to use the perfumes they gifted her to boost her sexual appeal to her husband.

Community leaders say such duties would not be expected for another six years, when she would be 18.

However, civil society groups continue to condemn the marriage.

“The perceived acceptance of child marriages and the open brazen approval or defence of the practice by influential leaders of the community have the potential to embolden certain deviant behaviours like paedophilia,” the Paediatric Association of Ghana has said in a statement.

According to the UN ‘s children’s agency (Unicef), the West African nation has two million unions in which the wife was a child bride at the time of the marriage.

More than nine out of 10 married girls are not attending school, it adds.

Another recent study showed one in five young Ghanaian women aged between 20 and 24 years were married before the age of 18.

The members of the community in Nungua are part of the Ga people, who live along the south-eastern coast of Ghana.

In Ga culture, the selection of chiefs, high priests and wives of the high priest is believed to be a spiritual process.

Specific families are responsible for nominating someone for these roles to serve the gods.

In this case, the 12-year-old comes from one of the families who by tradition must provide a bride for the high priest.

For the family, it is an honour – though in most cases the chosen candidates for these roles are adults.

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