ACCRA, Ghana — The rape of a 13-year-old girl by a group of three young men from her own village was one of the first reported cases in 2013.
Outside of LEKMA hospital in Accra, near the coastal fishing village of Teshie, the grandmother of the young rape victim puts a handkerchief over her face to cover her tears.
“It hurts me. She’s just a child. Why would any man want to hurt a little girl?” Doris asks.
In this rape case, as in many others, there was no national media attention, nor did any politician speak out against the increasing amount of gender-based violence in Ghana.
An Accra-based doctor has taken up the cause and is trying to shame Ghanaian society into action.
Dr. Leticia Wiafe is the municipal health director at LEKMA hospital. Wiafe explains that Teshie is one of the poorest areas of the city, where fathers are at the sea fishing during the day, while mothers are out on the streets “hawking [selling]” household goods. This leaves many children vulnerable.
“We’ve already had this rape so far this year and last year we saw 30 others reported. This is a dramatic increase,” Wiafe says. “About two-thirds of rapes in this village still go unreported.”
According to Wiafe, this staggering statistic should be ringing alarm bells in Ghana. She started a public campaign to educate young women and children about their rights and to shame men from perpetrating these acts against defenceless youngsters.
“I’ve called on local police to act quickly and arrest men suspected of rape,” she says. “Police usually don’t want to get involved and give families the option of settling the dispute with the rapist, which is usually a neighbour or relative. So instead of laying charges and putting the rapist in jail, he’s allowed to apologize and goes unpunished.”
Wiafe’s awareness campaign was quickly supported by her male colleague, LEKMA hospital gynecologist, Dr. Promise Sefogah, who has been rehabilitating the 13-year-old rape victim and many other children like her from Teshie.
“I can’t believe someone could commit such a heinous act. It’s grotesque,” Sefogah says. “It takes many months for these girls to trust men again. It effects them psychologically for the rest of their lives.”
Last Valentine’s Day, Feb.14, 2013, an international campaign called “One Billion Rising” helped raise awareness about rape and sexual violence against women and children around the world. The one billion refers to the statistic citing one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.
In Ghana, no public event was planned on this date to give voice to the women and children of the west African nation. There were no protests, nor any statements from public officials. This outrages Wiafe.
“It saddens me that nobody in Ghana takes the issue of rape seriously,” Wiafe says. “We [in Ghana] need to stop rape and the culture of impunity.”
Back at LEKMA hospital in Teshie, Doris sits on a chair near the entrance unsure about the fate of the three young men who raped her 13-year-old granddaughter.
“What kind of world are we living in when children can’t go outside without fear of being raped or sexually abused,” Doris says. “I really hope they are punished for what they have done. The new government in Ghana must change the law to keep rapists in jail, where they belong.”
The radio documentary I produced on Dr. Wiafe’s story called Making Rape History aired on the Hotline Documentary series at Joy FM, Accra’s number one news radio station.