Ayikoi Otoo: Is betrothal an offence in Ghana?

This is a period for all sorts of people and organisations to make themselves relevant because what we are seeing now is that persons natural and artificial are issuing statements left and right daily with some societies and organisations coming out publicly for the first time concerning the issue of Betrothal.

Though I have decided that neither myself nor the GaDangme Association speak publicly about what happened in Nungua after those involved have directly decided to offer explanations, however, monitoring the airwaves, I am of the firm conviction that no part of the Children’s Act creates betrothal an offence by itself.

This is what the section provides:

Section 14 of the Children Act provides

14. Right to refuse betrothal and marriage

” (1) A person SHALL NOT FORCE A CHILD;

(a) to be BETROTHED”

In my view, the emphasis is on the words SHALL FORCE and not that the betrothal as a practice, is an offence.

Betrothal is widely practised amongst all tribes in Ghana and elsewhere, especially amongst royalty to ensure that offsprings are both from royal parents and eligible to ascend the throne when vacancies occur, thereby satisfying the condition of “hailing from the appropriate lineage”.

It became a problem amongst especially Muslim communities and in some communities in the Northern parts of Ghana which practice became harmful to the girl child because it affected their education and health forcing them to take on the burden of motherhood and adult life at an early age since for them once the child starts menstruating, it was time to be married off to the husbands to be notwithstanding

she is still in school. There were cases where the girls resisted, preferring to complete their education or marry younger men, but that led to their families seriously maltreating them and Forcing them to agree to the Betrothal.

I am not aware of any Consent required of a child before Betrothal. In our customs and traditions, we don’t discuss sex or marriage with children. The law came in to set age limitations to protect them, one that no one can have sex with a child under the age of 16 years or marry her if she is under the age of 18 years.

Looking at the background, if a child starts primary one at 6 years, she will complete primary school at 12 years and start JSS at 12 completing at 15 years. So, at least she is protected until she completes JSS.

Then, between 15 and 18, she would complete SSS. So, by the time she gets married, she has completed SSS.

Those who couldn’t wait saw betrothal as marriage because they didn’t care whether the girl child completed school or not. Remember that at age 16 she can give her consent for sex and can become pregnant at the time she has not completed SSS, thereby becoming a school dropout.

Why did the lawmakers allow her consent to have sex knowing she was not 18 and ready for marriage?

The prohibition, in my view, is therefore at least to get the girl child to complete JSS to prevent their education from being truncated.

On the other hand, a betrothal can take place with the parents and the husband-to-be, respecting the laws of the land and waiting till she is 18 and that makes the marriage perfectly legal. In any case, whether the girl child is betrothed or not the law does not permit sexual relations until 16 years. Betrothal takes place with young girls and can never qualify as marriage. At 16 years she can consent to have sex but she cannot be married because she is not 18 years.

Simply put, if the Legislature intended to proscribe betrothal, it would have used language such as:

“Betrothal is hereby proscribed” and go on to prescribe the punishment for it. Now our Constitution is the fundamental law of the land and provides in Article 19(11) thus:

“No person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it is prescribed in a written law.”

Thus until in accordance with the Constitution there is a section of the Children’s Act which defines Betrothal as an offence, I state emphatically that Betrothal is not an offence in Ghana. Can those making those arguments point to any such section of the Children’s Act or any other law criminalising Betrothal by itself? I will be glad to read that.

Thank you.

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