The Hidden Crime

The Man Who Sued Ghana’s Government to Help Domestic Abuse Survivors

When Ghana passed its domestic violence law in 2007, it promised to set up a fund to help pay for survivors’ medical bills and establish women’s shelters. But that never happened. So private lawyer Martin Kpebu took the government to court – and won.

Written by William Davies Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
In 2015, women in Ghana reported over 15,740 cases of domestic abuse. But many incidents are never reported. AP/Olivier Asselin

In March, the human rights division of Ghana’s high court ordered the government to establish a Domestic Violence Support Fund to help victims of domestic violence. The fund was the central pillar of a domestic violence law that was passed in 2007, but it was never set up and never funded.

Women’s rights advocates say it’s sorely needed. The Institute of Development Studies has found that 28 percent of Ghanaian women experienced domestic violence in 2015.

It has been almost a year since private lawyer Martin Kpebu went to court to force the government, then run by President John Mahama, to set up the fund. Now the recently elected government of Nana Akufo-Addo has until October to do so. The fund will contribute to the medical bills of domestic abuse survivors as well as the establishment of shelters that will allow women and children to escape abusive relationships.

Women & Girls spoke to Kpebu about his long battle to get help to women and children facing violence at home.

Women & Girls: How serious a problem is domestic violence in Ghana?

Martin Kpebu: It is a really serious problem. The statistics show in 2014 there were 17,655 cases of domestic violence, and in 2015 the number of cases was 15,749, but these are just the reported cases. In Ghana, we have cultural habits that inhibit reportage of such cases, so the number is actually far higher. In order to keep the marriage going, you may have to endure some cases of domestic violence. If a woman was to report all the acts of domestic violence [she suffers] to the police authorities and her husband gets prosecuted, that would be the end of the marriage.

Women & Girls: The Domestic Violence Law was passed in 2007, but what happened afterward?

Kpebu: The law was supposed to provide a number of reliefs to victims of domestic violence. First of all, there was to be free medical care for victims. Secondly, they wanted to build shelters for abused women, and number three, part of the funds would be used to train police officers to increase their capacity and efficiency [in dealing with domestic abuse]. These were the main aims of the law. But it turns out that, after the law was passed, not much attention was paid to the fund. So it just didn’t get implemented.

Women & Girls: When you took the government to court, what was the ruling? What did the judge find?

Kpebu: We started the case in July 2016, but the government never responded. The court declared [in April] that the government had failed to establish and operationalize the victims of domestic violence support fund. The court ordered the government to set up the funds to provide the free government care and the other objectives I spoke about. The court [ruled] that the order should be suspended for six months to enable the government to implement the audit. If the government fails to do so within six months, it will come back to court.

Women & Girls: Why is this cause so important to you?

Kpebu: Poverty is such a big problem in Ghana, so for a woman, and for children who depend on their parents, when they are affected by domestic violence, they are unable to report it. Because if you report your father for domestic violence, he may end up refusing to take care of you, [and] you’ll become an outcast. If you report your dad to the police and he gets sent to jail, who is going to take care of you? Women tend not to report because they want to save their marriages. We can’t hold these people accountable for their crimes, so that is why I thought I should take up this case.

Women & Girls: What do you think will change now for survivors of domestic violence in Ghana?

Kpebu: If the government puts up the funds and begins to disperse the funds to the victims and build the shelters, then we will be affording better protection to the population. Because when the victim reports the crime, the victim can go to the shelter; they don’t have to go back home. If the man decides to lock his house, a victim can go to a shelter. There is also compensation, so the victim will no longer be scared of going to get help. This fund is going to help increase accountability, people are going to be accountable for their offenses.

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

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