Ghanaians debate online about the rights of a 16-year-old girl married to a 63-year-old traditional priest

Screenshot from YouTube video, '63yrs Oluman marries 12 years Kid in Ghana, People are Furious!’ by ONE GHANA TV. Fair use.

On Saturday, March 30, videos of the marriage ceremony between 16-year-old Naa Okromo and 63-year-old traditional priest Nuumo Borketey Laweh Tsuru XXXIII circulated on social media, sparking debates and outrage among Ghanaians. 

Many Ghanaians who voiced their concerns on social media expressed distress about this marriage, saying that it infringed on the rights of the young girl. One user on YouTube commented:

They say that marriage under 18yrs is prohibited. Then arrest those who are forcing this child into this marriage. Laws of the land  are higher than tradition. Although it is good to have tradition. You cannot break laws and say it's tradition. The government needs to stand firm and end this. The world is watching.

Another user added:

Am disgusted they are referring to the Bible as a reference for their barbaric act. How many other twelve year olds has he married during his tenure? This needs to be investigated and the culprits face the law.

The community's leaders, however, condemned the response, stating that the critics misunderstood their traditions, as reported by the BBC. While one local community leader, Nii Bortey Kofi Frankwa II, described the girl's role as the priest's wife as “purely tradition and custom,” the traditional priest clarified that the union was intended as a betrothal. He emphasized that the young girl would not be required to fulfill any marital obligations.

In response to the outcry, the Ghana Police Services issued a statement on their Facebook page on April 2, announcing that both the mother and the child had been placed under protection. The statement also mentioned that the police would collaborate with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Department of Social Welfare to ensure the child receives necessary support during ongoing investigations.

On the same day, April 2, the chieftaincy and religious affairs minister, Stephen Asamoah Boateng, clarified on Joy FM’s Top Story show that the new wife of the Ga priest, Naa Okromo, now addressed as Naa Yomo Ayemuede to the Gborbu Wulomo, was not 12 years old as earlier reported. Instead, she will be 16 years old in July 2024.

Nuumo Borketey Laweh Tsuru XXXIII is referred to as a “Gborbu Wulomo,” or a traditional high priest, in the Nungua Indigenous community in the capital, Accra. As the spiritual leader of his community, Gborbu Wulomo oversees cultural practices, leads traditional rites such as the installation of traditional chiefs, performs sacrifices on behalf of the community, and offers prayers for the community's protection.

According to Girls Not Brides, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year worldwide. A breakdown of this data reveals that 23 girls get married every minute, and a girl gets married every two seconds. In Ghana, nearly 1 in 5 girls is married before the age of 18

Despite its illegality, child marriage persists in Ghana. According to UNICEF, there has been a decline in child marriage rates in Ghana over the past three decades, although progress has not been uniform across regions. Northern Ghana continues to have the highest prevalence rate at 28 percent, followed by Upper East at 28 percent, Volta at 24 percent, Western at 23 percent, Upper West at 23 percent, Brong Ahafo and Ashanti at 17 percent.

As reported by the Ghana News Agency, some of the factors driving child marriage in Ghana include gender inequalities, teenage pregnancies, economic insecurity, ignorance, impunity, poor law enforcement and customary practices and traditional norms, such as in the case of the marriage of Naa Okromo. The lack of education is often a significant factor in girls marrying at such a young age. According to the UNFPA, 47 percent of girls with no education are married before 18, compared to only 15 percent of girls who have attended secondary school.

To combat this issue, in 2014, Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection established a child marriage unit which focuses on promoting and coordinating initiatives aimed at ending child marriage. Various non-governmental organisations, including Zakat and Sadaqa Trust Fund and the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana are also aiding in the fight against child marriage. 

While some Ghanaian social media users have commended the police for their quick response, others await the outcome of the investigations.

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