LGBT rights in Ghana

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StatusIllegal since 1860s (as Gold Coast)[1]
Penalty3 years imprisonment if consensual
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex unions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Ghana face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Ghana.

LGBT rights in Ghana are heavily suppressed. Physical and violent homophobic attacks against LGBT people are common, often encouraged by the media and religious and political leaders. Reports of young gay people being kicked out of their homes are also common. Despite the Constitution guaranteeing a right to freedom of speech, of expression and of assembly to Ghanaian citizens, these fundamental rights are actively denied to LGBT people.[2]

Homosexuality used to be accepted and commonplace in Ghana prior to the arrival of the European colonisers and Christianity.[3] In the 1860s, the British Empire established the colony of the Gold Coast in modern-day Ghana and enacted laws punishing homosexuality. These laws were kept following Ghana's independence in 1957.[4] Nowadays, LGBT Ghanaians face widespread discrimination, harassment, violence, family rejections and public antipathy. There are also reports of torture programmes designed at "curing" homosexuality.[5] Opponents of decriminalising homosexuality cite Ghanaian "culture and values" as a reason why homosexuality is unacceptable or should not be legalised. However, similarly to many African nations, homophobia and intolerance of LGBT people were brought to Ghana through colonial laws. Homosexuality was widely accepted or not viewed any differently to heterosexuality prior to colonisation.[3]


There is historical evidence of homosexuality in Ghana. In the 18th and 19th century Asante courts, male slaves served as concubines. They dressed like women and were killed when their master died. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, eunuchs (akho'si) were known as royal wives and played an important part at court.[4]

The Nzema people had a tradition of adult men marrying each other, usually with a 10-year age difference.[3] These marriage were called agyale, "friendship marriages". Lesbian marriages also occurred, though more rarely. The couple would obverse all the social equivalents of a heterosexual marriage, a bride price was paid and a traditional wedding ceremony was held.[6]

The Fante people also accepted homosexuality, and would believe that those, of either sex, with "heavy souls" were attracted to women, whereas those with "light souls" were attracted to men.[7]

Homosexuality in Ghana was criminalised in the 1860s.[8]

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity is illegal.

Chapter 6 of the Criminal Code, 1960, as amended by the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, 2003, provides:

  • Section 104. Unnatural Carnal Knowledge.

(1) Whoever has unnatural carnal knowledge —

(a) of any person of the age of sixteen years or over without his consent shall be guilty of a first degree felony and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty-five years; or

(b) of any person of sixteen years or over with his consent is guilty of a misdemeanour; or

(c) of any animal is guilty of a misdemeanour.

(2) Unnatural carnal knowledge is sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.[9]

Under Section 99, "unnatural carnal knowledge shall be deemed complete upon proof of the least degree of penetration".[10]

According to Section 296 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which applies because of Section 1 of the Criminal Code, a misdemeanour is punishable by imprisonment for not more than three years.[10]

Whilst the law may not be actively enforced, reports suggest that instances of persecution are widespread and common.[11]

Application to women[edit]

In 2017, a well-known lawyer, John Ndebugri challenged views on the illegality of lesbianism under Ghanaian law. According to him, lesbianism, which is also homosexuality, does not involve penetration with a penis and therefore cannot be described as sexual intercourse or unnatural, based on section 104 of the Criminal Code.[12] He added: "females don't have [sic] penis. They cannot penetrate," in a story published by MyJoyOnline.[12]

Application to heterosexuals[edit]

The law also applies to straight people who have anal or oral sex.[13] Though the state "does not concern itself with this" because it is their private life, causing allegations of hypocrisy.

Recognition of same-sex unions[edit]

Ghana does not recognise same-sex marriage or same-sex civil unions.

Adoption and parenting[edit]

A single person may apply to adopt a child if that person is a citizen of Ghana, except that a single male may adopt only if the child to be adopted is his biological child. Same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt children.[14]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Section 12(2) of Chapter 5 of the Constitution of Ghana provides that, "Every person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual contained in this Chapter but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest."[15]

Although there is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, any person in Ghana who believes he/she has experienced discrimination on the basis of HIV status, gender identity or sexual orientation may report an incident through the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) stigma and discrimination reporting portal.[16]

In 2013, the United States offered to help Ghana develop legislation to protect the rights of LGBT persons.[17]

Living conditions[edit]

According to a 19 August 2004 Afrol News report, Prince MacDonald‚ the leader of the organisation for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals in Ghana, commented that "there are lots and lots of people in our prison home who have been caught by this unfriendly law". He said that the "police beat and punish people who are found to be gays".[18]

On 1 September 2006, the BBC reported that the Ghanaian Government had banned an LGBT rights conference that was alleged to be taking place on 4 September at the Accra International Conference Centre and at a venue in the city of Koforidua.[19] Minister of Information and National Origin Kwamena Bartels said, "The government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality[,] and heritage of the entire people of Ghana. Supporting such a conference, or even allowing it, will encourage that tendency which the law forbids. Government would like to make it absolutely clear that it shall not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism[,] and bestiality are therefore offences under the laws in Ghana." The conference eventually appeared to be a hoax.[20]

On 21 July 2011, Paul Evans Aidoo, the Western Region Minister, ordered all gay people in the west of the country to be rounded up and arrested and called on landlords and tenants to inform on people they suspected of being gay.[21]

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2011, then President John Atta Mills pledged to never initiate or support any attempt to legalize homosexuality in Ghana. This was in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron's comment that the United Kingdom would consider cutting off aid to any country that failed to recognize gay rights. Mills said that Cameron "does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those that exist" in Britain.[22]

In February 2012, President Mills reiterated the Ghana Government's stance on LGBT rights, stating that,

We have made our positions well known. Ghanaian societies frown on homosexuality ... if the people's interest is that we do not legalize homosexuality, I don't see how any responsible leader will decide to go against the wishes of his people. I heard what the secretary general said and I wasn't surprised because of where he is coming from, but we only listened to him. We have all made our positions well known. Nobody can say in Ghana we discriminate against homosexuality, there is no witch-hunting on homosexuality ... that is their own problem so we only listen and move on. The secretary general has made his views known and we have also made our views known so the value is the same.[23]

Violent mob attacks directed against LGBT people are common in Ghana. In 2012, a birthday party was violently interrupted by a mob, who claimed the party was a same-sex wedding. The police refused to arrest the attackers, and arrested some of the victims. In 2013, a gay man was subject to a manhunt, after Muslim officials threatened to burn or bury him alive because he was gay. In 2015, a group of lesbian women were "shit-bombed" and "pelted with stones" because they were gay.[2]

In a rare incident in April 2017, police in Accra arrested two men who had blackmailed, extorted and abused a gay man, and who had threatened to post nude pictures of him. The police arrested the men and cooperated with the victim in finding them.[24] Erasing 76 Crimes, an LGBT website, labeled the arrest a "rare exception" as police seldom intervene to protect LGBT people from violence, discrimination and abuse.

Reports emerged in August 2018 of programmes run by religious leaders where LGBT people are tortured as a means to "cure" their homosexuality. Called conversion therapy, this "treatment" enjoys no medical or scientific support. Indeed, this pseudoscientific practice leads to depression, anxiety and suicide.[5]

Human rights reports[edit]

The U.S. Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report found that,

LGBT persons faced widespread discrimination [in 2010], as well as police harassment and extortion attempts. Gay men in prison were often subjected to sexual and other physical abuse. In June 2010[,] more than 1,000 protesters in Takoradi, Western Region, participated in a peaceful rally against reports of gay and lesbian activities in their city. This was reportedly the first such protest in the country. In May 2010[,] an HIV/AIDS training workshop was held in Takoradi for health- care workers. After the workshop, The Daily Graphic announced that 8,000 gay persons had been "registered" in the Western and Central Regions. However, experts in the field denied that there had been any such "registration". After the workshop[,] there was significant negative reporting in the media about homosexuality. In a June 2010 interview with The Daily Graphic, the Western Region minister called on the government to take steps to combat homosexuality. He included the possibility of police raids on locales frequented by gay men and lesbians, efforts by community leaders to "wean young people" away from homosexuality, and a public condemnation by the government. However, no arrests of persons were made in connection with his comments by year's end, and he did not repeat his call. It was reported that four men who worked within the community of gay men were arrested in May 2010 in connection with an alleged sexual assault and were later charged with sodomy. The case was first brought to the Takoradi Circuit Court on August 24; however, it had not been heard by year's end.[25]

The U.S. Department of State's 2012 Human Rights Report found that,

LGBT persons faced widespread discrimination, as well as police harassment and extortion attempts. Gay men in prison were often subjected to sexual and other physical abuse. In March a gang of men assaulted nine people they believed to be LGBT individuals in Jamestown, a neighborhood of Accra, forcing them from their homes and attacking them with canes and sticks. The victims filed a complaint with a legal human rights organization. They said their homes were burgled while they were chased out. No arrests had been made in the case by year's end. In May a peer educator employed by an NGO to instruct sexual health education workshops was assaulted by a group of boys at a school in the Volta Region. The assault occurred after they discovered he was carrying safe-sex presentation materials such as condoms, wooden sex organ replicas, lubricant, and pamphlets. The peer educator was detained by police but later released. The boys were not charged.[26]

United Nations recommendations[edit]

The United Nations Human Rights Committee in October 2012 completed a Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Ghana. The following recommendations were made to Ghana (the countries that initiated the recommendation are listed in brackets):[27]

  • Decriminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults (France, Slovenia and the Czech Republic)[27]
  • Promote tolerance about same-sex relations (Czech Republic)[27] and combat homophobia (Slovenia and Belgium)[27]
  • Combat violence, stigmatization, and discrimination towards persons based on their sexual orientation (Portugal)[27]
  • Eliminate the crime of "unnatural sexual relations" and adopt measures to eradicate discrimination motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity (Spain)[27]
  • Ensure that the constitutional guarantee of equality and dignity are applied to LGBT persons. Ensure thorough and impartial investigation into all allegations of attacks and threats against individuals targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (Norway)[27]
  • Consider which recommendations of the High Commissioner on sexual orientation and gender identity can be taken into account in the further detailing of government policies (Netherlands)[27]
  • Train police, first responders, the justice system, and social services officials to respect and fully protect the human rights of LGBT persons (United States)[27]

Ghana rejected all of these recommendations.[27]

Comments by elected officials[edit]

While serving as president of Ghana, the late John Evans Atta Mills vowed in 2011 not to legalise homosexuality despite UK Prime Minister David Cameron's threat to cut aid to Ghana because of its record on human rights for its gay population.[28] In February 2017, Speaker of the Parliament Aaron Mike Oquaye called for amending the laws of Ghana to ban homosexuality entirely.[29]

In November 2017, President Nana Akufo-Addo suggested that the legalisation of homosexuality in Ghana is inevitable and said he can foresee a change in the law.[30] Akufo-Addo, who grew up in England, said that LGBT rights will evolve in Ghana as they have in the United Kingdom, but affirmed that LGBT rights were not part of the government agenda at the moment. In response, LGBT activists announced they would hold a peaceful march in Accra in December.[31]

In August 2018, President Akufo-Addo stated that the Government of Ghana would not legalise same-sex marriage or decriminalise homosexuality.[32][33]


LGBT activism started in Ghana in the year 1998 by a young man named Cobbina MacDarling who uses the pseudonym Prince Kweku MacDonald. Prince works with the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana (GALAG) which was later transformed into a human rights organization known as the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights Ghana (CEPEHRG). In recent years, there have been several LGBT groups growing from the grassroots which have come together to form a bigger movement under the name Coalition Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in Ghana. These groups operate underground. There are a few LGBT groups in Ghana, most of whom operate secretly online. One such group is FOTHA (Friends of the Heart Alliance). Members of the group operate through the dark web. To be seen supporting the views and interest of gays, lesbians and bisexuals can easily result in the attack or probable lynching of its members.

Public opinion[edit]

According to a 2017 poll carried out by ILGA, 60% of Ghanaians agreed that gay, lesbian and bisexual people should enjoy the same rights as straight people, while 30% disagreed. Additionally, 59% agreed that they should be protected from workplace discrimination. 51% of Ghanaians, however, said that people who are in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals, while 34% disagreed. As for transgender people, 64% agreed that they should have the same rights, 62% believed they should be protected from employment discrimination and 55% believed they should be allowed to change their legal gender.[34]

Additionally, according to that same poll, a third of Ghanaians would try to "change" a neighbour's sexual orientation if they discovered he/she was gay.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: up to 3 years imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Where is it illegal to be gay?
  2. ^ a b Human Rights Violations Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People in Ghana: A Shadow Report
  3. ^ a b c "The idea that African homosexuality was a colonial import is a myth". The Guardian. 8 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Encyclopedia of Africa, Volume 2 OUP, USA, 2010
  5. ^ a b 400 people to be tortured for being gay at a 'therapy conference' in Ghana
  6. ^ Boy-Wives and Female Husbands
  7. ^ Amara Das Wilhelm, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex. Xlibris Corporation, 21 May 2004
  8. ^ "Where is it illegal to be gay?". BBC News. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. ^ Acts of Ghana, First Republic, Criminal Code, 1960 (ACT 29); "Ghana Country Survey", International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Archived 24 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b "Ghana LGBTI Legal Resources", Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid
  11. ^ Human Dignity Trust – Ghana Report
  12. ^ a b Boateng, Michael Ofori Amanfo. "There is no law on homosexuality; Prez Mahama is not the law- Ndebugri". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  13. ^ Rights of LGBT in Ghana
  14. ^ Intercountry Adoption: Ghana, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, October 2010 Archived 26 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana
  16. ^ Discrimination Reporting System
  17. ^ "US offers Ghana assistance in moving forward on LGBT rights", GayStarNews, reported by Andrew Potts, 7 October 2013 Archived 11 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Ghana's gays organise to fight British criminal law", Afrol News, 19 August 2004
  19. ^ "Ghanaian gay conference banned", BBC News, 1 September 2006
  20. ^ "Somewhere over the rainbow", authored by Mark S. Luckie
  21. ^ "Ghana cracks down on gays", Star Online, 21 July 2011
  22. ^ "I will never support legalizing homosexuality, Ghana's President says", National Post, 2 November 2011
  23. ^ "No responsible leader will legalise homosexuality – Mills", I am a Ghanaian
  24. ^ Ghana: Police make rare arrests in anti-gay blackmail case
  25. ^ 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ghana, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
  26. ^ 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ghana, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Ghana, U.N. Human Rights Council, A/HRC/22/6, 13 December 2012 Archived 9 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "Mills replies David Cameron; you can't threaten us with gay aid!". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  29. ^ "Amend Ghana's laws to ban homosexuality – Oquaye". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  30. ^ Homosexuality: Legalization in Ghana is bound to happen - Akufo-Addo Graphic Online, 26 November 2017
  31. ^ Association of gays, lesbians in Ghana to embark on historic peace march in Accra GhanaWeb, 27 November 2017
  32. ^ I’ll never legalize homosexuality – Akufo-Addo
  33. ^ President of Ghana ‘reassures’ church leaders that he won’t decriminalise homosexuality
  34. ^ ILGA-RIWI Global Attitudes Survey ILGA, October 2017

External links[edit]