The Atsem family has three daughters who live together in the North Tongnu District of Ghana. Earlier this month, the youngest of three, a 15-year-old, was abducted and raped.
“He showed my sister a picture of a 14-year-old girl on his phone and told her he had killed the girl in the picture because she refused to let him have sex with her. He then threatened to kill my sister if she resisted,” said Irene Atsem, one of the victim's sisters.
Irene’s sister was discharged from the hospital after seven days and is scheduled for checkups for the next six months. The cost of these exams are not covered by the national health insurance program.
“As long as it is defilement or rape or sexual assault review, health insurance doesn't cover it. So, whatever investigations that you perform, the patient will have to pay from either his or her pocket or get with the money from elsewhere,” said Dr. Bernard Hayford Atuguba, North Tongu medical superintendent.
In Ghana, victims of sexual assault must pay for expensive medical exams before a suspect can be prosecuted.
Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, a member of the parliament of the North Tongu Constituency, has abolished the fees in his district, telling local hospitals to stop charging sexual assault victims. Instead, his office will pay the fees.
“I am showing that it is possible," Ablakwa said. "We have abolished this and we can now scale it up. I am talking to a number of colleagues to team up with me to draft a private member bill and outlaw these medical charges.”
Ablakwa says his goal is to make it easier for victims to seek justice against perpetrators of violence.
A 2020 UNICEF study found that the cost of seeking justice for sexual assault in Ghana can cost from 10 to 55% of a household’s income – a major factor deterring many victims from coming forward.
“No matter your status, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you think you have, this is a crime that will be punished and that we have a zero-tolerance policy from henceforth,” Ablakwa said.
With the new measures, the Atsem family hopes they will be able to press charges against the attacker.