GHANA (General Remarks) 




IndexAfricaGhana (General Remarks)


Featured: Thsi-Speakers, Tallensi, Akan, / Ashanti, Fanti, Kokomba, (S)Isala, Ga, Ewe, Vagla, Krobo



A most detailed poly-ethnography of childhood sexual socialisation is offered by Kaye (1960:p374-408; 1962:p116-29)[1], who collected attitudes, behaviour and retaliation on 21 sites in Ghana, and on different linguistic groups; numeric data were collected by means of questionnaires. Parents fondled infants’ genitalia. Kaye (1960:p388-94; 1962:p125) found that children were punished harshly for masturbation (14 of 21 sites), notably with red pepper or ginger applied on several orifices (penis, vagina, anus, nostrils, eyes). Masturbation was nevertheless practised almost universally (1962:p124) in several Akan towns. Heterosexual games (1960:p94-7) where on the whole common, including prepubertal sexual intercourse[2], but punished frequently. Attitudes toward children’s nakedness vary considerably according to the degree of urbanisation.

Bleek (1976:p36-51)[3] also gives a detailed account of Ghana childhood by interviewing adolescents in schools, did not find much punishment mentioned. “Children start experimenting with sex at an early age. One secondary school boy claims that he made his first attempt at the age of four, another boy when he was seven. From eight onwards it becomes more frequent”. Coitarche occurred at age 12.1 (M) and 14.2 (F), but was as low as 11.7 for a Kwahu secondary school. Still later, “[s]ex games in which children play the role of mothers and fathers are commonly practiced in Ghana. The games are not forbidden, but sexual exploration in the form of mutual examination of genitals may not go unpunished. Until puberty, boys and girls play together freely, and in towns and villages, especially in moonlit nights, clandestine affairs are sometimes reported” (IES: Ankomah, 1997)[4].


“In practice few schools have a comprehensive program on family life education”.


“Rapid urbanization, increased mobility, education, and other agents of change have together undermined the traditional channels of sex education. With very limited access to sex education both at home and in the schools, coupled with long periods of schooling in an unmarried state, the gap between sexual and social adulthood has widened, and the modern Ghanaian adolescent faces a sexual dilemma. When in 1991, students in two secondary schools in Accra were asked to state their sources of knowledge on reproduction, the most frequently mentioned source was teachers - apparently as part of biology lessons. On the broad issue of sexual knowledge, students most frequently get their first information on sex from friends, and further from their teachers and relatives. According to Bleek’s study in 1976 [[5]], girls more than boys tend to rely on relatives, especially their mothers, for their first knowledge on sex education. Boys generally receive this information from male friends. The role of teachers appears to be equal for both sexes. In the urban centers, students also report magazines and books as an important source of sex information”.


In Ahafo, girls must not get pregnant before menarche is formally announced, a practice that may be delayed for years after its actual manifestation (Vervoorn, 1958)[6]. Anarfi and Awusabo-Asare (1993:p8[7]; cf. Arnafi, 1993:p9[8]):


“There seem to be no traditions, customs or beliefs prohibiting premarital sex in the societies studied. Over half of the sample, of both sexes and in rural and urban areas, were unaware of any prohibition on premarital sex: what was consistently mentioned was prohibition of sex before a girl underwent puberty rites. For girls, reaching physical maturity, signalled by menarche, was marked with extensive rituals: it symbolized a woman's ability to become a wife and mother. Sexual activity before puberty rites were performed was considered a criminal offence: punishments ranged from ritual cleansing to ostracism of the couple, particularly if the girl became pregnant before the ceremony was performed (Banuako, 1975)[[9]]”.


“There is no minimum age for marriage under customary law, although it is rare for spouses to live together before the woman has reached puberty. Child marriage is practised among all ethnic groups, although the incidence of women marrying under the age of 15 is generally decreasing, but remains relatively higher in the North. The courts have generally refused to compel women in marriages arranged for them as children to return to their husbands where they have run away (UNECA, 1984)” (Baden, 1994:p70)[10]. “Child betrothal and marriage shortly after puberty for girls are common practices in Ghana” (Nukunya, 1992 as cited by Laird, 2002)[11]. Age at first marriage among the sample population was very low, with some marrying as early as 14. Age at first sexual relations ranged between 13 and 26 years for males and 10 and 26 years for females in the rural areas, giving median ages of 19 and 18 years respectively.


“Almost all well regarded historical depictions of life in Ghana at the beginning of the Colonial era suggest that female circumcision played a major roll in marriage and reproductive behavior.  According to one report, marriage occurred immediately after circumcision (Mensch, 1998)[?].  Circumcision was not used to maintain virginity in girls, according to the study.  There is a fine line defined between “premarital sexual unions” which were not approved of, and “premarital sexual activity,” which seemed to be overlooked.  The only caveat to this is that girls who were found to not be virgins during the circumcision ceremony were looked down upon by her peers (Mensch, 1998). Circumcision was carried out as soon as possible after a girls first menarche so as to reduce the possibility of an unsanctioned birth.  Children born to uncircumcised women were called zankabri bia (clitoris babies) and were treated with disdain and considered stubborn. (Mensch, 1998)”[12].


An ethnogeographic account of female circumcision was offered by Knudsen (1994)[13]. Today, with the ban on female circumcision, “parents and older people in the Kassena-Nankana District tend to trace changes in their children’s sexual behavior to invasive forces- money, media, “white men’s values”, and family planning” (Mensch et al., 1999)[14].

Field (1970)[15] remarked: “Young girls are usually married and become pregnant within a month or two of their first menstruation […]”.

Recent studies[16] have argued that “[…] the expansion of formal education for females, urbanization and migration, have changed the traditional system of social and sexual maturity. Girls no longer marry at puberty, at least in urban areas, a situation that increases the gap between physical maturity and age at first marriage. This gap creates conditions for premarital sex”. According to one study[17], subjects became sexually experienced at a mean age of 15.5 years for males and 16.2 years for females. Among street children the mean age of sexarche is 14.5 for both sexes[18]; between 4 and 5 per cent of the children had experienced sexual intercourse for the first time below age ten and another 39 per cent by age 14.


Anti (nd)[19]:


“In Ghana, the most well-preserved female puberty rites are the Dipo of the Krobo, and the Bragoro of the Asante. So important were the ideals of these rites that its violation in former times constituted a crime.  A girl who became pregnant before the performance of the puberty rites was banished together with the man who was responsible for it.    Purification rites were performed to rid the society of its evil consequences.  It must be noted that not only did the puberty rites prepare the young for marriage, it also prepared them for procreation without which marriage was incomplete. The ceremonies therefore, marked the entry of young girls into adulthood. During the period of their ritual seclusion the young girls are taught the secrets of the society and also brought closely to the supernatural forces which are supposed to ensure their protection, blessing and fertility during their period of motherhood.  Mothers of such concerned girls usually pray that their daughters grow to full maturity and bear children”.


Henry and Fayorsey (2002)[20] offers interesting data pertaining to the knowledge about the body, menstruation, sex and contraception, and pregnancy intentions and strategies for preventing pregnancy. It was learned that “[a]bout a third of the participants said that they learned something about sex and related topics in school as well. The others either did not recall whether they had been taught about sex,

said they had been taught nothing about sex, or had dropped out of school before they were old enough to have that class”.



Ethnographic Particularities


See Thsi-Speakers, Tallensi, Akan, / Ashanti, Fanti, Kokomba, (S)Isala, Ga, Ewe, Vagla, Krobo




Additional references:


§         CRLP (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p30-52

§         Jackson, Elizabeth F., Patricia Akweongo, Evelyn Sakeah, Abraham Hodgson, Rofina Asuru, and James F. Phillips. Women's denial of having experienced female genital cutting in northern Ghana: Explanatory factors and consequences for analysis of survey data, Policy Research Division Working Paper no. 178.  New York: Population Council []

§         Kofi Awusabo-Asare, Albert M. Abane & Akwasi Kumi-Kyereme, Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Ghana: A Synthesis of Research Evidence. Occasional Report No. 13, June 2004 []

§         Kofi, E. et al. (March 2003) Sexual Health Experiences of Adolescents In Three Ghanaian Towns, International Family Planning Perspectives 29,1:32–40 []

§         Sexual Mutilations. Case studies presented at the workshop: African women speak on female circumcision, Khartoum (October 21-25, 1984), Babiker Badri - Scientific Association for Women Studies, p54-5 []

§         Afenyadu, D. & Goparaju, L. (2003) Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Behaviour in Dodowa, Ghana. The Centre for Development and Population Activities, Washington, D.C. []

§         Bratton, Angela R. (2004) Teenage pregnancy, education and the construction of sexuality in Ghana. PhD thesis, IndianaUniversity

§         Gender Violence in Schools 3: Ghana. March 2004 []






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Mar 2005


[1] Kaye, B. (1960) Child Training in Ghana.  [Child Development Monographs / Institute of Education, no. 1]; Kaye, B. (1962) Bringing Up Children in Ghana. London: George Allen

[2] “Pretended intercourse” (N=21): 2 all, 2 majority, 6 some, 5 few, 5 none, 1: ?; “real intercourse” of “older children”: 4 majority; 5 some, 3 few, 7 none, 2: ?.

[3] Bleek, W. (1976) Sexual Relationships and Birth Control in Ghana. Dissertation, University of Amsterdam

[4] Ankomah, Au. (1997) Ghana, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. 2. Quoted from the online edition. Specifically: “In Ghana, traditional norms involving attitudes to and acceptance of premarital sexual relationships differ from society to society. Among the Kwahu (a subgroup of the Akan), girls were not to engage in sex before they were married, and certainly not before their first menstruation. Rattray, who wrote in the 1920s, also stated that among the Ashanti, premarital coitus was forbidden. The official code on prenubility sexuality was rather strict. In olden times among the Akan, a girl was killed, or both parties banished, when she engaged in sexual intercourse prior to her puberty and initiation. In most societies in southern Ghana, since girls were usually married shortly after their initiation, many entered the conjugal union as virgins.

Among the communities in northern Ghana, the situation was different. Prenuptial chastity was not particularly valued. It is reported that among the Kokomba, for example, many women were already pregnant before marriage. The Tallensi, also of northern Ghana, explain that copulation and marriage are not the same thing. It can be said that while premarital sexual relationships have been permitted in most societies in northern Ghana, it arrived in the south as an influence of modernization. Chastity can mean two things in Ghanaian sexual mores: chastity before puberty rites and chastity after initiation, but before marriage. In olden days, both were thought important among most ethnic groups of southern Ghana. The attitude towards postpubertal but premarital chastity, however, has undergone substantial changes in many parts of Ghana”.

[5] Bleek, W. (1976) Sexual Relationships and Birth Control in Ghana: A Case Study of a Rural Town.Amsterdam: Centre for Social Anthropology, University of Amsterdam

[6] Vervoorn, J. D. (1958) Obstetrics in Afaho, Ghana, Trop & Geogr Med 10:309-15

[7] Anarfi, J. K. & Awusabo-Asare, K. (1993) Experimental research on sexual networking in some selected areas of Ghana, Health Transition Rev 3 (Suppl.):1-15. Cf. Awusabo-Asarea, K. & Anarfib, J. K. (1999) Rethinking the circumstances surrounding the first sexual experience in the era of AIDS in Ghana, in Caldwell, J. C., Orubuloye, I. O. & Ntozi, J. P. M. (Eds.) The Continuing African HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Canberra: Health Transition Centre, p9-18 [ Awusabo-Asare2.pdf]

[8] Anarfi, J. K. (1993) Sexuality, migration and AIDS in Ghana- A socio-behavioural study, Health Transition Rev 3 (Suppl.):1-22

[9] Op.cit.

[10]Baden, S. et al. (1994) Background paper on gender issues in Ghana. Report prepared for the West and North Africa Department, Department for Overseas Development (DFID), UK []

[11] Nukunya, G. K. (1992) Tradition and Change: The Case of the Family. Accra: Ghana Universities Press; Laird, S. E. (2002) The 1998 Children’s Act: problems of enforcement in Ghana, British J Social Work 32:893–905

[12] Willis, J. T. (Winter, 2005) Changing Political Ideas Toward Unsafe Traditional Practices in Ghana: A Study of the History of Laws and Changing Ideas Surrounding Female Genital Mutilation.EasternWashingtonStateUniversity []

[13]Knudsen, Ch. O. (1994) The Falling Dawadawa Tree. Højbjerg, Denmark: Intervention Press

[14] Mensch, B. S., Bagah, D., Clark, W. H. & Binka, F. (1999) The Changing Nature of Adolescence in the Kassena-Nankana District of Northern Ghana, Stud Fam Plann 30, 2:95-111

[15] Field, M. J. (1970) Search for Security: An Ethno-Psychiatric Study of Rural Ghana. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

[16] Awusabo-Asarea, K. & Anarfib, J. K. (1999) Rethinking the circumstances surrounding the first sexual experience in the era of AIDS in Ghana, The Continuing African HIV/AIDS Epidemic,9-18

[17] Agyei, W., Biritwum, R. et al. (2000) Sexual behaviour and contraception among unmarried adolescents and young adults in greater Accra and Eastern regions of Ghana, J Biosoc Sci 32,4:495-512

[18] Anarfi, J. K. (1997) Vulnerability to sexually transmitted disease: street children in Accra, Health Transition Rev, Suppl. to 7:281-306, at p297. See also Anarfi, J. K. & Appiah, B. N. (1997) Sexual behavioural factors predisposing "street-involved" youth in Accra to HIV/AIDS infection, African Population Studies 12,1 [ /]

[19] Anti, K. K. (nd) Women in African Traditional Religions. Presentation prepared for the Women’s Center Eastern Washington University

[20] Henry, R. & Fayorsey, C. (2002) Coping with Pregnancy: Experiences of Adolescents in Ga Mashi, Accra. Calverton, Maryland, USA: ORC Macro []