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Osu Ako Adjei, Accra.

You have the right to practise your culture, traditions, language and religion, as long as that practice is in keeping with the Constitution, and does not dehumanise or injure any person.

Mohammed goes to a secondary school in the Ashanti region. Because of some protests from Christian fanatics, he cannot practice his religion at school, which involves prayer throughout the day. This is a direct violation of Mohammed’s right to culture because he is being prohibited from practicing his religion even though praying does not dehumanize or injure anyone else. On top of that, the school authorities continuously discriminate against him. One day the school authorities chased him and a few of his friends because they wanted them to attend a Sunday Church Service. During the chase, one of Mohammed’s friends fell from a three-storey building and died instantly. This is an extreme case in which the violation of a person’s right to culture led to death. Someone does not have to die for the restriction of his ability to practice religion to be a problem.  Action should have been taken as soon as Mohammed was feeling discriminated against or prevented from praying.

However, when your cultural or religious practices dehumanize or injure any person your rights can be revoked. This is the case with the harmful practice of female genital mutilation, which violates a number of human rights of women and girls. This procedure involves the removal of a women’s external genitalia, including the clitoris and inner labia without medical necessity and is often performed on adolescent girls. The World Health Organization says the practice has no health benefits and causes only harm, often resulting in recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Although it is a part of some people’s culture, genital mutilation is not allowed because it is harmful both physically and psychologically to a woman’s well being, violating their rights to non-discrimination, health and bodily integrity (the right to have control over one’s body). The practice was made illegal in Ghana in 1994 when Parliament amended the Criminal Code of 1960 to include the offense of FGM/FGC. Those who perform the operation face a prison sentence of at least 3 years. However, the law does not punish accomplices such as parents, family and community members who help the FGM practitioner. Even though Female Genital Mutilation goes against the constitution as a harmful customary practice and is against the law, it is still common in the north, with relatively few prosecutions.

HRAC, Bringing Rights to Life