Ghana: Where Childlessness Is Cause for Divorce, and More

Savannah Fruits Company

After writing a post last March about Ghana‘s first-ever national conference for childless adults, I’ve been searching for an online update. No luck.

I reached out through email to Nana Yaw Osei, founder of the Association of Childless Adults of Ghana. He responded that the conference was postponed in part because of “sponsorship failures.” It may be held later this year.

According to Mr. Osei, the childlessness/infertility rate in Ghana is estimated to be 2.24% of the population. Just before I received his email, Google Alerts delivered another headline from Ghana: Childlessness Causes Marriage Dissolution. How to imagine a life where infertility is grounds for divorce? I’d seen similar headlines from that country, so  I decided to research a little more.

I found BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, an open access, peer-reviewed clinical journal, featuring “A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Infertile Couples in Northern Ghana” published in March 2013.  Philip Teg-Negaah Tabong of the Ghana Health Service and Philip Baba Adongo from the University of Ghana showed that divorce is only one piece of a very troubling environment for Ghana’s NotMoms.

“Women without children in their old age are often branded as witches and abandoned by their relatives. Such women are not allowed to interact or take care of other people’s children as they are often accused of having ‘eaten up’ all the children in their womb and could bewitch and cause the death of other people’s children.”

OMG. 

The common belief in Ghana is that when a couple has trouble conceiving, it’s the woman’s fault. Period. Quite often, men will refuse medical testing to identify the problem. It’s the woman’s fault, after all. Every person in the BMC study agreed on this “fact.” (If a man is deemed to be infertile, he’s labeled as Yokuusoba: man with a dead penis.)

The stigma experienced by many women in this African nation continues after they die, because couples without kids are denied admittance to the ancestral world. Many people accept that there is another world after death where ancestors may live again. Without children, you’re nobody’s ancestor. Result? Your soul wanders forever. Yes, you may be a zombie.

Announcements of divorce-by-childlessness in Ghana frequently refer to rotten behavior by a husband’s family, particularly the woman’s in-laws. If the husband doesn’t seek divorce, he may bring in a second wife, confident that SHE will give him the children he wants. Or, he may have sex with other women, hoping to impregnate them and prove his fertility.

Researchers Tabong and Adongo conclude that infertility in Ghana is a cause of physical abuse and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In a country where women are rarely considered to be empowered, the good news is that many childless Ghanaian women rely on “inner strength, self-confidence, true acceptance of their fate” and a support structure to move on and thrive. We wish them well.

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