|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) has begun investigating the growing rate of homosexuality in the Western and Central regions after the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) reported on 8,000 MSM (men who have sex with men) registered at a workshop funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) .
The BNI is the internal intelligence agency of Ghana. The BNI deal with organized crime and provide intelligence to counter threats to national security.
The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) has begun investigations into the growing rate of homosexuality in the Western and Central regions, Western Regional Minister, Mr. Paul Evans Aidoo has revealed.
According to the minister, there is the need for a thorough investigation into what he terms a "social canker" which has contributed to the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in the country.
About eight thousand homosexuals were registered by non-governmental organization (NGOs) at a day’s workshop in the Western and some parts of the Central regions after they (homosexuals) underwent voluntary counseling and testing with majority of them infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS.
The workshop, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aimed at training health workers to be abreast with the basic facts about HIV and AIDS also revealed that, the homosexuals included students in junior and senior high schools, polytechnics and workers.
The growing rate of homosexuals in the country has resulted in the tripling of sexually transmitted diseases especially HIV and AIDS.
Mr Paul Evans Aidoo revealed on Adom FM on Wednesday that, even though homosexuality is illegal, it is still widely practiced secretly which makes it very difficult to arrest the culprits.
He said it is very important for the homosexuals to be identified, especially those infected with STDs to control the spread.
The Western Regional Minister added that the BNI is working closely with the police, Ghana Health Service and the NGO to find a lasting solution to the problem.
Mr. Aidoo stressed the need for more education on the dangers of homosexuality in the country.
Yaw Anokye Frimpong, a constitutional lawyer, argued that neither the BNI or the police have the right to arrest homosexuals in the country. "He said even though some religion frown upon homosexuality, it is not explicitly stated in the criminal code that it is a crime."
Ms. Gertrude Aikins, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Ghana, says Frimpong is wrong and that persons caught engaging in homosexual activities could be liable for prosecution.
Responding to calls for the country to enact laws to ban homosexuality in an interview in Accra, she stated the section 104 (1) (b) of the Criminal Code made the act a criminal offence.
Section 104 (1) (b) of the Criminal Code states, whosoever has an unnatural carnal knowledge of any person of 16 years or over with his consent is guilty of a misdemeanour", while (I) (a) of the same code, reference to sodomy, states, "Whoever has unnatural carnal knowledge of any person of the age 16 or over without his consent shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than twenty-five years."
The law is, however, silent on any form of punishment for lesbianism, that is, sexual relationship between two females.
Ms. Aikins said persons engaged in homosexuality fell foul of the law, but admitted that compared to sodomy, homosexuality carried a less severe sentence as far as the criminal code is concerned.
Ghanaian laws prohibit unnatural carnal acts - a definition which is widely understood to include homosexuality, although, in practice, very few have been prosecuted for homosexual acts.
In 2003, an Accra Circuit Court jailed four gay men in homosexual activities.
Since the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) sent out its "all hands on deck" message to "reduce the number of young people who are lured into MSM," religious and government leaders have responded by further stigmatising LGBTI persons. For example, The National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) in the Volta Region, a commission established by the Constitution of Ghana, plans to use its civic education clubs to fight homosexuality in Senior High Schools (SHSs).
As former Presidents Festus Mugae and Kenneth Kaunda have indicated on their HIV Free Generation tour, stigmatising LGBTI persons only drives the epidemic. At a news conference in Lilongwe, Malawi at the end of last month Mugae said, "As long as we confine gays and lesbians into dark corners because of our inflexibility to accomodate them, the battle on HIV and AIDS can never be won." Kaunda added, "We are not only condemning African leaders who are criminalizing same sex marriage, but we are urging them to start recognising these people, for the sake of HIV and AIDS."