Marital rape is a serious problem that cuts across countries worldwide. However, its magnitude varies from place to place. While both sexes can experience marital rape and sexual assault, many victims are females with males as the perpetrators. Globally, one in four women is more likely to suffer sexual assault including married women. Women’s experience of marital rape is driven by discriminatory socio-cultural norms, institutions, and structures, harsh economic conditions as well as gender inequity and inequality functioning in different socio-cultural, economic and political contexts.

Although marital rape was decriminalized historically, several countries in recent times have taken the necessary steps to outlaw this act. A 2006 report by the UN Secretary-General has shown that more than 104 countries currently prohibit marital rape (UN General Assembly, 2006). However, some countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa still decriminalize marital rape allowing husbands to rape their female partners with impunity. For instance, in Ghana, the legal system does not explicitly say rape is a crime within marriage.

The “Ghanaian law does not provide for marital rape specifically” (Archampong & Baidoo, 2011, p. 11), making it difficult to report, prosecute and punish male offenders. Marital rape is not included in the definition of sexual assault. The law does not empower married women to press charges against their husbands. Efforts in the past to criminalize marital rape failed. This was partly due to public outcry with the excuse of safeguarding the “privacy and sanctity” of marriage (Stafford, 2008, p.1). Such laws undoubtedly demonstrate that husbands can have unlimited sexual access to their wives, thus negating the existence of rape within marriages.

Also, deep-seated religious and cultural values have nurtured a misconception in the Ghanaian society that husbands cannot rape their wives because by marriage including the payment of expensive bride price, a woman automatically consents to have sex with her husband anytime he desires it. Most people think “the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract” (YLLÖ, 2016, p.1). From a sociological standpoint, this is not true, as marriage ceremonies only legalize the union but do not necessarily convey the message of irrevocable sexual consent by the wife.

In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that many married women are suffering in silence and pain because of this wrong perception and attitude of some husbands. Even some married women after childbirth are raped, as their husbands cannot have mercy and wait patiently for them to nurse their stitches and regain full sexual health. In other words, postpartum period is often overlooked by some husbands. These women may be raped not once or twice but several times. However, because of the absence of effective support systems, female survivors of marital rape find it extremely difficult to disclose their experiences with the fear that no one will believe their stories.

Marital rape like other forms of domestic violence affects women’s sexual autonomy and integrity and exposes them to several immediate and long-lasting social and health consequences. For instance, married women can suffer physical injuries such as body aches, body dislocation, vaginal trauma and lacerations, abdominal pains and vaginal itching. Second, married women may experience emotional and psychological problems. The most common symptoms include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Third, marital rape can affect women’s access to means of survival and fewer productive skills and resource, as marital rape may be accompanied by other forms of domestic violence.

According to Carol Adams ” women [including married women] are often raped as a continuation of a beating, threatened with more violence if they fail to comply with their husband’s sexual requests, or forced to have sex to oblige the abusers’ need to ‘make up’ after a beating.” (Adams, 1993, p.13). This may directly or indirectly affect women’s productive skills, access to and control of resources. The situation of pregnant women who experience marital rape is even more disturbing, as it may cause additional harm to the unborn baby through direct injuries triggering fetal disabilities and death.

While marital rape is of significant personal concern, its occurrence is also a crucial social problem. It impedes gender equality, violates women’s rights and fundamental liberties. Ghana is a signatory to many international conventions on human rights and the elimination of gender-based violence. Yet the issue of marital rape has not received the needed attention and action. It is essential to recognize marital rape as a unique problem affecting many married women.

It is a painful act for a woman to be raped by her husband when she is not in the mood. Having sexual intercourse with a woman without her permission is unfair on the part of married women. This is analogous to slavery, as the wife is not treated with the respect she deserves. Women including married women constitute more than half of the Ghanaian population and contribute significantly to the socio-economic and political development of the country. Why can’t the legal system explicitly criminalize marital rape? In Ghana where child and forced marriages are prevalent, you can imagine how these women and young girls will be suffering in their matrimonial homes if they do not love their partners or want to be in such marriages. Marital rape needs to be treated just like the way rape is prosecuted and penalized when experienced by other women. This is mainly because “rape is rape” and there is no difference in the outcome, as married women suffer the same way as other women irrespective of their marital status.

There is the need for government and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, human rights groups, policymakers and other stakeholders in Ghana to act promptly to combat marital rape to allow women enjoy their full human rights and freedoms.

A crucial step towards the reporting and prosecution of marital rape includes making efforts to state the criminality of this act explicitly in the laws of the country. Provide support for female victims by informing them that marital rape is a crime and there is support out there for them. Such support will empower them to come forward and report rape. Additionally, engage in massive public education campaigns through different dialects that focus on preventing marital rape. This education will not only help to raise awareness but also to support a fight against marital rape by changing misconceptions, socio-cultural norms and community attitudes and behaviours of potential perpetrators.

God Bless Ghana

Gervin A. Apatinga
[email protected]


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  1. Such an interesting article, Gervin, I look forward to connecting with you again regarding this topic of discussion.


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