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"The Absence of Non-Custodial Laws Is Increasing The Imprisonment of Vagrants" - CCF

The Executive Director of the Crime Check Foundation (CCF), Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng has revealed that the absence of non-custodial law in Ghana makes the imprisonment of vagrants illegal.

According to him, vagrants who get dragged to court, find it difficult to patronize the services of lawyers hence they end up being slapped with outrageous fines of which they are unable to pay.

Speaking to Journalists in Accra, he said “In our visits to the Prisons, we found that these are things that should engage the attention of stakeholders. That is why this project is on course. Another thing that is worth sharing is that a group of Pan-African lawyers took the issue of vagrants been jailed to the African Court on Human and People’s right in Arusha, Tanzania, and the advisory opinion that has come out is that it is illegal to imprison vagrants rather, you could commit them to some community service but do we have a non-custodian law in this country, no!”

He added that once Ghana is a signatory to the Human Rights and Charters and Conventions, it should not do the contrary of the non-custodial law.

The Executive Director further mentioned that it seems Ghana is criminalizing poverty stressing that such a situation is unfortunate.

“We are all witnesses to what the Greater Accra Regional Minister is doing but as Moomen said, do we ask questions? Where are they going? Do we have safety in place? Didn’t we bus them to go and vote and promised them that we were going to make life heaven for them”

He explained that as much the country is pushing for its streets to be cleaned, has the government made enough provisions for prisoners to be sent out to serve community sentences.

Mr. Kwarteng charged the government to equip its various Institutions to be able to function effectively for the citizens and the nation.

“So these people sleeping at unauthorized places, the State should have made provision. Go to Libya. When covid came, many people could not comply because they were not having sleeping places. The government has also promised one district one factory so why should people continue to come here. We should be careful so that we do not decriminalize poverty” he noted.

The Executive Director told Journalists that the non-custodial bill has been in Parliament for more than seven (7) years.

He later revealed that if Ghana had passed the non-custodial law, the prisoners instead of being thrown to cells could be redirected and used for planting foods and jobs among others.

On his part, celebrated Ghanaian Journalist, Abdul Hayi Moomen charged the media to own their space and not succumb to the dictates of its viewers.

He said “It is time the media takes power back its power to feed its viewers with what it wants to feed them and not what the viewers want to see, read or hear. The viewers must not dictate to the media on what it must air on daily basis”

He hit hard on most media outlets saying the sensationalism must stop.

Abdul Hayi Moomen also mentioned that since ethics are a set of moral principles that govern an individual’s lifestyle, he reminded the media that morality is always subjective.

He was off the view that whatever is morally accepted by a section of people cannot be acknowledged by another faction.

“One cannot be objective when dealing with ethics,” he said.

Mr. Moomen further expressed disappointment on how most media outlets run their agenda saying instead of Journalists complimenting each other, media personnel are rather competing with one another.

“We have given the power to the audience. Instead of complimenting each other as media people, we compete with each other. The media is losing focus”

He hinted that instead of the media priding itself as the newsmaker, it has rather succumbed and allowed the politician to dictate what to report.

“If we have made a pledge to decriminalize poverty in the country, let us report on what is the real news and not what will please politicians” he concluded.

Investigative Journalist, Ohemeng Tawiah charged Journalists to stop being lazy with their work.

“Journalists should stop being lazy. Who says Journalists are poor. We are not poor. If you take your work seriously and do not allow politicians or some persons to influence your decisions with money, you will make it”

“It is also about time; Journalists also go the extra mile. Look ahead. Try and liaise with the international media. It is not all stories that must sit here, let it cross the international scene. You will be amazed at how the foreign media will appreciate your efforts, work with you and you will make money” he noted.

He advised Journalists to learn how to be each other’s keepers in the industry.

A Legal Practitioner with Dery & Co, Doris Bangfu Esq. said “Vagrancy laws tend to criminalize the status of individuals as being poor or homeless as supposed for certain specifical criminals”

She further explained that prisoners are punished invariably not because they have committed certain crimes but because they were unable to pay the fines slapped at them.

“The ruling of the African Court on Human and People’s right says that laws that tend to criminalize the status of persons should be amended to be in conformity with the Human Rights Chatter” she noted.

“So the focus is not to encourage deviant behavior but rather to hold Institutions accountable such that once you provide social amenities then you are justified for punishing people when they offend the law”

Lawyer Bangfu hinted talks are underway on alternative forms of pushing people as supposed to imprisonment.

“We can have non-custodial for now, there is nothing of that sort so it is another imprisonment or fine and we are noticed that most of the victims of these offenses are the poor and homeless, invariably, they are unable to pay the fines ending up serving prison sentences and we already know the situations in the prisons” she added.

She hinted that provision of amenities for citizens likewise punishments which are appropriate for the offense in order to strike a balance.

Project Background

The penal codes of many African countries define a ‘vagrant’ as any person who does not have a fixed abode, a means of subsistence, and who does not practice a trade or profession.

Currently, about 22 African countries are said to have laws that penalize a vagrant, and equip the police with powers to enforce ‘vagrancy laws’.

Ghana is among these countries where due to poverty and ignorance, many poor and voiceless citizens constitute the greater proportion of victims of vagrancy laws.

Some of these laws relate to loitering, ‘head potting’, selling on the street, and other bye-laws enforced by the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies in Ghana.

Under these laws, vagrants are arrested, harassed, fined, or imprisoned. This situation contributes to a high remand population, human rights violations, and increased poverty. On 4th December 2020, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights came to the rescue with a ruling against vagrancy laws.

Ruling against Vagrancy Laws

On 4th December 2020, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights delivered a landmark Advisory Opinion against ‘vagrancy laws’ (laws that appear to criminalize activities/actions of the homeless, and other poor and voiceless citizens as opposed to specific criminal acts).

The court held that ‘vagrancy laws’ are incompatible with African human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children Rights Charter), and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women (Women’s Rights Protocol).

The CCF-OSIWA Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws & Advocacy project gives effect to the ruling on vagrancy laws by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the vagrancy laws.

Ghana’s prisons are full, and the conditions are terrible. There is the need to ensure that citizens are aware of the MMDA bye-laws and MMDAs live up to their responsibilities to ensure more citizens do not end up in jail for ‘minor crimes’.

About CCF

The Crime Check Foundation (CCF) is a crime prevention advocacy organization that uses Life in Prison Documentaries to sensitize the public to the dangers of crime.

Its time with the Prisons Series which most of you are aware of has brought to the fore the congested nature of our 44 prisons and other infractions perpetrated by some members of the justice delivery chain.

Its Petty Offenders project has resulted in the release of over 700 inmates, while our Ex-convict Reintegration project has successfully reintegrated most of them into society.

Its Health Check, Street Charity, General Charity, and Educational Support Series have brought immense relief to the many who may have died or dropped out of school.


Established in 2000, OSIWA is a grant-making and advocacy organization focused on equality, justice, democratic governance, human rights, and knowledge generation.

It is part of the global network of Open Society Foundations spread across 37 countries around the world.

Below are some pictures:

Story by: Joshua Kwabena Smith



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