As of the end of 2016, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers were registered in my home country of Ghana, with more than half of them girls, women and persons with disabilities.
The inaugural World Bank Group Law, Justice and Development Week 2018 Law Student Contest for Development Solutions, was a great opportunity to contribute to the timely discussion on rights, protection and development of vulnerable groups, particularly refugees.
A major problem affecting girls who live in refugee camps is the lack of information on sexual reproductive health and rights. Girls are not adequately informed about contraceptive methods and often end up with unwanted pregnancies that will hamper their educational progress, or sexually transmitted infections that threaten their health. Low education and poor health directly correlate to decreased economic empowerment: the longer girls are able to stay in school and acquire relevant skills, the closer they get to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. In addition to sexual health challenges, entrepreneurial women who live in refugee camps also face the significant challenge of inadequate access to credit and unemployment. This is because they do not have credit histories and collateral to put up as security.
Ghana’s existing Refugee Act of 1992 provides many protections for asylum-seekers and refugees, including the establishment of the Ghana Refugee Board (GRB). Its functions include registering, assessing and adjudicating asylum applications, ensuring the provision of adequate facilities, providing advice and services to receive and support refugees, and assists refugees in seeking employment and/or education. Including provisions specifically to address the challenges faced by women and girls would strengthen this policy and have a positive economic impact for the country.
To start, the scope of those granted refugee status in Ghana could be expanded to include “those with a well-founded fear of persecution for failing to conform to gender discriminating practices,” as has been done in the Ugandan Refugee Act, 2006, one of the most progressive laws in the world.
I suggest that the Refugee Act of Ghana 1992 be amended to include such progressive provisions in order to effectively uphold and protect the rights of refugees in Ghana.
For girls, this would mean that the policy would include mandatory sexual reproductive health and rights classes to be taught in the camp or settlement schools. For women, the policy would be amended to include a special loan eligibility clause that would grant exemptions to refugee women who are micro business owners. It would also grant tax exemptions and other innovative incentives to financial institutions which provide loans for refugee women entrepreneurs. This will facilitate access to small loans and credit for women who live in refugee camps, notwithstanding the fact that they do not have collateral or security to put up.
For persons with disabilities, “disability, is not inability” is an oft-quoted mantra, but in reality, this vulnerable group is constrained by impairments that may detract from their ability to earn a living. To support persons with disabilities, the policy could stipulate that camp structures be designed in a disability-friendly manner. The policy could include itemized design specifications for the purposes of clarity and a fund set-up for the purposes of providing artificial intelligence training programs for the disabled.
The current development paradigm is technology. This is welcome news for everyone and particularly for disabled people since the job market will require less brute force. Artificial Intelligence training programs would ensure that disabled people acquire the requisite skills for employability and earn significant income to improve their livelihoods.
Refugees are highly relevant stakeholders in national development and strengthening support for them by expanding legal protections is a step in the right direction. This will springboard them from dependents to meaningful contributors to a nation’s growth.
This blog post is one of several winning proposals from the first LJD Week 2018 Law Student Contest for Development Solutions, a competition for young African students to present innovative legal solutions to development challenges. The top two winners, Mawunya Kudu and Colman Ntugwerisho, were invited to present their proposals to the LJD Week 2018 audience; see their presentations here.