Orphans in Ghana

There are several reasons for the high number of orphans in Ghana. Disease, lack of medical supplies and natural disasters are among the main causes. Additionally, many parents aren't able to afford the education and food needs of their children. There are also cultural circumstances which turn children into half-orphans.


According to the organisation- "Volunteer in Africa", there are four distinctive categories of orphans. The first encompasses the original definition of orphans, which is children, who lost both of their parents by death. The second category is half-orphans, children who have lost one parent by death and the remaining parent is not able to care for the child. Third is the group of children who were abandoned by unknown parents and finally, the category of children who still have parents but they are not able to care for them. These are called social-orphans.



Baba Ibrahim explains the problem of many children in orphanages who still have parents as follows:

"The reason is simply that there are many poor families here in Ghana and so many parents cannot afford their children."

Traditional influences

There is also a cultural way to become an orpahan in Ghana.


The former custodian of the orphanage in Guauliga, Alhassan, described this way as follows:

"Your father can die even your mother too, and if your mother is alone, she can go to a distant place to marry there…The new partner will not be looking after her children at her new husband’s house. And even tough for the mother, maybe the mother has nothing to buy food or anything for the child. The second husband can not accept her children. The man has married her and when she delivers a new child then he will accept it but not the children of her."

This tradition is still practised today. Alhassan adds that in former days, it was not a problem to take children from one marriage into another. In recent time, unfortunately, it became more common. He also mentioned that this cultural behaviour is often linked with financial struggles.

It is also possible that the new husband of a woman asks the family of the father to claim child custody because there of lacking financial funds for the upbringing and education of the child. Most of the time, the families of the fathers do not accept the children.

Alhassan explains that in polygynic relationships, which are not uncommon in an Islamic cultural surrounding, first-wifes do not allow new partners to take their children into the marriage.

In case one of the women dies, the husband is allowed to bring his children into the marriage and the new partner will accept them.

Superstition as a reason

Baba Seidu, country director of BRAVEAURORA Ghana highlights another problem connected with orphans. He writes that in almost every Ghanaian tradition, orphans are outsiders because in certain cultures, they are connected with witchcraft and evil spirits. Because of this, orphans are avoided. Especially in cases where both parents die before the child is fully grown, uninformed people blame the child for the death and punish it by banishing it, or, if the child stays, it is scolded and given up. Without help, most of these children marry at a very young age to receive financial security and an attachment figure.

According to Baba, the Ghanaian society offers very limited possibilities for orphans. There is no comprehensive concept for nursing homes for the children and adoption is very rare. In some cases, the half-orphans can return to their extended families (if the surviving parent is the father). In such cases, the child usually has to help with the house-work (in case it is a girl) or on the family-farm (in case it is a boy).

Informal law in the North of Ghana

Baba Seidu emphasises that changes in the informal, traditional heritage-law in north Ghana are important. The law is very patriarchal and says that a widow, or a divorced woman is not allowed to keep custody for her children which remains with the family of the father. Only if the father explicitly hands over custody to the mother is the child allowed to live with her.

In his eyes, the child is better taken care of with the mother and he is convinced that orphans are unnecessarily suffering with this law.

In the south, the inheritance law is more matriarchally organised. This is why the mother gets the custody after a divorce, separation, or death of their partners.