Women are sent away to do penance for their alleged use of the dark arts The world may just have had some fun with the Halloween holiday but in Ghana, witchcraft is a deadly serious business for the women who have been accused of it. In the uppermost reaches of the country, where the dry savannah bleeds into the sandy Sahel, stands a cluster of round, medieval-looking mud-huts, some overgrown with pumpkin vines. There, hundreds of women accused of witchcraft have been corralled to do penance for their past. Some have been there for decades. There are those who freely admit they used the dark arts to settle old scores, rendering wandering husbands impotent or eviscerating the crops of enemies. But most say they were blamed for suspicious boils and bites, deadly car accidents, devastating droughts, feverish malaria-fuelled dreams and epidemics and outbreaks beyond their control. Twelve years ago, Hawa Mahama's nephew awoke one morning convinced his aunt had tried to kill him in his dream. The boy's father, Ms Mahama's eldest brother, swiftly accused her of witchcraft. Although she vehemently denied the charge, the family sent the woman, now 80, from their home in Kparigu to Gambaga, a dusty rural village near the Burkina Faso border, where she has been stuck ever since. The camp has no cauldrons, no potion books, no cackling old covens. Instead, it is like a perverse retirement community, where emaciated old women rely on their neighbours to survive. Nkugosiba Gazari has lived at the Gambaga witch camp for 35 years, arriving from a tiny northern Ghanaian village when her son was still young enough to carry on her back. He is now grown, with children of his own. 'At first it was not happy for her, but as time went on, she got used to it,' interpreter Alhassan Mohammed said. Few women will talk about the accusations against them: it's considered taboo. Ms Gazari laughs when asked whether she agreed that she was practicing witchcraft. 'You have to agree before you can come here,' she said. Now in her 80s, Ms Gazari's retirement days are spent shelling groundnuts, drying beans and working in farmers' fields in exchange for a meagre portion of the harvest. Although witchcraft is a centuries-old concept, the number of women accused of engaging in sorcery is actually on the rise. In 1997, Ghana's Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice estimated that more than 700 women were living at the country's four northern witch camps. Last year, their investigations put that number at more than 1,000 women. There are similar camps in Tanzania. Although men accused of sorcery are cleansed by the chief and immediately return to their villages, few women return home, fearing they will be intimidated, discriminated against or worse. Human rights reports are littered with examples of women who were lynched or beaten by their community members after being accused of witchcraft. One woman, known as Ayieshtu, returned to the Gambaga camp missing an ear after elders slashed it with a cutlass, warning her she would lose the other ear if she dared return. 'They are afraid they will kill them, they are afraid of being killed,' the interpreter said.