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Advocacy against Trokosi 30/08/2008 Page 1 of 1
ADVOCACY AGAINST TROKOSI
. Any hope for slaves of deities?
Asks: Akua Twumasi
Twelve years ago, Ama then aged 13, passed her Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and entered the secondary school. She was excited about her new environment. She met other girls like herself starting secondary school and even established relationships with some seniors in her school. She had great dreams for herself and intended to become a medical doctor some day. These dreams were shared by her family who did everything they could to support her. A month into her second term of school, Ama was called home and was dumbfounded by the news she received.
She could no longer go to school because she must go to the shrine to serve the deities of her community, that is, be a trokosi or slave to the deity, for an offence committed by her ancestor who years ago harvested products from a neighbour’s farm and failed to own up to the offence.
She was informed that the unforgiving neighbour reported the offence to the deity of the land resulting in frequent deaths in the family. Servitude at the shrine is the only way to atone for that sin and halt premature deaths in the family.
Uncontrollable tears streamed down Ama’s face she watched her dreams evaporating before her very eyes.
Ama, who is now 25years, is still in servitude and has children, a boy of 10 and a girl of 8. She had these children when she was barely mature and they were allegedly fathered by the priest of the shrine. The children are her sole responsibility and she works on the shrine’s farms to take care of them. She has purposed in her heart that her children will go to school to achieve for her, what was taken from her.
Ama is just one of the young girls, some even younger than her, who are enslaved to deities as trokosis. The story of Ama and others like her and the impact of the trokosi practice on their lives, came up for discussion at national and district Research Dissemination Workshops on the trokosi practice.
The workshops were held to share the outcomes of the study with stakeholders, elicit feedback from them, deepen understanding of the practice and map out a way forward in effectively eradicating the practice. The national workshop was held in Accra while the district workshops took place in four of the districts known for the active practice of trokosi.
They are Dangme East, South and North Tongu and Akatsi districts. The study, conducted by senior research fellows from the University of Ghana, Legon, delved into the generic of the practice and its current status and made some recommendations with regard to effort to eradicate the practice.
The Accra workshop brought together decisions and policy makers at the national level, officials of African traditional religious bodies, representatives of diplomatic missions, the donor community and academia. Participants at the district level workshop were drawn from a cross section of government agencies, priests of shrines and traditional leaders, opinion leaders, churches and community-based groups.
The practice of trokosi was instituted from ancient times as society attempted to deal with discipline and ensure law and order long before the modern-day legal system as introduced by the colonial masters. The trokosi system is a traditional cult slavery system where mostly young virgin girls are confined to fetish shrines in servitude to deities for wrong done by family members. Such confinements may range from a few years to lifelong sentences.
A girl can be confined for very trivial issues such as stealing a pair of earring of keeping an object found in the community or a grievous crime such as murder. When a girl is confined, she is bonded into a spiritual marriage with the deity and cannot be married to any man unless a ritual is performed to grant her permission to associate with any other than the deity.
These alleged slaves to the shrines go through some painful physical and psychological experiences. These young girls are virtually forcibly removed from the protection of the parents and guardians they have known from birth. They find themselves in strange environments and have to adjust on their own to the mental shock that hits them. More often than not, they are sexually abused, all in the name of atonement for sin.
As explained by the District Chief Executive for North Tongu, Mr. Moses Asem, at a district research dissemination workshop at Adidome recently, the traditional rationale of the practice was very laudable but overlords of the shrines apparently corrupted the practice by introducing sexual relations with the “trokosis” or the slaves of the deities. As the priests represent the deities on earth what they practice is regarded as divine so on one dares questions them.
Through advocacy activities by NGOs such as International Needs, the government, thankfully, in 1998, passed a law to abolish the practice. Ten years on, what is the extent of the practice?
At the workshops, outcomes of a research carried out on the status of the practice were shared with stakeholders. The research indicated that though the practice still existed, the number of girls in servitude was lower than when advocacy on the practice began.
In the late 90’s when the practice was at its peak, there were over 5,000 girls in servitude. It is estimated that, currently, there are about 278 girls directly under the practice.
The research revealed that there were girls who were in servitude but lived in the communities after rites were performed for them. Anyone seeking to have a relationship with them had to request permission.
It was also revealed that though the practice seemed to go down, this was not really the case because trokosi had only gone underground and was being practiced in different forms in different communities. It has become a nocturnal activity in most communities.
Research also revealed that there were several programmes and strategies for eradicating trokosi in the active regions. These include advocacy, negotiations, interventions and rehabilitation targeted at priests, the community and the subjects.
Education of liberated trokosis forms an integral part of the rehabilitation programme for victims into society. This is to put them in a better position to take adequate care of themselves and their children and live a normal life.
This is what the Adidome Vocational Training Centre, an IN Ghana Initiative, does for the liberated victims by giving them training in sewing, baking and other vocations. There are also school that take care of the education of the children of the liberated trokosis.
At the workshop, it was evident that even among the communities themselves, information about the practice was very minimal and there were different levels of appreciation on the real nature of the practice.
The communities were, however, unanimous in their view about the need to eradicate the practice but there were deep-seated fears about backlash from deities and spiritual repercussions on people who dare to push for the abolition of the practice. This has retarded community support in efforts to bid goodbye to the practice.
The stakeholders recommended that the law needed to take its course and encouraged the security agencies to do all in their power to enforce the law. Similarly, participants in the national workshop were surprised that trokosi was still active in spite of the law criminalizing the practice. They stressed that there was the need to take a more critical look at the law and its implementation mechanisms. They also recommended sustained education and sensitization of the people to the abolition of the practice.
This notwithstanding, some participants who lean towards Traditional African Beliefs, saw eradication of the practice as “throwing away our culture”.
The President of the National House of Chiefs, Odeneho Gyapong Ababio II, who participated in the national workshop, was concerned about practices that did not promote the development of the people and urged his colleague chiefs to abolish them.
One of the concerns of the stakeholders was that promises made to the shrine priests and traditional leaders in return for releasing or freeing the trokosis, were not met. This weakens the agreements and makes the agreements for the release less credible.
Shrine priests were less resourced financially and lacked the necessary empowerment to support the eradication of the practice. Monetary concerns keep chiefs and other traditional leaders from getting involved in issues concerning practices such as the trokosi liberation process. Some priests and practitioners of trokosi have turned the liberation process/intervention into a lucrative business and demand huge sums of money before releasing victims.
Delivering the keynote address at the national workshop, the Deputy Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs emphasized the ministry’s commitment to address the problem of trokosi under its national plan on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.
Early child ministries (ECM), ANOTHER Christian NGO working towards the liberation of trokosis, describes the practice as one of the worst forms of child slavery, a flagrant abuse of child labour and dehumanizing form of ritual of abuse. The fetish slaves liberation movement (FESLIM) is one of the early groups involved in advocacy against trokosi. It shares the views of ING on the trokosi practice. What ECM, FESLIM and IN Ghana have in common can be summed up in the words of Mr. Mark Wisdom, executive director of FESLIM, in 1999, that “the total eradication of the trokosi system is their desire”.
. The author is a postgraduate student of the School of Communication Studies , University of Ghana , Legon, and an intern at Strategic Communications Africa Limited, a Total Communications company.
Daily Graphic page 11 Saturday, August 30, 2008 Page 1 of 1 1
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