Although slavery has been abolished in all the countries in the contemporary world, the vice still exits. Brooker (2010) notes that in the developed and developing countries, such as those in the United States of America, European region, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the issue of contemporary forms of slavery have hampered the overall development of these regions, mostly due to the abuse of human rights. Crossette (1997) indicated that there are different legal definitions of the term slavery, especially those found in the international conventions and treaties as well as in the public mind. Generally, slavery is highly prohibited by universal institutions like the United Nations, especially in Africa and Eastern part of Europe, where women and young girls are subjected to slavery. The slavery mostly occurs in areas of physical or sexual abuse, as currently being witnessed in Ghana among other West African countries. (Equality Now, 1998). This paper will candidly look at Trokosi as one form of modern types of slavery in Ghana.
Characteristics of Modern Slavery
In order to understand the Trokosi as a modern form of slavery, it is crucial to understand the general characteristics of modern forms of slavery. As stipulated by Crossette (1997), slavery is based on the social insignificance and financial exploitation. In most societies, slaves are usually a population group that is most susceptible to emotional and physical abuse as well as to the elimination of freedom. The slaves are subjected to a life of oppression and poverty. It is noteworthy that slavery continues to grow, though it takes different forms depending on the society which exercises it. There are some characteristics which the ancient and the modern forms of slavery share.
The relationship between the slave and the owner is entirely based on the extreme inequality and dependence. The slaves are usually strangers who are excluded from the society and are linguistically and ethnically different from others. Further, the slaves are uprooted from their respective families as well as all the available support groups (Brooker, 2010).
This is the commercialization of the human being as a property, thus allowing the owner to buy or sell them. This fully objectifies people, thus making them working tools.
Slavery takes place when a given country delegates its absolute power to those citizens who are living there. It takes away its responsibilities to these slaves and abdicates them to the private individuals who, in turn, become their owners. This way, they are able to benefit from this gap in power and people who have been left to their mercies (Crossette, 1997).
Background on Trokosi
As indicated above, the issue of slavery, especially concerning women in different parts of the world, cannot be overemphasized. The story of contemporary slaves, as clearly seen in Ghana among other West African countries, is just too incredible for any person to believe. Practiced among the ay-vay (Ewe) tribe in Ghana, Benin, and Togo, Trokosi is a kind of child slavery where families forfeit liberty of their children due the offenses and crimes created by others (Ben-Ari, 2001). It is sad to note that, despite being a gateway for shipping millions of slaves to the developed countries in the 19th century, Ghana and other West African countries continue to perpetuate modern forms of slavery through this method. To most people from the developed countries, such as the U.S. and Europe, it is difficult to comprehend the fear and superstitions that are characteristic for a number of West Africans who exercises religions like animism, African traditional religion and voodoo among others. It is this notable fear that drives the horrendous practices known as the Trokosi slavery (Equality Now, 1998).
What is Trokosi?
The term “tro” means fetish or deity in the Ewe language, while the term “kosi” represents female slave trade. In the French speaking countries, the term Trokosi is generally known as “voundounsi” or “Voodoosi”. Other circles refer the term Trokosi as the hierodulic slavery or a ritual servitude (Brooker, 2010). Equality Now (1998) indicates that Trokosi is one of the old cultural and African traditional religion practices, which is found mainly amongst the Ewe group of people of the southern part of Ghana. When families experience difficult times like poor crop yield, chronic illnesses, numerous deaths among others, they believe that their gods are angry with them. This makes them seek for ways in which they could appease these gods to relieve the curse placed on them. The cursed families visit nearby shrine to meet with shrine custodians, who are also known as the fetish priests, voodoo priest, or witches/wizards. These priests consult the gods and then inform people why they have been cursed as well as about the methods of how to remove the curse (Equality Now, 1998).
For the “big” sins like adultery, theft, and murder, these priests demand that the concerned family offers virgin girls to the gods to atone for the sins committed. As far as the virgin girls are serving the gods in the shrines, the curse affecting their families is lifted. The gods demand a virgin girl, thus most of the victims of this form of modern slavery remain to be extremely young teens, most of whom lack the mandatory basic education. If the girl dies or runs away, another virgin girl from the same family must immediately replace her. Brooker (2010) found out that although the precise practices and conditions significantly vary from one shrine to the other, girls are mostly raped by the priests.
Consequently, the girls sire children and the priests take no any notable responsibility for these children. The girls are left to scrounge for food in order to feed themselves while the families live in mortal fear due to the gods being served in the shrine. Generally, Trokosi slavery has remained extremely unabated due to the deep roots it possesses in the religious culture of the traditional African religion. Currently, it is a significant source of embarrassment and dismay to most Ghanaians among other West African citizens. However, through the Voodoo practice, the power of Trokosi slavery is perpetuated through fear, superstition, and secrecy (Ben-Ari, 2001).
Legality of Trokosi
It is crucial to indicate that Trokosi has been banned in Ghana among other West African countries. In the early 1990, some Christian organizations like, for instance, the GBC (Ghana Baptist Convection) stated to lobby the government to halt this practice. Truth for Africa Lovers (2011) indicates that these shrines are placed deep in the forests in the Volta region, thus are extremely inaccessible to most people, especially the humanitarian ones. Further, the practice was not well known by many people, such as those living in towns. In June, 1998, the Ghanaian parliament banned this practice, a factor that brought the vice to international levels. Unfortunately, in most countries like Ghana, laws are usually words that are written on papers along with the signatures of some given politicians. Therefore, most of the people who practice this vice have entirely neglected the laws set by the legislature, thus propagating Trokosi slavery. Further, the Ghanaian community substantially lacks the much needed manpower as well as finances to root out the shrines and stop the practice (Equality Now, 1998).
Factors Escalating the Trokosi Slavery
For a long time, Trokosi slavery has thrived due to the stark fear that prevented anyone from talking about it. Talking about this modern form of slavery was considered as a rigid taboo since people believed that gods would hear each word and thus strike them dead in case one unveils the horrors that are happening to their daughters. Further, in the colonial times, the village elders punished those who revealed the act – a factor that highly perpetuated the act (Dovlo, 1995).
Curbing Trokosi Slavery
As seen above, the act of slavery against young girls in the Ewe group has led to the abuse of human rights and the loss of numerous lives due to rape, denial of accessing health care, and physical abuse among other notable aspects (Brooker, 2010). To stop this kind of modern slavery, numerous non-governmental organizations and churches have taken it upon themselves to negotiate the custodians of the shrines, thereby liberating Trokosi slave’s (Truth for Africa Lovers, 2011). According to Florence Butewa, the chairperson of the UNIFEM (UN Development Fund for Women based in Lagos Nigeria), the act of Trokosi is just one kind of an abuse against the rights of women globally. She categorically notes that in other places across the globe, slavery against women takes the forms of female genital mutilation and widow burning among others. Further, the government should educate the locals and the priests, most of whom lack any form of education, on the need to uphold human rights thus stopping this vice (Ben-Ari, 2001).
From the above information, one can see that the modern form of slavery continues to increase in different parts of the world. Clearly, Trokosi is a practice of slavery that should be condemned and stopped as a matter of urgency. By educating the locals, Trokosi slavery would be significantly minimized, thus allowing young girls to access education and live in dignity, as it is stipulated by the world organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank among others (Dovlo, 1995).