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Trokosi: NGO Attempts to Free Ghanaian Girls from Indentured Servitude

In some parts of Ghana, Benin and Togo, young girls are held in bondage in shrines under a system called trokosi. One organization working to find a solution to the practice in Ghana is International Needs Ghana. Through negotiation, the organization has been able to secure the release of some of the girls.

Under the trokosi system young girls are sent to shrines either to atone for sins committed by a relative or in payment of services rendered by the shrine. Such a service may be a request by barren women for children, or for help in finding a culprit in a particular crime.

Cromwell Awade is the Project Officer of International Needs Ghana. He said some of the girls serve in the shrines for life and are replaced by their families after their deaths. Others are allowed to go home after serving a number of years, although such people still hold links to the shrine and could be recalled at anytime.

He said the organization is working to secure the release of girls in confinement. It is also making an effort to ensure that trokosis outside the shrines have all links to the shrines cut off. He said they have been able to secure the release of 3500 trokosi girls.

“We include those outside because of the factor of replacing them if they die. So as we work with the priests we want the priests to declare that these people are also free so this stigma will be off,” he said.

Awade said the negotiation, which takes the form of dialogue, began in 1991. Some shrines agreed, but others refused. A list of items were then agreed upon to facilitate the release of the girls.

“Initially we offered cattle to the shrine owners to try to modernize the system. (For example), instead of taking human beings to atone for the crimes, they take animals instead so that it forms an economic base for the shrine as well as taking the burden off the women and assuring them of their human rights. But in 1998 when the law was passed criminalizing this practice what we use is educating them on the law," he said.

Awade said counseling sessions are organized for newly released girls to help integrate them back into society. Some of the girls are offered vocational training in bread making, sewing, hair dressing and pomade making.

Priscilla Kaletsi is the counselor in charge of the International Vocational Training Centre at Adidome in the Volta region. The Centre offers free training to vulnerable girls in the community including liberated trokosis.

“When they come the first day, we talk to them. We say this is our home. We are all free, you are my sister you are my daughter. So after that those from the same area they don’t move together they mingle with the others. Then you see them chatting and sharing. On Saturdays which is our entertainment day, they mingle, they dance, they make merry," she said.

Priscilla said the girls are also taught about human rights issues, including violence against women and about reproductive health. They are also given literacy classes. She said sometimes it is not very easy to adapt to their new way of life and some of them carry the fear of the deity under which they served.

“They don’t have the idea to go to hospital freely so we counsel them in that area and pay for their medical check ups” When they finish the training there is a big celebration. There is a package for each department. They are given enough materials so that when they go home they can start working,” she said.

Priscilla said some liberated trokosi girls have set up their own businesses after graduating from the school. The graduates are also monitored when they go back to their homes.

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