Initiative Against Ritual Servitude

In parts of Ghana, Togo and Benin, thousands of young girls are held as slaves in unspeakable conditions, victims of a vicious form of modern-day slavery--ritual servitude & abuse in idol shrines. Every Child Ministries is fighting against this form of child slavery which is ruining the lives of Ghana's youth. ECM is partnering with national Ghanian efforts to liberate these girls. The "trokosi" are the best-known group, although not necessarily the largest.  In this initiative, ECM works in several different ways to liberate victims, help them rebuild their broken lives, and offer them the soul-healing power of the Gospel. We also work toward elimination of all traditional practices that enslave girls and women.

Sadly, slavery still plagues us.  Many victims of ritual servitude may be thought of as living human sacrifices. Many of them are taken just prior to adolescence, but many also are taken in early childhood—as young as four years old.  Although the time they are supposed to serve in the shrine is sometimes defined in years or months, the price of exit is placed so high that in practicality most remain slaves all their lives, or until the priest no longer finds them desirable. The term "trokosi" or "wives of the gods" shows the sexual side of many forms of ritual servitude.  The victims are shrine slaves or slaves of the gods.

Why do we call ritual servitude child slavery?   In practical terms, victims of ritual servitude are slaves of the priests who serve the idol gods of the shrines.  They are forced to work long hours without pay and often without having their simplest life needs met.  Many, like the trokosi, are forced to serve the priest sexually in any way he demands, while at the same time they are deprived of all normal human affection.  Trokosi, for example, are said to be "wives" of the gods, although one must observe that these gods certainly do not treat their "wives" with any affection, respect or even human decency.  This is just one of many dehumanizing forms of ritual abuse.  We call all victims of ritual servitude slaves, even though we understand that some traditionalists do not like the term.  We do so because we have seen and verified these facts.  Most important, we call them slaves because that is what the girls involved insist that they were.

Children become ritual slaves for one of several reasons:

  • Some are taken because not they, but someone, almost always a male, in their family committed or was accused of some kind of offense, real or alleged.  An innocent virgin girl is forced to become the "atonement" for this crime.
  • Some are second and third generation "human sacrifices," because in many shrines, the offenses require a fresh virgin from each generation in order to "atone" for a sin of some ancestor.  The girls chosen have no choice in the matter, and the families who give them do so under tremendous psycho-social duress--certainly not freely.
  • Other girls are given into ritual slavery by their families in payment for the services of the priest, seeking the favor of the gods in order to assure a good crop or success in an exam.  The girls themselves have no choice.  Those who seek the favor of the gods get whatever they are seeking in exchange for a life of slavery.
  • A common reason for becoming a trokosi slave is to break a real or suspected curse resulting in deaths of several family members.  Again the girl is forced to do this by a family under great pressure.
  • Sometimes people go to shrines for healing from sickness or to end fertility problems and allow them to become pregnant.  The person healed or the child born as a result owes his life to the shrine and must serve the shrine god, doing whatever the god asks for the rest of his life.  If he does not, the healing will end or the child will die, according to shrine beliefs.  This practice is prevalent in some shrines near the Togo border of Ghana, as well as in Togo and Benin.  
  • In the vast majority of cases, the child is sent to the shrine by the family, but in any case, tremendous psycho-social pressure is involved, since the only alternative is considered to be death.  Even in cases where someone goes "freely" to seek the help of the shrine, it is not the kind of "freedom" we usually think of, since it is usually with the understanding that she will die if she does not do so.

It actually happens like this:  In most cases, a traditional priest consults the spirit of the idol through divination.  The oft-demanded payment is the perpetual servitude of a virgin daughter of the family.  Families go along with the priest's unspeakable demand out of fear.  If they do not, they believe, they and their families will be cursed and die.

Rebuilding Broken Lives of Slave Children

After liberation, each girl's situation and needs are carefully evaluated by our counselors.  Vocational training is offered to some. Options include dressmaking, tie-dying and batik, weaving of traditional kente cloth, hairdressing, soap making, baking, catering, bag making, beading, needlework, paper & card making.  Basic materials for getting started in their own small business are supplied on graduation, through the generosity of partners who support the work.  Others receive a small amount of capital to invest in a small business.  Many former trokosi and other shrine slaves now operate their own businesses.  (If you are planning to visit Ghana, contact ECM and we will arrange for you to visit some of them.) 

ECM offers continued counseling after liberation to help survivors heal emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  Our counselors go to the women in their homes and communities, offering friendship, acceptance, hope and healing with every visit.  Our staff is small, but with your help, we will be able to do even more.