Female Ritual Servitude

by Aliyah Jacobs | January 28, 2015

In July of last year, my husband and I went on our first ministry trip to Ghana. The country of Ghana is afflicted with wide scale poverty--road surfaces are often poor and food sellers are everywhere. Yet, the landscape is striking, untamed and unkept. Still, the true beauty of the country lies in the hearts of the gracious people who live there. It was within their hearts that I found powerful stories of both hope and sorrow. 

Ghana is situated in West Africa, and for 150 years, it was the epicenter of the British Slave Trade. Some twelve million slaves were shipped from Ghana to the Americas and over seven million of them died before ever reaching the new world. Today, Ghana is committed to the abolition of slavery and many Ghanaians turn with shame and pain away from their slave history. Almost seventy percent of the Ghanaian population are confessing Christians and the country itself has worked hard to promote freedom and abolish slavery.

However, a sad reality of female slavery known as Trokosi or Female Ritual Servitude still exists in areas of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and parts of Nigeria to this very day. I first learned about this reality from a young girl who stood on the terrace of her home and shared with me the stories of the "stolen" Trokosi girls. This practice is rooted in control, power, false religious tradition, and patriarchy. It takes place when a member of a family commits a crime. This crime can be rape, murder, theft, robbery, incest, etc. Once the crime is uncovered, the family members fear punishment from the gods. In order to appease these unnamed and unknown gods, the father of the house will take one of his virgin daughters and give her to a local shrine, as atonement for the crimes of the family member.

These virgins daughters are given to the shrine from as young as two years old. Old male priests work and oversee these shrines, reaping huge benefits from their powerful position. The young females are forced to work for these priests, without education, appropriate food, clothing, and even water. If one of these young girls works outside in the fields and earns a scant income from her daily workload, she is then forced to hand over all her earnings to the priest who "owns" her. She is likewise forced to have sexual intercourse with him and is frequently raped and sexually abused, often leaving her with children who continue to live and work in these shrines. She has no access to healthcare and is exploited in every possible way--physically, mentally, sexually, spiritually, and emotionally.

In many cases, these girls run away and return to their parents' home, but they are almost always returned to the shrine. If they run away again, their parents disown them, leaving them defenseless in the face of a harsh and cruel world. They leave with no education, no clothing, no means of survival, and face the very real risk of being trafficked or prostituted. In many cases, families are so committed to the indoctrination of this practice that generations of their virgin daughters are given over to these shrines for crimes that no one remembers anymore. It is also common practice for men of these tribes to sleep with their wives in order to produce daughters, just so that the father can commit acts of violence in his own life and atone for them by sacrificing his own daughters. The cost is minimal for the father of the house who exercises complete ownership over his children (and wife), but the cost for these young girls is equal to death. Shockingly, the number of girls who are currently enslaved at these shrines across these four African regions is more then 35,000 and the numbers keep growing.

Proverbs 31:8 implores us to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed" (NLT). It is our mandate as faithful followers of Christ, to stand up to and to speak out against injustice--against the doctrines of control, power and, patriarchy that have bound so many men, women, and children who were created in the womb by the careful intention of our living God, Yahweh (Psalm 139). The practice of trokosi stands in direct contrast with our most foundational belief, that Messiah Jesus is the only atonement and the only mediator we need between us and God. His death set us free, so that we could keep our way pure and our path straight and so that we in the body can be one (John 17). I pray for the girls who are caught up in this evil practice. I pray that we will stand against this practice and share the truth about it. I pray that the organisations fighting it will, with God's help, succeed.

Slavery still exists in many forms today and it is not acceptable. The world is often times filled with silence, silence while others suffer, but we are not to remain silent. Our voices are to resound in prayer and petition, in advocating justice and equality for all. In the words of American journalist Amy Goodman, "Go to where the silence is and say something!" May we go and say the greatest thing that anyone could ever say, that Christ died to set everyone free because of his great love (Matthew 28:19-20 / Isaiah 61). May we never stop proclaiming freedom for all in the powerful name of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

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