Although violence is a global phenomenon, its magnitude varies from place to place. A potential bridge for violence is through the spectacle of cultural practices. Ghana is governed by cultural belief systems and a plethora of social practices that exert a powerful influence on the socio-economic and political life of the people.
While some cultural practices impact positively on social life, others cause violence. Some cultural practices that perpetrate violence include widowhood rites, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and Trokosi. I write this editorial with the hope of reigniting government and public attention to address the Trokosi system that causes violence against our beloved virgin sisters in the south-eastern corridor of Ghana.
The Trokosi system is a cultural practice in which a young virgin girl is offered to smaller gods to atone for crimes believed to be committed by a relative. Prior to the eighteenth century, shrine priests accepted animals such as sheep as offering by families who dreaded the retribution of smaller gods. However, as the practice evolved over time, shrine priests replaced animals with young virgin girls as more useful for domestic purposes and sexual gratification. In case the shrine priest dies, the slave girl becomes the property of the successor. Likewise, if the girl dies, she is substituted with another virgin girl from the family.
For the past decades, the Trokosi system has subjected innocent virgin girls with bright future to physical, sexual, psychological or emotional torture and economic exploitation. Slave girls are constantly denied their fundamental human rights such as freedom of movement, association, education et cetera. The stigma and fear generated by the practice isolates the victims from the general community, thereby driving away marriage suitors. Girls in servitude who are deprived of their strategic and practical needs are more likely to remain in an endless cycle of poverty, which has implications for the country as a whole.
Due to this, several measures have been introduced to abolish the Trokosi system. For instance, laws such as the Criminal Code Act 554 of 1998 prohibits the practice. Women’s advocacy groups have also been working tirelessly to bring attention to the different forms of violence experienced by these girls and to ensure that the practice is eradicated. Likewise, non-governmental organizations such as International Needs Ghana have carried out sensitization programmes to hasten the abolishment of the practice. These efforts have brought tremendous benefit in redeeming a sizeable number of victims and many shrines demolished. However, the practice is still at large in the practicing communities, which continues to cause significant human rights abuses and health problems. Several thousands of girls are suffering in silence in slave camps in the name of preserving culture.
The question is, why the persistence of the Trokosi system? Some mediating factors include; the lack of political will to enforce and implement domestic and international legislations; failure on the part of law enforcement agencies predominantly the police to arrest perpetrators of the practice; the inability of the attorney general to prosecute culprits of the practice; partisan politics and corruption; endemic poverty and low levels of literacy within the practicing communities; poor sensitization and communication channels; and the unconcern attitude of the public to speak against the practice. These factors suggest that to abolish the practice completely, the government needs to develop sustainable laws and programs, and advocate for their enforcement. The media should also pay more attention to sensitizing the public on the impact of negative traditional practices rather than non-beneficial political issues. Raising public awareness can support initiatives to end some of these practices like the Trokosi system.
In addition, the country needs to move beyond conferences and workshops where our leaders sit on round-tables to eat snacks and share ‘fat’ per diems and implement stringent actions to stop the practice. In addition, we need to try new ways of sensitizing the practicing communities about the dangers associated with it. For instance, the use of folk media as a sensitization outlet could help prevent the practice. This method of communication carries information in the language and expressions that the people understand and are familiar with. Moreover, there is the need to address the endemic poverty in these areas by tackling partisan politics and corruption.
We need to unite and fight for the growth of the country rather than being divided on party lines, an ingredient that slows the progress of the country. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, human rights groups, governments and Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders should implement workable measures to end the Trokosi system completely.
God Bless Ghana
Gervin. A. Apatinga
Memorial University, Canada