Ghana: Legislation Enacted to Criminalize the Trokosi Tradition of Enslavement

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1 Jan 1999

On 12 June 1998, the Ghanaian Parliament passed an amendment to the Criminal Code, adding Section 314A which criminalizes customary or ritual enslavement of any kind. The new law, which was signed by the President in September 1998, provides:

(1) Whoever

(a) sends to or receives at any place any person; or
(b) participates in or is concerned in any ritual or customary activity in respect of any person with the purpose of subjecting that person to any form of ritual or customary servitude or any form of forced labour related to customary ritual commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than three years.

(2) In this section to be "concerned in" means -

(a) to send to, take to, consent to the taking to or receive at any place any person for the performance of the customary ritual; or
(b) to enter into any agreement whether written or oral to subject any of the parties to the agreement or any other person to the performance of the customary ritual; or
(c) to be present at any activity connected with or related to the performance of the customary ritual.

Abla KotorThis new legislation criminalizes the slavery-like trokosi practice, in accordance with which families give virgin girls to priests as a way of appeasing the gods for crimes committed by members of the family. The word trokosi means in the Ewe language "slaves of the gods." Once given to a priest, a girl is his property. Duties to the priest include domestic chores such as cooking and washing, as well as farming. After the onset of menstruation, the bondage of trokosi is sexual as well. It is common to find trokosi with ten to fifteen children. (Photo: Abla Kotor, Courtesy of Robert Grossman/NYT Pictures)

On 10 October 1998, International Needs Ghana, a human rights organization which has been actively working for the release of individual trokosi and for the new legislation, held a liberation ceremony in the Ketu district of the Volta region. The priests of seventeen shrines came together to liberate a total of 115 trokosi girls and women. The ceremony was attended by the Commissioners of Human Rights and Administrative Justice, as well as 200-300 people who came to witness the event. To date, International Needs has negotiated the liberation of over 1,000 women and girls from 32 shrines in Ghana.

In its Women's Action on the trokosi tradition, issued in March 1998, Equality Now highlighted the case of Abla Kotor. At the age of 12, Abla was given to a local priest in atonement for the rape that resulted in her birth - the rape of her mother by her mother's uncle. Unfortunately, Equality Now is unable to bring you news of Abla Kotor's liberation. The Awlo-Korti shrine where Abla was enslaved as a trokosi has been liberated but no member of her family came to claim Abla, presumably for fear of the tradition. Abla is now 13 years old, and attempts by International Needs to obtain her release into their custody have not been successful. Abla no longer works for the priest at the shrine and is now attending school in the village, but she still lives at the shrine and remains effectively under the control of the priest. Equality Now is in contact with government officials in Ghana, as well as International Needs, in an effort to ensure that Abla Kotor is placed in the custody of someone who will take care of her and ensure that she is safe.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the President of Ghana, thanking him for his support of legislation to criminalize the trokosi practice. Urge him to take steps to ensure that the legislation is brought to the attention of local communities and that it accomplishes its purpose of ending the trokosi tradition. Please also request his intervention on behalf of Abla Kotor, to facilitate the efforts of International Needs for her liberation from the Awlo-Korti shrine. Letters should be sent to:

His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings
President of the Republic of Ghana
The Castle-Osu