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Opinions of Saturday, 23 February 2008

Columnist: Ossei, Nana Yaw

Trokosi: Opportunity to Abuse ...



As per the 1992 Constitution and Ghana’s obligations under International law, Ghana is legally required to eradicate all slavery and slavery-like practices that pertains within the country. Ghana has signed and ratified the following Treaties and Conventions namely;

1. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976)

2. The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (1976)

3. The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 4. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969) 5. The International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1981) 6. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Signatory to the Treaty) 7. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987)

8. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990)

9. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (2003)

10.The African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights (1981)

11.The Slavery Convention and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery And the Slave Trade (1926)

The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), conducted an investigation into the practice of Trokosi and concluded that, the practice discriminates against women and children. As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Ghana is bound under Article 2(f) to abolish all existing laws, regulations, and customs that constitute as discrimination to women, to ensure the full development and advancement of women. Article 3 of CEDAW provides for equal access to education for both genders and by denying these women and girls access to education, vocational training and economic self-sufficiency, this contributes to the inability of these women and girls to make a meaningful contribution to the development of their communities which contravenes Art. 10 of CEDAW. Shockingly, under the Trokosi practice, families send predominantly girls to the shrines where they are raped, denied basic life necessities including access to education and are so stigmatised that, even when released, many will suffer lifelong societal rejection.

A custom whereby only females have to be sacrificed with their lives to pacify the gods for crimes committed mainly by male relations is clearly discriminatory based on one’s sexuality. Nations such as Ghana are bound by Art. 5 of CEDAW, which calls on all States to eliminate sex stereotyping and the fact that, only women and girls are used to redeem families from curses amounts to sex stereotyping. Violence against women and girls constitute a violation of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, and failure to protect and promote these rights nullifies the enjoyment by women of such rights. Trokosi slavery also violates Ghana’s obligations as signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under Art. 24 (1&3) of the Convention of Rights of the Child, States are obligated to ensure that, no child is deprived of access to healthcare and must take measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to children’s health.

Traditionally, Ghana as a nation has failed to protect Trokosi slaves who are denied access to even the most fundamental of health services. Question is, are they registered under the NHIS? The Convention also recognizes the right of children to education (Article 28), protection from economic exploitation especially, when harmful to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development as per (Article 32), and freedom from all forms of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse (Article 34), and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37). Clearly, Ghana and the Trokosi practice violates this Convention by condoning, if not encouraging the mass rape of children, their forced labour and denial of their education. The unjustified and undignified aspect of the Trkosi practice lies not only in punishing a person who has done no wrong but also, in the perpetuity of the punishment.

Some Trokosi members are second and third generations of their families serving an imprisonment for the same crime which infringes Article 7 (2) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981) which provides that “punishment is personal and can be imposed only on the offender”. Further, Article 4 of the same charter, upholds the integrity of the person and ultimately, the Trokosi system, in its present form is an infraction upon the rights of the victims.

Article 18 (3) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights stipulates that, “States must ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and child as stipulated in International Declarations and Conventions”. Clearly, Ghana has failed to act in accordance with its obligations under International Law to end the practice of Trokosi. Unfortunately, when girls are freed, they are still bound by rituals that keep them connected or attached to a shrine for life. Article 7 of the Convention On Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (1956), a “slave” is defined as “ a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”. The Supplementary Conventions and The Supplementary Convention on Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade (1926), further extends this definition to incorporate slavery- related prohibitions including among other practices, the delivery of a child to another person with the view of exploiting that child. Practically, it means that, these victims of ritual slavery always have the rights of ownership exercised over them.

To date, the State (Ghana) has not enforced the new legislation criminalizing ritual enslavement and have made no arrests and yet, the practice still persists. By tolerating the practice of Trokosi slavery, Ghana violates its obligations as signatory to the 1930 Forced Labour Convention (ILO No.29) and the 1957 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (ILO No.105), which defines “forced or compulsory labour” as all work or service “exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”. Ghana has incorporated the above named Conventions into domestic law and requires Ghana to undertake measures to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour within the shortest possible time. Yet, under the Trokosi system, families continue to give away their innocent virgin girls to shrines where they are forced by the fetish priests to labour in order to generate substantial personal income for shrine owners. If the girls attempt to escape or fail to fulfil their duties, the fetish priests beat them. Article 25 of the ILO agreement obliges all State parties to ensure that, the illegal exaction of forced or compulsory labour is punishable as a statutory offence and the penalties imposed are adequate and strictly enforced. In Ghana, the law exist but, the enforcement is absent. Question is, why should we use the resources of the State to pass a legislation which for ten years has never been enforced and yet, our sisters and daughters are continually being abused on a daily basis in the name of religion and culture. How sad. Furthermore, ILO No.29 also requires signatories to issue regulations requiring the examination of any complaints received from victims of forced or compulsory labour. No measures whatsoever has been put in place by the State. Part 3 of my article will consider the response of the State to the Trokosi issue, UN Special Rapporteur’s report, findings of the Committee of Rights of the Child and strategies as to how to eliminate the Trokosi practice.


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