The system of trokosi (“wife of the gods”) has existed in the Volta region of rural Ghana for centuries. During the late 1990s, numbers reached to around 6000 trokosi, most native to Ghana. It also exists in Togo, Benin, and southwestern Nigeria. Fetish priests who run shrines insist that only by handing over a virgin daughter—typically aged between eight and 15—can families atone for alleged offences committed by their relatives or ancestors. These offences range from murder to petty theft. Once the girls are handed over, priests turn them into slaves and impregnate them repeatedly. They are beaten when they try to escape, and are denied education, food, and basic health services. Most remain in slavery for between three and ten years, some for their whole lives. If they die, the family must offer another virgin daughter, and if they are ever released, former trokosis are considered unmarriageable. Any children born to trokosi become slaves, and trokosi are passed on to the next priest upon one priest’s death. Until July 2002, Patience was a trokosi, brought from Togo to a shrine in Ghana at the age of ten. She was released by International Needs-Ghana, which has liberated several thousand trokosi from shrines across southeastern Ghana since 1996. The trokosi practice was banned in Ghana in 1998, but enforcement of the ban has been ineffective: officials are hesitant to restrict the practice because they view it as an integral part of their religious beliefs, and fetish priests claim the right to preserve their forefathers’ culture. Togo and Benin have done little to stop the practice, and practitioners in Ghana bring girls from these countries. Several former trokosis now campaign against the practice.
The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that there are approximately 129,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in France. Women and children from African nations being held in domestic servitude, like Henriette, often by relatives, is a recognised problem in France.Henriette, originally from Togo, became an enslaved domestic worker after her arrival in France at the age of 14. She was eventually helped by the Comité contre l’esclavage moderne (CCEM) (Committee against Modern Slavery), which works with victims of domestic slavery and forced labour in France. She was able to face some of her enslavers in court, and see their conviction.
In France, there is a pervasive problem of women and children being subjected to domestic servitude, mostly in cases in which families exploit relatives brought from Africa to work in their households. Trafficking networks have expanded to operate in large towns outside of Paris, including Lille, Marseille, Chartres, Toulouse, and Nice.
Henriette Siliadin became an enslaved domestic worker after her arrival in France at the age of 14. She was eventually helped by the Comité contre l’esclavage moderne (CCEM) (Committee against Modern Slavery), which works with victims of domestic slavery and forced labour in France.
There are an estimated 58,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Benin (GSI 2018). The country is an origin, transit and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, primarily for forced labour and sex trafficking. Trafficking victims most often come from low-income families, and frequently lack formal education or basic identity documents including birth certificates and national identification. Internal trafficking primarily draws children from rural areas in the north to the urban south of Benin in search of economic opportunity. Children from Benin who are subjected to trafficking externally are transported to West and Central African countries. Some parents send children to wealthier families for educational or vocational opportunities; a practice called vidomegon. Some of these children are subjected to domestic servitude. Children from neighboring countries are forced to labor on farms, in commercial agriculture (particularly in the cotton sector), in artisanal mines, at construction sites, or as street or market vendors in Benin. Hada is from the prefecture of Blitta. He is typical of many boys who go with traffickers without the knowledge of their parents and end up in the plantations of Benin where they perform long hours of difficult, hazardous and unpaid labour.
There are an estimated 9000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Gabon (GSI 2018). The country is a primary destination and transit country for West and Central African men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Boys are forced to work as street vendors, mechanics, or in microbus transportation and the fishing sector. Girls are subjected to domestic servitude and forced labor in markets or roadside restaurants. Gabonese children are exploited as market vendors in eastern provinces of the country. In some cases, families willingly give children to intermediaries who fraudulently promise education or terms of employment they ultimately do not provide, instead subjecting the children to forced labor through debt bondage. Some traffickers procure falsified documents for child trafficking victims to make them appear older than 18 years old to avoid prosecution under the child trafficking law. Christelle’s home village is Assahoun, in the southwest of Togo (Maritime Region). She is the eldest of five children and was in Standard Five at the Catholic Primary School when she left with traffickers on the long journey to Gabon. Today, Christelle is back in her village with her parents. She is under apprenticeship to become a seamstress. Her training is being supported as part of a joint effort by Plan Togo and the Department for the Protection and Promotion of the Family and Children and is financed by Plan Togo.
There are an estimated 10,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Lebanon (GSI 2018). It is a destination for Asian and African women trafficked for the purpose of domestic servitude, and for women from Easter Europe for commercial sexual exploitation. There are estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon and until 2012, Lebanon was the top country of destination for female migrant workers from Nepal. Women who travel to Lebanon legally to work as household servants often find themselves in conditions of forced labour through the withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, threat and physical of sexual assault. A Togolese former domestic worker. She received support from Caritas, which is a confederation of 165 member organizations that serve the world’s poor, vulnerable, dispossessed and marginalized. Since 1994, Caritas Lebanon has responded to the legal, social and humanitarian needs of migrant domestic workers and refugees. To date, they have provided vital support to more than 1,540,000 migrant beneficiaries.