What is Child Abuse, Trokosi

Fri, 5 Mar 2010 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

– A Modern Day Slavery Still Doing In Our 21st Century Society

About three months ago a controversial TV programme on child abuse was televised on UK channel4. It riveted a lot of African opinion, which prompted close-knit soul-searching discussion. As a matter of fact, it was not the first of its kind. A similar one hit the airwaves roughly about three and half years ago on the same channel, which passed unnoticed. It was about the accusation of children as old as three months of witchcraft and the resultant abandonment and physical abuse where the flesh of these helpless kids are literally opened up with sharp edges and surgically, but fraudulently, removing something that is not captured by the camera. Besides this unavoidable mutilation, despicable physical torture endured by these children, which will make even a battle hardened soldier cringe were proven beyond all reasonable doubt to take place in certain African countries especially Nigeria, the country the documentary majored on, and Congo. I know of a friend who even told me he had to call sick at work because he didn’t have the courage to face his white colleagues whom he knew had watched the programme and will bombard him with endless question, which he didn’t have ready made answers. Most Ghanaians that watched the documentary tried as much as possible to disown such abominable practices and distanced themselves from it. Few had the gravitas to discuss it, and those that did washed their hands off it like Pontius Pilate.

The realisation that some Ghanaians living in London, a haven for reason, believed the nonsense that these children were really witches and wizards was beyond comprehension. The level of denial hollowed me out when, as a personal crusade, I tried to force a discussion on the topic. My shock came to a full circle when I was narrating the documentary to a colleague who had not watched it, in addition to a rather sinister and ghoulish report on the same award winning channel4 News. A filth that can only originate from the pits of hell but this time set in South Africa where AIDS victims were told by witch doctors that they will be cured of their ailment if they should have sex with a virgin. And the only way they could be certain of a virgin is to have sex with toddlers and some went to the extent of having sex with few weeks old babies. It was horror of horrors watching that programme. A word of caution, if you are emotionally unstable don’t try to watch this programme.

As you are reading I know that your first reaction will be this cannot be true. And this is exactly what my listener told me until I gave him the link to channel4 News archives to check for himself. He knew then that I was not just peddling hear say. So he started expressing revulsion and become defensive that such things will not happen in Ghana. So I asked him whether he had heard about baby Mercy a month old baby that was abandoned to die in the northern region for being accused of witchcraft or Trokosi – that modern day slavery.

There was a lady who wrote an article, which was published at this website about western countries looking down on black Africa. The point is how do you expect them not to look down on us when the continent is populated by people who think that a few months old baby is possessed or mutilate a couple of weeks old baby with the idea that he will be cured of AIDS. Though similar mentality prevailed on the British isle just over hundred years ago that doesn’t excuse such incredible ignorance that can only be measured on the devil’s scale. Some people who do not know the order of the alphabets will say that child abuse takes place all over Europe and American and will be quick to mention people like Fritzl to buttress their argument and question the legitimacy of the fuss. The point is evil is endemic in every society but when it becomes institutionalised to the extent that crimes are not identified as such and perpetrators get away with it, then it becomes a problem and unacceptable.

The most famous child abuse case, as far as I know, in Ghana is that of Baby Mercy and what happened to her mother Teivan as well. This is only a tip of the iceberg much bigger than what toppled the Titanic. The bulk goes unreported especially when it happens in neighbourhoods where all the people believe the superstition. A lot of Ghanaian children are suffering in silence because they are vulnerable and cannot speak or defend themselves. Their lives are blighted through the trauma they experience in their formative years when they should be enjoying every bit of it. Similar things also happens to the elderly who are used as target practice by drunkards and drug junkies who have destroyed their own lives through their own wilful choices and blame these old people as the cause of their failure. This insane behaviour spawned by fear, poverty and deliberate ignorance is akin to the much-accepted backward Trokosi, which is widely practiced in the Volta Region.

Much has been written about Trokosi. Quite recently a comprehensive book was published by Kwei Quartey on the subject and I am not going to bore you with the intricacies of the system. What bothers me is the level of acceptance and why its been left to flourish in our 21st century society. One very respectable politician cum academician who hails from the region when queried about the system responded that it was their traditional way of life. I am not going to name him but I think most of you can fish him out for yourselves. What sort of traditional way of life inflicts cruelty and takes away the dignity of its vulnerable members in its preservation beggars the imagination. The sad part of the story is most of these women who are abused don’t see it as such they have more or less, as a survival mechanism, accepted their fate and make the most out of it. Viewing it from that perspective it is not even worthwhile fighting for their liberation. Though it may sound very cold nevertheless that is the reality. On the other hand I would like the break up of the system purely based on economic grounds.

These women are inherently de facto slaves. Besides the sexual abuse, they are used on farms virtually as slave labour for the shrine. And slavery throughout history has been very notorious for the inefficient use of labour. Classic examples in the last century was the Germans use of prisoners of war in their war production factories, the Japanese use of the same in Thailand in the building of the bridge over River Kwai or the notorious use of forced labour in the GULAG in Russia. Its been proven beyond reasonable doubt that people work more efficiently when they are not under duress. And as a society if we want to move forward all the vestiges of serfdom and any of its kind will have to be shed from our society so that these our unfortunate compatriots can contribute freely to our economic growth. Because every effort in the country sums up to be what we are economically. So if the productivity of a section of the population is being stifled for the economic advantage of a selected few then eyebrows should be raised in the interest of morality and our economic well-being.

Lastly, I would like to caution that the lifeblood of these backward practices I have outlined above is fear and ignorance and nothing else. However, it is fashionable to say that the government should enact laws to curtail the practice. It is equally laughable to think that why would anybody abuse his own child or send their precious female offspring that they have carried for nine months to these heartless shrines to be maltreated by these malevolent witchdoctors and priests for their own economic well-being. Unless we see it as crime we cannot make any headway. And sadly these are crimes of ignorance and they are very hard to police. These are people who genuinely believe that they are being persecuted by these toddlers they accuse as witches and wizards or a curse may befall them if they do not hand over their beautiful daughters to some octogenarian to abuse. To some degree these people are mental patients because the problem is in their mind and that is where the battle is. Therefore it can only be stopped through the liberation of the mind. No amount of laws can bring this to an end in the foreseeable future. The government cannot brutalise the people to abandon an idea or a way of life – it is counter productive to the spirit of the age. These are crimes that the victims cannot even report or see it as crime against them. It is only a concerted effort by the whole society that can eradicate it. We have to fight it with a better ideology and education. So long as the supply source is fertile these atrocities will still go on. So brothers and sisters let us join this crusade to stop this barbaric and medieval way of life from our 21st century Ghana.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr



Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina