The best interest of the child in the harmful religious practice of ritual slavery in West Africa
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Ritual slavery has been an extant concern in West Africa, and more specifically, Ghana, Togo and Benin since at least the 19th century and has exhibited its pervasiveness ever since. Although Africa is rife with what is presumed to be harmful religious and cultural practices, it is in the aforementioned countries where ritual slavery in the forms of troxorvi, vidomegon and vudusi is most prevalent and consequently necessitate address. Fetish priests demand that the youngest child of a family is consecrated to the prior's shrine so as to conciliate the ancestral gods for a crime committed by a member of the latter. The consecrated child is usually a very young virgin girl who is exposed to the sexual proclivities of the fetish priests, has to labour at the shrine, bears the priest's children and has her autonomy, or at least sense thereof, entirely restricted. The practice itself would cogently stand in direct contravention of most, if not all, international human rights jurisprudence – the best interest of the child principle being the primary thereof. Apart from its participants and proponents relying heavily on the importance of the practice for its own anthropological sake, they also legally justify ritual slavery under the veil of cultural relativism, religious rights and parental authority, all of which are important jurisprudential tenets particularly in Africa. The Ghanaian, Togolese and Beninese governments have shown considerable indifference toward the suppression of the practice. Although troxorvi has been criminalised in Ghana, the state itself has chosen not to arrest or prosecute the contributors of the practice as a matter of principles based on the aforesaid competing rights. It is, however, of import to note that this is not to be considered a comparative study. The aforesaid three states are used as examples so as to reflect the factual and legal position of the practice in Africa. The primary objective of this study is to critically evaluate the present incidence of ritual slavery with the best interest of the child, right to culture and religion and parental authority as gauge to establish the legality of the practice itself. The underlying supposition is that the practice is, in fact, unreservedly prohibited by international, regional law, and domestically in Ghana, but continues to subsist due to legislative ambiguities and governmental complacency. The secondary objective is therefore to investigate which legal and judicial remedies exist to alleviate the effects and prominence of ritual slavery.
- Law