Friday, February 17, 2012

Expected to Pay: Girls Atone for Familial Misdeeds

She did nothing. She was simply born a female child in the family of a "criminal."

There are several practices, in a number of different places, that require young female children to atone for the misdeeds of their criminal family members/ancestors. In the trokosi system, if someone commits either a serious crime or social infraction, traditional leaders of the community order the family to send a young girl from that family to serve the priest of the local shrine. The trokosi system translates to "wife of the gods." Thus, the girl, sometimes very young, serves the priest as a means of repenting for her family member. In some instances, the girl serves a shorter time (3-5 years). However, in more established Trokosi systems, the severity of the crime determines the length of service (sometimes multiple generations of girls are expected to serve the priest). The girls serving are often left to their own devices (families are expected to pay for their food, but rarely do). One woman, 22 at the time she was freed, stated:

"I had to cut down trees and uproot tree stumps to burn into charcoal to sell and make some money to take care of myself," she says. "I did not have the right to take crops from the farm unless the priest allowed me to. Occasionally my parents sent me some food, but that was kept in the priest's room and I had to request it any time I needed some. I was forced to have sex with the priest as one of the rituals in the shrine, but luckily I did not get pregnant."

A similar practice, "baad" or "baadi," is illegal, but remains quite prevalent. Now associated with Afghanistan, young girls are taken as payment for misdeeds committed by their elders. This system is clearly related to the position women hold in society more generally. For example, the father of a young girl who recently escaped her capture expressed anger that the girl was abducted because he had already promised her to be married to someone else. The girl was simply a pawn in everyone's games. These young girls are often kidnapped and beaten. Given the cultural emphasis placed on family honor and the need to repent for acts that bring dishonor or shame, this practice uses the young girls as a source of retaliation--a way to regain familial honor.

A member of Parliament in Nangarhar Province said the following when discussing baad:
"The bad aspect is that you punish an innocent human for someone else's wrongdoings, and the good aspect is that you rescue two families, two clans, from more bloodshed, death and misery."

1 comment:

  1. I had know idea that this practice occurred in Ghana and Afghanistan. It is truly awful and I am glad that those countries are working to end it. However, I wonder what is the best way to enact this change. Is it through outside forces such as the old colonial powers of Britain telling communities that this is wrong? Or is it better to have that change occur within? I think the only way to truly change these harmful practices is from within the nation. I think this is why it is so important for women in all countries to be involved in government. I cannot help but think of the United States and wonder what kind of harmful practices disguised as "religious practices" occur here.