voodo kids
(CNN)In Benin, when children fall sick, their parents often turn to voodoo. The West African nation is, after all, its spiritual home. Officially a state religion since 1996, Voodooism is practiced by 17% of the population, with many outside of the religion professing a cultural link to some of its rituals.

But what happens inside the hundreds of facilities dotting the country is a mystery to most outsiders. Now advocates are raising the alarm saying the facilities may harm the children they aim to help.
Djofin Assou Gilbert is an advocate for children in Benin. He first became concerned about the practices inside the convents in early 2015, when he noticed a group of children standing outside a convent.
“It was the middle of the day and the children weren’t wearing their school uniform,” he remembers. “I wanted to know why they weren’t in school. I tried to ask a little girl why she was there, but she couldn’t answer.”
The girl, he says, had lost her mother tongue.
“I was desperate to find out more. Like many people in Benin I’d heard of these convents, but I didn’t know what was happening inside.”
“Those who practice Voodooism believe that illness is caused by evil spirits. If children fall sick, their parents seek treatment through Voodoo gods. The children allegedly possessed by spirits can be sent or even ‘sold’ to be healed in Voodoo convents,” notes Hadrien Bonnaud, a communication specialist for UNICEF based in Benin.
The ceremonies that are meant to heal these children are expensive: about $1800 (a princely sum for a population that lives on less than $1 per day). In order to afford treatment, UNICEF says some parents sell their children to work in the convents until the debt is paid off (a practice that can take months or even years).
“If they are unable to pay their debts, the children are forcibly taken from them,” explains Bonnaud.
UNICEF is one of several NGOs that have become concerned in recent years with the practices carried out inside Benin’s traditional Voodoo convents. The exact number of convents in the country is unknown, but as of 2014, UNICEF has identified 432 in five out of Benin’s 77 municipalities.
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“Those who practice Voodooism believe that illness is caused by evil spirits. If children fall sick, their parents seek treatment through Voodoo gods. The children allegedly possessed by spirits can be sent or even ‘sold’ to be healed in Voodoo convents,” notes Hadrien Bonnaud, a communication specialist for UNICEF based in Benin.
The ceremonies that are meant to heal these children are expensive: about $1800 (a princely sum for a population that lives on less than $1 per day). In order to afford treatment, UNICEF says some parents sell their children to work in the convents until the debt is paid off (a practice that can take months or even years).
“If they are unable to pay their debts, the children are forcibly taken from them,” explains Bonnaud.
UNICEF is one of several NGOs that have become concerned in recent years with the practices carried out inside Benin’s traditional Voodoo convents. The exact number of convents in the country is unknown, but as of 2014, UNICEF has identified 432 in five out of Benin’s 77 municipalities.
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