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Changing religious practices to protect Benin's children

Plan International is working closely with Voodoo religious leaders in Benin to help vulnerable children out of convents and back into school.

A boy during a ceremony in a Voodoo convent.
Religious leaders have agreed that children should stay in Voodoo convents for a maximum of 3 months.

Voodooism is an official religion in Benin, followed by a large proportion of its population. When children fall ill they are thought to be possessed by spirits and are sent for healing in Voodoo convents, where they can spend many years completely disconnected from the outside world.

We are working closely with the Voodoo priests who run the convents to shift attitudes and ensure that vulnerable children are protected and can access their right to education.

Changing Practice

Mama Hounza Tognon Mahouchi, president of Voodoo priests in Couffo, Benin told us, “I am the most powerful. I am the god of thunder, earth, air, water and snake. I was born into Voodooism – we all were – and I believe in it.”

Mama Hounza Tognon Mahouchi, President of the Voodoo Priests in Couffo
Mama Hounza Tognon Mahouchi, President of the Voodoo Priests in Couffo

“Children used to stay in my convent for up to 8 years. They were tired, there was no food and no toilet. Children would spend many years without seeing anyone, enduring rituals and ceremonies, denied of an education.

“Several months ago, I received a message from Plan International asking me to meet to discuss the time children spend in convents. As a result, a decision was taken to reduce the time children spend there. I told the other priests – they didn’t resist and were able to see the importance of education.

"We were happy to release many children immediately. We hope this project continues so children are able to go back to school.”

Brighter Future for Children

Dhoussou Yaovi, chief priest of a convent in Couffo, said, “Voodooism has proved a very effective medium of healing. When children enter the convent, they usually stay here for 3-5 years. Elders from the village look after them. During that period, children are not able to see their parents. Voodooism does not permit children to leave the convent, while they are being healed. If they do, their sickness will return.

"Voodoo priests have the power to determine when an illness can be cured. We alone can plead to the gods to heal in a shorter amount of time.

Chief priest at a ceremony in Benin.
Chief Priest, Dhossou Yaovi, said "Now, children are able to go back to school and enjoy a brighter future."

"A few months ago, Plan International Benin came to our convent and explained why children must not be confined to convents for long periods of time. We understood the importance of allowing children to learn and go to school.

“When children leave the convents, it can be expensive. Many parents can’t afford to pay for the children to leave the convent, so in those cases the priests help with money.

“There are great benefits to working with Plan International. Since they have intervened, children are able to go back to school and enjoy a brighter future. In fact, many children who have left our convent are now excelling in school.”