In Benin, Voodoism is an official religion. As part of this, children who are ill can be sent to be healed in Voodoo convents. Children can spend up to 7 years in these convents and by the time they are deemed healed, they have often missed out on an education.
Plan International Benin is working with local NGOs and chief Voodoo priests across many villages to support children who have been confined to convents. As a result of this collaboration, many children who are sent for healing now spend 3 months in convents as opposed to years.
Over 300 children, including 193 girls, have been released from the convents so far. Out of those released, 280 have returned to school and 30 have gone into apprenticeships.
Children Tell Their Stories
“Before I went into the convent, I was going to school. I started getting a stomach ache and when I fell sick, I was brought here," Houndedji, 6, told us. "When I woke up, I asked the priest why I was in the convent and he said, ‘This is where you will find life.'
"I was half naked all the time and the rest of my body was clad in white cloth. I was taught how to sing and dance in the convent, but that’s all I can remember."
Recently released after 2 years in the convent, she said, “It is really good to be back in school and I enjoy learning English, French, sports and mathematics. When I grow up, I want to be a headmistress.”
“I didn’t like it in the convent, I felt so unhappy," said Eric. "I had to stay in the convent for one year and I wasn’t allowed out at all. Every day we had to sing and dance – that’s all we did.
“After one year, I was told I was allowed to leave, because of a project from Plan International. I felt so happy. I was able to go home, and go to school again.”
Eric has not let his difficult time in the convent affect his dreams: "I want to continue with my education and I hope to become President of Benin one day."
Madeleine, 10, said, “For me, the worst part was the lack of food – there was just not enough...I also had to undergo tribal markings. It was very painful and there was so much blood. It was everywhere.
"I was so happy when I learnt I would be leaving the convent. I left four months ago. When I came out, it took a month before I was able to feel normal again and play with my friends like I used to. I am now going to school and I live with my parents.”
Gisele, 15, recently released from a Voodoo convent said, “When I heard I was leaving the convent, I was very happy as I hoped to become an apprentice. I am now living with my parents and training to be a seamstress.
“In my community men have greater advantages than women. People just think girls will grow up, marry and leave home – so there’s no need to invest in them.
“I am hoping to graduate from my apprenticeship too, but I know once I do, I will have to get married, leave the house and join my husband.”
We work closely with partners to improve the life chances of all girls, including those who have been in Voodoo convents.