Hundreds of children in Benin have been freed in a significant victory against the damaging voodoo ‘convents’ in the country.

Development charity Plan International, alongside Beninese children’s NGO ReSPESD, has been working with community leaders and voodoo priests for the past year to encourage the release of children from the convents and back into formal education.

More than 300 children have been released so far, with 280 returning to full-time education and a further 30 going on to apprenticeships.

Voodoo beliefs are widely held in the Kouffo region of Benin, where children are often sent to live in religious schools against their will to be cured of illnesses. Some children were spending up to seven years in these centres and were subject to scarring ceremonies and solitary confinement.

Though hundreds still remain in captivity, Mama Hounza Tognon Mahouchi, president of the voodoo priests in Kouffo, now supports the release of children so that they are able to continue their education. As a result, it has been agreed that children will spend a maximum of three months at convents and only during school holidays.

Plan International’s Benin programme unit manager, Michel Kanhonou said: “We can’t forbid them from going into convents – it is part of the voodoo culture. Before this practice hopefully ends, our main focus is to protect children who live there, realise their rights and help them go to school.”

Photo: Plan International