The Defenders

Juliana Dogbadzi

“Unlike most of the other girls and women, I got over the fear instilled by the Trokosi system. This was my weapon. Now that I have escaped, I help diminish the women’s fears by telling my story. I tell them what I am presently doing, and that I am still alive.”

Juliana was only 7 years old when she was forced into Trokosi, a form of ritual enslavement found mostly in the Volta region of western Africa. Trokosi, which means “slave of the gods” in the Ewe language, is a religious and cultural practice. Girls, some as young as 6 years old, are forced to serve as slaves to shrine priests as reparation for crimes committed by their family members. Practitioners believe that if a girl is not enslaved after a crime has been committed, the gods will be unhappy, and members of her family may die. In Juliana’s case, her grandfather had stolen $2.00. Her parents had originally given her sister to the shrine, but after her untimely death, Juliana was chosen to replace her.

For 17 years, Juliana was forced to work without compensation or adequate food or clothing. She was denied an education and forced to live with 11 other Trokosi slaves in one small room. Juliana was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by the priest and bore him two children. She escaped several times but was forced by her parents to return to the shrine. On one occasion, the priest caught her trying to escape and ordered his workers to beat her almost to death.

At the age of 23, Juliana finally succeeded in escaping and gaining her freedom. She remained in Ghana, where she married and learned to read, write, and speak English. Determined to help other Trokosi girls and women, she successfully campaigned to get legislation passed outlawing the practice―though enforcement has been lax. After working alongside government groups, a non-governmental organization (NGO) called International Needs Ghana, and other NGOs, Juliana had helped over 4,000 Trokosi girls and women escape from 52 shrines by 2003.


Modern slavery and human trafficking extend far beyond Ghana and the Volta region of western Africa. Today, slavery affects more than 40 million people worldwide, more than at any other time in history and more than three times the people it affected during the transatlantic slave trade. Women and girls comprise 71 percent of all modern slavery victims. Roughly a quarter of all the slaves worldwide are children.

According to the abolitionist group Anti-Slavery International, a person is considered a slave if they are “forced to work against their will; are owned or controlled by an exploiter or ‘employer’; have limited freedom of movement; or are dehumanized, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as property.” Roughly 16 million people today are trapped in forced labor for the private sector. Among other things, these slaves are forced to produce clothing; pick fruits and vegetables; work on construction sites; and dig for minerals used in smartphones, makeup, and cars. Roughly 4 million people are involved in state-sanctioned forced labor, which includes abuse of military conscription. Another roughly 5 million slaves are estimated to be sexually exploited. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), women and girls comprise 99 percent of all victims in the commercial sex industry and 58 percent in other sectors.

The Global Slavery Index publishes country-by-country rankings on modern slavery figures and government efforts to end the abuse. According to their data, slavery today is most prevalent in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific. The ILO warns, however, that these figures are likely to be skewed due to lack of data from key regions, including the Gulf states.


  • My Stolen Childhood: Watch a short documentary about Brigitte Sossou Perenyi, a former Trokosi, who goes on a journey to understand why Trokosi is practiced and why her family gave her away.
  • Global Slavery Index: Learn more about where modern slavery occurs and what governments are doing to try to end the abuse.
  • How Are Countries Trying to End Modern Slavery?: Learn about the efforts in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Australia, and the US to introduce legislation aimed at bringing an end to modern slavery.
  • How to Help Fight Human Trafficking: Learn how you can help raise awareness to prevent human trafficking and support survivors.


Discovery Education has teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Humanity United and Fund II Foundation to bring Speak Truth to Power to the classroom. Speak Truth to Power, a global initiative dedicated to sharing the stories of human rights defenders around the world, provides compelling content for a set of flexible, standards-aligned digital resources, designed to educate, engage and inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.