Benin is considered the home of voodoo, a religion often portrayed as black magic. Many voodoo rituals are shrouded in mystery and misunderstood. So are voodoo convents that are scattered across southern Benin. Local children spend months and even years behind the convent walls because their parents send them there. They believe it would appease the spirits in case of an illness or bad luck.
In voodoo monasteries, children are given new names and are forbidden to use their old ones, wear old clothes and speak their native language. Instead, they study voodoo customs and language and are initiated into secrets. Leaving a voodoo monastery requires a special ceremony that costs parents $50, an unaffordable sum for most in Benin.
Voodoo priests and supporters say keeping children in convents is necessary to preserve voodoo culture and traditions, but activists disagree. Children confined in convents miss out on education and sometimes have no one to return to because their parents are not around anymore. Activists from organisations like ReSPESD seek to reduce the time children spend in convents and cut the price of a release ceremony.
Activists are also working with local leaders in the programme, explaining the importance of education for Beninese children. While many are ready to change, some remain adamant. Hear from voodoo priests, local kings and children about life inside the convents and what voodoo means to them.