By - Adedoyin Shittu
When other civilised countries are empowering their children and doing everything to harness their potential, Africa is still enthralled with tales of witchcraft. A society that preys on its weakest and not ready to take responsibility for misfortune that befell one.
If one is sick; handwork of witch, one is poor; witches at work, if a person loses his job; witches took the job, if a lady is of marriage age and there is no man to engage her as wife; witches must have painted her black or blinded men from seeing her, someone dies suddenly perhaps out of an illness that is medically proven; the demise is attributed to witchcraft attack. This is a society fascinated with witchcraft and believes everything that happens is attributed to the supernatural. Unfortunately the society look for where to hang this blame and where is more easy than the hapless children.
The Niger Delta in Nigeria is an exceptionally notorious place for the branding of children as witches. The belief of the existence of witchcraft is widespread, the female victim is called witch, and male victim is called wizard. Witches and wizards are believed to possess diabolical powers to attack anyone they so choose and virtually every misfortune is attributed to them.
The region, which has more places of worship per square mile than anywhere else on earth according to Al Jazeera, has seen a rise in the child witch hunting as a result of the rise of “Pentecostalism”. The practice of branding children witches has also become a very lucrative one for Pentecostal preachers who are able to “exorcize” children of the influence of Satan for a price, or as they call it, “enact deliverances”.
These Pentecostal preachers have justified the killing and destruction of so-called witches by quoting Exodus 22:18, “Suffer not a witch to live”, as a pastoral tool for defence.
Helen Ukpabio, is one of these powerful evangelical preachers, she is the founder and head of the African Evangelical franchise, Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries. She runs the Liberty Gospel Church and has carved a niche for herself preaching about witches and demon children. She has made a series of films that promote the view that children can be agents of Satan, and can kill. Her popular film, “End of the Wicked”, which was released under the umbrella; “to delivers the truth in a fresh and exciting way, and has led to the deliverance and salvation of many”, shows children eating human flesh. In the wake of this odious film, the number of children being branded witches increased dramatically.
In her pamphlets, dramas, crusades and preaching, she has consistently insisted that a child who is often sickly, deformed, bedwets, sleep walks, often running off to play, talks in her sleep, displays intelligence not consistent with kids her age and so on, is a witch. As a result of her activities, countless number of children have either been denounced, abandoned, stigmatised, mobbed, rejected by family members and even killed.
In the BBC documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children, a preacher who calls himself “the Bishop” says that he personally has killed 110 witches. He now practices deliverance by feeding children a concoction of alcohol, mercury, and his own blood, while also pouring a liquid into their eyes and ears. For this, he charges parents 400,000 Naira. If the parent cannot pay, they are held captive till they can. It is quite common for preachers to denounce a child as a witch during services attended by the whole community, and then charge the family a sum to exorcize that child or face the consequences.
Stories of Children Accused of Witchcraft
Meet 12-year-old Mercy Frank, a victim of parental brutality to a ‘child-witch’. She was bathed with acid by her biological mother for being a ‘witch’. Though she survived the incidence, her quality of life will be reduced.
Before the incident, Mercy was a pupil in Atabong Primary School in Okobo local government area of Akwa Ibom state. The acid bath had completely damaged her mouth, breast and other parts of her body.
In her words; “I am from Atabong village. I am the second child in the family of four children. My mother poured acid solution on my body, which is why my mouth and my body are like this”.
“One of our neighbours told my mother that I was a witch but I told her that I was not a witch. She took me to Apostolic Church in Atabong, Okobo and the pastor told her that I was a witch. When the pastor asked me if I was a witch, I told him I was not a witch”. “The pastor prayed and told my mother that I was a witch, then we went back home after the prayer. When we got home that night, my mother “canned” me seriously. Other neighbours begged her to let me be but she refused. “Later at midnight, my mother took me to a bush and poured acid solution on me and dropped me by the roadside and left.”
In Akwa Ibom, a team of police officers rescued an eight-year-old girl who was abandoned by her family after being accused of witchcraft. She had started sleeping in the market square and was eventually kidnapped by a 40-year-old man believed to be mentally ill. She had lived with him in a shanty house, where he raped her repeatedly until she was rescued.
Mary Odiong and Ekong Asua were also victims of the “child witch tag”. They were tortured by their relatives and sent out of their homes for allegedly being witches and responsible for the death of relatives and parents.
Odiong told Journalists that she was blamed for the death of her uncle who died in Okopedi village, of an ailment many suspected was AIDS, and that her people accused her of “sending” the AIDS virus to the man.
“The people in my family called me and started asking me whether I was a witch and why I killed my uncle. I told them that I did not know anything about what they were talking about. They started beating me. They hit me with cutlasses. They cut my buttocks with knives. After the beating became too much, I lost consciousness. Later, I woke up to find myself in a bush. I have been living on the streets since last month without food and shelter,” she said.
In Esua’s case, his parents died from what has been described as a “strange ailment,” and afterwards, his uncles accused him of being a wizard, and blamed him for his parents’ death.
“My uncles’ told me that they went somewhere to find out why my parents died. They said they were told that I killed both of them through witchcraft. They tied my hands and started beating me up with native sugarcane and asked me to confess”, he said.
In another report, a baby girl, just five months and her two years old sister were butchered by their biological mother at Ikot Eneobong, Calabar for being ‘possessed’ with demonic spirit.
On that fateful day, the children’s mother said she was ‘praying’ with the kids. In the course of the said ‘prayer’, she shaved the baby’s head with a broken bottle and thereafter smashed her tender head on the floor even with an open Bible by her side. She then took hold of the other child and in the course of conducting exorcism on her, strangulated her to death.
When asked why she did what she did, she said, she was trying to cast away demons from the children because any time she looks at them, she would see an old man in their eyes. She also accused the husband of not being sensitive to the things of the spirit
Another cruel case is the story of six year old Effiong Lawson, who was beheaded by his step father, Felix Lawson in Akwa Ibom State. Effiong was accused of being a wizard whose assignment in the witchcraft world was to impoverish his parents.
He was sent out of his father’s home for three days and had not eaten. That fateful night, he sneaked into the backyard to beckon to his sister to help him with some crumbs of the food in the house but unknown to him, his father was at home.
Felix, on realising that his ‘witch son’ was in the yard, left the food he was eating, pursued the hungry and weak boy with a cutlass and in one fell swoop, cut off his head. Effiong’s headless body was later found in the pool of stagnant water behind one of the school blocks, adjacent Lawson’s home. The head was found in the nearby farm.
Nwaeka is another teenage girl that had a six inch nail driven into her head based on a witchcraft accusation in Eket, Akwa Ibom. She later died of the brain injury.
Another man, Emmanuel David Akpan, was arrested for allegedly inflicting grievous injuries on his three kids after accusing them of bewitching him. Akpan, and his wife, stepmother to the kids, were arrested by the police for bathing the three little girls aged 7, 5, and 3, with hot water, after binding their hands and legs with electric cables. At the police station, Akpan said his provocation stemmed from nightmares and weird dreams he was having every night, saying they were caused by the three daughters. “These children always attacked me in my dreams, they want to kill me”.
An Non Governmental Organisation, Basic Child Rights Initiative (BCRI), also rescued three children aged 13, 11 and 7, who were locked the children indoors for weeks in his poultry house over allegation of witchcraft. The father locked them up without food or water inside the place with the claim that they were the ones behind his misfortunes and they wrecked him financially.
This is Hope, the abandoned toddler accused of witchcraft, he was rescued by Anja Ringgren Lovén, a Danish humanitarian worker, who run the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation, a charity organisation dedicated to helping abandoned children.
When he was rescued, his condition was very critical; he had worms and severe kwashiorkor. His health complications also affected his private part and ability to urinate. Because of malnutrition he was also lacking important nutrients a typical growing child needs for the brain to develop properly. Thankfully with constant feeding and love, Hope developed normally.
There are countless tales of children who are victims to the “child witch branding”, they are tortured in the hands of those who should be their protectors. Thousands of innocent children are tortured everyday in the name of this superstition and ignorance caused by religion, yet we have a bill that criminalise the stigmatisation of a child as a witch. This law is lenient with the law breaker and many religious preachers have never been prosecuted. This is because we are entrapped in deep religion and superstitions. This has led to an increase in the number of fakers who have taken upon themselves the task of “delivering” and “exorcising” the witchcraft from children for a price.
Killing of innocent children still happens everyday. These children are tortured with canes and cutlass, hot iron, hot water, fire, tied with ropes and cables, nails driven into body parts, starved of food and water and some are bathed with acid just to extort a confession from them. They are stigmatised for trivial reasons ranging from death of relatives, parent, lost of job, adult misfortune, etc. Sometimes a reason is not needed for stigmatisation but greedy preachers use this excuse of witchcraft to siphon money from ignorant parents. It is time the government gets serious with the Child Basic Rights and put a stop to the current evil, unspeakable atrocities and the gross abuse going on against children.
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