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Child Witch Killings and Africans PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Leo Igwe   

Many reasons have been proffered for the recent upsurge in witchcraft accusation in Africa. leg_deformityThey include: envy, jealousy, poverty, hatred, rivalry, vengance, misunderstanding or lack of information, lack of rule of law and human rights protection. In Congo DRC and Angola, scholars attribute the rise in child witchcraft accusation to political instability, armed conflicts and civil disobedience, health crises particularly the HIV/AIDS pandemic, environmental disaster, food shortages and unemployment. This west Africa nation is rather widely known for its witch camps, where mainly old women who are accused of occult crimes and subsequently banished from their communities, seek refuge to avoid being killed by their family and community memebers.

In the village of Sang, off Tamale-Yendi Road, in the northern region of Ghana there is a care center for vulnerable children. This orphanage, built in a typical northern Ghanaian style of a ring of small rooms linked by short fences has around 32 children. These children were rescued, picked up or brought to the care center by family and community members. The center, which is managed by catholic nuns, can as well be called Ghana’s ‘child witch camp’. It was established few years ago and now serves as a ‘safety zone’ or ‘refuge space’ for these vulnerable kids. According to the managers of the orphanage, at least half of the children were abandoned due to witchcraft accusation. In Northern Ghana, belief in witchcraft  and magic is very strong. Witchcraft accusation and persecution is widespread. Witches and wizards are blamed for all kinds of misfortunes such as sickness, barrenness, accidents and loss/destruction of properties according to a report called: The State and Condition of Alleged Witches in the Northern Region of Ghana, published by ActionAid Ghana.

Very little is known about this ‘home’ in Sang where children accused of witchcraft or of being ‘agents’ and instruments of the devil are taken care of. The children are from a day old to sixteen years. They are victims of superstitious beliefs which constitute the basis of the local thought and culture. In many parts of northern Ghana, a child whose mother dies after delivery is often percieved to be an ‘evil child’, a curse to the family or community and an agent of the devil. In a region where many deaths are seen as unnatural, many babies are accused of killing their mothers through witchcraft and magic. And to prevent such an ‘evil child’ from wreaking more havoc, the baby is abandoned or dumped at an anthill to die. Children who are born with disability are also accused of witchcraft. Disability is generally percieved to be abnormal and unnatural. Witchcraft accusation is often a way of reacting to abnormalities in children. Children with disabilities are often thrown into an ‘evil forest’ or are killed in order to remove the ‘curse’ from the family or to disable and get rid of their their evil magic and witchcraft. According to local caregivers, some children were brought to  the center by their parents out of fear that they could be murdered by family or community members who regard them as evil.

There is need for an intensive public enlightenment campaign to get people in northern Ghana to abandon the superstitious belief that associates disability with withcraft and magic. People need to be educated to act and react with care and compassion, not irrational fear, to any form of disability or ‘abnormality’ in children or in any other human being. But this much needed awareness program cannot happen due to lack of principled stance on the witchcraft phenomena. Witchcraft is a charged and controversial topic. And many locals do not like tinkering with it. There are too many people; local chiefs, priests, soothsayers, etc. with vested interest in witchcraft belief and practice. Those trying to combat witchcraft related abuse are mainly faith based organisations like the one managing this orphanage or religious individuals who actually believe in witchcraft. They do not openly question or are willing to challenge witch beliefs.

For instance, two NGOs working to address the problem in the region stated in their brochure that they ‘do not challenge the existence or otherwise of witchcraft and its effects on individuals and communities’. It is difficult to understand how these organisations can execute a comprehensive and effective campaign without challenging witchcraft claims. Getting the local population to understand that witchcraft is an imaginary crime, a form of superstition, should be a critical part of any efforts or program to tackle and eradicate witch persecution and killing.

Apart from public education, victims of witchcraft accusation need practical help and support. Many children at this orphanage were born with deformities in different parts of their body. Some of them have speaking or hearing difficulties. A few cannot talk, walk or communicate effectively. One child has some problem on the fingers, and another on the toes.

One child was born with a sore on one of the legs which has so far defied all the locally available medical care. Some of the children at the center will eventually die if they do not recieve the urgent medical assistance they need in order to survive. Some  urgent surgery and medical care could rectify the health problems, ensure their survival and help save their lives. Unfortunately, the required medical expertise is not available in the country. And even if it is available, the local care center cannot afford it.

These children are branded witches not only due to fear and superstition in their families and communities but also due ignorance of the medical solutions to their health problems and lack of resources to cater for their needs.

Hence, I am using this opportunity to appeal to all well meaning individuals and groups, skeptics and friends out there to come to the aid of these innocent children and others who are suffering and dying due to superstition, dogma and irrationalism in the region.

 

Leo Igwe is a skeptical activist in Nigeria and a former representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Currently, he is researching African witchcraft accusations at the University of Bayreuth in Germany. He is partnering with the JREF to respond in a more organized and grassroots way to the growing superstitious beliefs about witchcraft throughout the continent of Africa.

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Any proposals?
written by Ricsuth, January 28, 2013
Would be delighted to try to come to the aid of the victims, but as far as can see the post above makes no specific requests. Has Leo got any ideas as to how we can assist the campaign from a distance? Can we write to the NGOs he mentions who appear not to be confronting the issue head on? Any other suggestions?
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Proposals
written by nskeptic666, January 28, 2013
Here are some suggestions. First we need medical personnel-nurses or doctors- or agencies that can volunteer, travel down to Ghana, assess the situation and provide some medical assistance to the children. Second, you can help by contacting any individual or organisation that can provide some medical aid. Third, friends can fund raise to support anyone who volunteers to travel to Ghana and to foot the medical bills of the children Fourth, you can donate through the JREF to support our public enlightenment campaign in the region
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More information and other ideas
written by nskeptic666, January 28, 2013
For more information or if you have any other idea or proposal of how we can address the situation, please contact me, Leo Igwe at
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written by Ricsuth, January 28, 2013
Names of any of the NGOs already operating in the area to write to to encourage to assist? Regret that is likely to be extent of what I can do but hope others will be able to offer more practical help as definitely worthy. One idea to encourage Governments to put pressure via the aid programs? Will write to my Member of Parliament to ask to raise with International Development Department here in U.K.
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Actionaid
written by nskeptic666, January 28, 2013
An NGO that is already working in this area is Actionaid. To the best of my knowledge, it does not have a medical aid program. Yes, writing your members of Parliament or Congress can help too
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written by ticktock, February 02, 2013
My cousin works and lives in Ghana. I told him about this story. He said...

"Yes, there is a strange mix of evangelical Christianity and animism, and sickness will often be attributed to sorcery (especially in rural areas). Greater development, with corresponding education, is really the only solution to shifting cultural norms. The recent uptick in meddling American evangelical churches is probably the least effective solution, merely substituting one witchcraft for another."

Thought you might be interested.
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