A new Unicef report has identified greater urbanization in Africa, disruption caused by war and the growing economic burden of raising children, as factors responsible for the increasing number of accusations of child witchcraft in parts of Africa.
According to the United Nations-Unicef report, 10-20 years ago, it was women and the elderly who tended to be accused, but in recent years, albinos, orphans, street children and the disabled have been mostly preyed.
Unicef researchers found out that most of those accused of witchcraft are boys aged between eight to 14 – who often end up being attacked, burned, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed as punishment.
While rights groups agree that violence against children is wrong, Unicef say there is little it could do about the widespread belief in witchcraft, but it would do everything it could to stop the subsequent victimization of accused children.
“The children would be forced to admit being witches and then asked to tell the accusers who passed on the witchcraft to them. More than 20,000 street children had been accused of witchcraft in the DR Congo capital Kinshasa, and reintegrating affected children remained a major problem,” says Unicef’s Regional Child Protection officer for West and Central Africa, Joaquim Theis.
The report draws on a range of studies and underlines the most vulnerable groups of persons while arguing that “orphans being brought up by relatives is a risk factor, as is the arrival of a step parent”. Character traits that suggest aggression or a solitary temperament can be as dangerous in this respect as having physical deformities or conditions such as autism. Most seem to be boys”.
“While witchcraft accusations against children are linked to certain cultural and religious reasons, the response to these forms of child abuse are no different than the response to other forms of violence and neglect of children”, Theis argues.
Researchers found that the problem is being perpetuated by Church Pastors who charge huge sums of money to exorcise the children, after they have been accused of witchcraft.
The tension of poverty across most of African communities has delivered an opportunity for a new and terrible phenomenon that is leading to the abuse, murder, and exploitation of thousands of children and their mostly illiterate parents or guardians; in the name of Christianity.
The deliverance for children plagued by witchcraft, who the pastors claim are responsible for divorces, diseases, accidents, poverty, or job losses has become a competitive and lucrative business in most African communities.
According to most Christians, evil spirits, satanic possessions and miracles can be found aplenty in the Bible, references to killing witches turn up in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Galatians. However the literal interpretation of these scriptures is a popular crowd-pleaser in sub-Sahara Africa.
The components of a comprehensive response and prevention system, according to Joaquim Theis, should include “research to get a good understanding of the phenomenon and its causes, care and protection for children who have been victims of abuse; awareness raising, education and mobilisation regarding child abuse among the general population and among professional groups and political and religious leaders; reform of legislation and more effective law enforcement.”