This is a truly shocking story that I posted this morning on our Breaking News site. It’s about how a grave fear of witchcraft in Nigeria has led to an alarming new trend of children being accused of being witches who are then either cast out or murdered by their families.
According to a report by CNN, pastors in southeast Nigeria are telling their congregations that illness and poverty are caused by witches who need to be cleansed through deliverance or cast out of the community. Far too often, children are becoming the victims of these beliefs.
CNN interviewed Sam Ikpe-Itauma, founder of the Child’s Rights & Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) who rescues abused and/or cast out children and cares for them in an orphanage in Akwa Ibam state. The 200 children living in his home were all accused of witchcraft and were cast out of their homes, often after being tortured. Sam’s staff of 16 at the orphanage give the children security, healthcare, nutrition and counseling.
But these are the lucky ones, he says.
“If we are not here there’s a possibility of them being thrown into the river, buried alive or stabbed to death,” Sam said.
He offers the example of one of his saved children, five year-old Godwin, who was accused of being responsible for the death of his mother. Neighbors say the church pastor blamed Godwin for the death, at which time the child was confronted. When Godwin said “no,” he was beaten until he confessed to killing his mother. He was then locked up with her rotting corpse every night for three weeks with little food or water. It was not until neighbors alerted Sam to the situation that he was able to rescue the boy.
“A child witch is said to be a witch when that child possessed with certain spiritual spells capable of making that child transform into cat, snake, vipers, insects, any other animal and that child is capable of wreaking havoc like killing of people, bringing diseases, misfortune into the family,” Sam told CNN.
“When a child is accused of being a witch — that child is hated absolutely by everybody surrounding him so such children are sent out of the home… But unfortunately such children do not always live long. A lot of them, they’re either killed, abandoned by the parents, tortured in the church or trafficked out of the city.”
Even though belief in witchcraft is rooted in centuries of tradition in Nigeria, it has only been in the past 10 years that it has become associated with child abuse, he said.
“It’s a social crisis,” he added. “Poverty propels this child witch phenomenon and poverty is a twin sister to ignorance. Most vulnerable children come from single parents, divorced parents, dysfunctional families.”
Those children who escape death but aren’t lucky enough to be rescued are left to roam the streets. CNN visited one area where a 15 year-old named Samuel said he has been living on the streets for five years after a local pastor blamed him for unexpected deaths in the family.
“My parents sent me out of the house — said I’m a witch,” he said. “I was beaten by the prophet in the church.”
As a result, Samuel is now living in an abandoned building with 10 other children accused of witchcraft.
“Religious leaders capitalize on the ignorance of some parents in the villages just to make some money off them,” said Lucky Inyang, project coordinator for ‘Stepping Stones Nigeria’, an organization that helps the street children.
“They can say your child is a witch and if you bring the child to the church we can deliver the child but eventually they don’t deliver the children. . . .The parents go back to the pastor and say, ‘why is it you have not been able to deliver the child’ and the pastor says ‘Oh – this one has gone past deliverance – they’ve eaten too much flesh so you have to throw the child out.'”
Fees for deliverance range anywhere from $300 to $2,000.
Government officials who spoke to CNN claim the situation is being blown out of proportion by people like Sam Ikpe-Itauma and Lucky Inyang.
“We insist that the name of Akwa Ibom state must not be smeared and the people of the world should not be deceived by certain NGOs [non-governmental organizations]who are claiming to be taking care of stigmatized children of Akwa Ibom,” said Aniekan Umanah, the Information Commissioner of Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state. “This is a ruse, they are making money for themselves.”
He added: “There may be problems yes but it’s been blown out of proportion and people are capitalizing, on what ordinarily may be a social problem, across the globe in painting Akwa Ibom state black — that is the aspect we say no to. We will not allow the image of our state to be smeared.”
Sam and other NGOs disagree and are pleading with government officials to do something.
“Relevant government agencies, working on security and protection of children must step up their efforts to make sure any child that is stigmatized must — that parent, the churches, the law must be evoked to make sure such people face the law immediately, otherwise it must go on and on, on and on,” Sam said.