‘How many children are accused of witchcraft?’

This is a question I am often asked. The answer is that no one really knows, because no one is counting.

Much of this abuse remains hidden. In many of the countries where child witchcraft accusations occur, agencies such as the police and the judicial systems operate poorly, so abuse against children is rarely reported and documented. There is also very little good quality research on the scale of the problem. As Mitch noted in his guest post, there is an urgent need to gather robust information on just how many children (and others) around the world are abused as a result of witchcraft accusations.

In 2011 Safe Child Africa submitted a report to a Nigerian Commission of Enquiry into child witchcraft in Akwa Ibom State in the Niger Delta. As part of this report, we analysed over 250 cases of child witchcraft accusations that we had documented – and the vast majority of those were just in one part of one state, because that was where our projects were based. When I wrote the Shadow Report to the UN in 2009, I read media reports of child witchcraft accusations from across Nigeria’s 36 states. And in the projects I manage in Nigeria at the moment, we get new cases of child witchcraft accusations being reported every month. So while we cannot say exactly how many children this is affecting, it is likely to be in the thousands if not tens of thousands within Nigeria alone.

Findings from elsewhere support this. In 2010, a report estimated that there were more than 20,000 children on the streets of Kinshasa in DR Congo as a result of witchcraft accusations and thousands more across West Africa. In 2014, SCWA supported a piece of research with 1000 pastors in Kinshasa. Almost 70% of them personally knew at least one child who had been accused of witchcraftOver 60% of the pastors reported that the accused children they know personally suffered physical harm as a result of the accusation, and 85% said the children were ostracised or shunned. Extrapolating from this, that means thousands of children have been beaten, burned, starved and abandoned because they are believed to be witches – in one city in one country of the many countries where this is a problem.

It horrifies me that so many children can be accused of witchcraft and suffer such terrible abuse as a result, and nothing is done. No-one is brought to justice for what they have done to these children, and no-one helps the children to put their lives back together.

Some children literally vanish – they are killed and buried, or taken into the bush and abandoned to their fate. Other ‘vanish’ onto the streets, where they are vulnerable to further abuse such as gang violence, drugs and trafficking.

I’m really proud of our projects that do help some of these children, especially the amazing work done by our partners in Nigeria under such difficult circumstances, but I know there are so many more children who are suffering alone.  That’s why in addition to our work to provide immediate support to children – medical care, counselling, relocation etc – advocating to make this issue a priority for people in power who can make widespread changes is so important.