So why do children end up on the street?
In my last post, I talked about how poverty and abuse at home are major driving factors – and not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. However, in the areas where we work, witchcraft accusations are a huge cause of the abuse that then means children either run away from home or are abandoned – and therefore end up on the streets.
I’ve seen so many cases where this has happened to children over the years. Like many people, witchcraft accusations against children were something I knew virtually nothing about - until I joined Safe Child Africa. But it’s the reason why the charity started working on violence and abuse issues all those years ago – seeing so many children on the streets in Nigeria, asking what had happened to them and being told ‘It’s because they are witches’.
Even if children are not on the streets because of an accusation, many people assume they are witches because they are on the streets – I’ve been told that in some areas, the local word for ‘street child’ is the same as the one for ‘child witch’…
This was exactly what happened to Jacob.
After his parents separated, his father remarried. His stepmother accused him of being a witch and was beaten and neglected; and finally forced out of the house.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen over and over – where a stepparent does not want, or cannot afford, the children from a previous relationship.
Aged just 12, Jacob has to learn to survive on the streets. Everyday he begged for food and money, and relied on drugs to cope with what was happening. Jacob was, however, one of the lucky ones – he was found by Madam Esther and brought to SYDRI.
Today Jacob is happily living in our street child shelter. Captain of his class, and with excellent academic results, he wants to be a lawyer. Although we’ve not yet been able to trace his family, he is so happy with his new home and his ‘brothers’ at SYDRI!
There is an inextricable link between witchcraft accusations and street children in Nigeria, as well as in other countries like the DR Congo and Togo. As part of my work with the Stop Child Witch Accusations Coalition (www.stop-cwa.org) I’ve heard from other charities who work in those and other countries, and it is so similar to what I’ve experienced in Nigeria.
There have been estimates that thousands of children globally are on the streets because they have been accused of witchcraft – although no one knows for sure, because no-one is counting them…
Sadly, it could be more like hundreds of thousands.
But things are changing – slowly, but surely.
I’ve worked on this issue for nearly seven years now, and there is much more awareness of these links between street children and child witchcraft, not only among key policy-makers in government and at the UN, but also among charities, churches and the general public. Just last month there was a conference in Kenya, where African church leaders and theologians looked at what needs to be done to make sure that churches, and the communities that they are such a huge part of, respond to witchcraft accusations in a positive, non-abusive way. This is huge step forward in making sure no more children have to go through what Jacob experienced.