Child Witchcraft Accusations:
Why are children accused?
The idea of witchcraft stretches back through history and reaches far around the world. Throughout all civilizations where witchcraft has been documented, TYPICALLY accusations have ALWAYS been levelled against the weakest and most vulnerable members of a given society.
In the Niger Delta region, where Safe Child Africa currently focuses much of it’s operations, children are by far the most vulnerable members of society.
Our extensive work in the region, since the charity was formed in 2005, has revealed that every single day, children are subjected to the most appalling physical violence, neglect, sexual abuse and abandonment, In fact UNICEF figures show that around 81,000,000 children under 15 years of age, have been on the receiving end of violent discipline in the home, which is defined as physical punishment or psychological aggression.
And this is a figure which is only set to increase as Nigeria’s 180,000,000 population continues to grow. Together with this continued threat of general physical violence towards children, is the even more worrying, rising trend, of child witchcraft accusations. These have escalated to such an extent in the last 10 years, that in 2009 the UN Committee on the rights of the child recognised child witchcraft accusations as being of particular human rights concern.
In the Niger Delta region, witchcraft accusations happen for a number of reasons. They are often shaped by an individual’s culture, beliefs and values system, and their world view. They can rise through manifestations of deeper social difficulties (many of which affect West Africa as a whole) and they can be a philosophical response to the problem of suffering and hardship: poverty, social economic inequality and illness, death or other family breakdown. More recently attitudes towards children practising dark magic have been perpetuated and legitimised in some parts of popular cultural media, in particular the so called, ‘Nollywood’ film industry.
Conflict, urbanisation, environmental disasters and the subsequent weakening of communities, have all played a part in the increase of children in West Africa being accused of child witchcraft.
“What often follows an accusation of child witchcraft, are ceremonies of deliverance, that are hard to believe and difficult to imagine”
While an accusation of child witchcraft is traumatic enough, the ordeal doesn’t stop there. What follows an accusation of witchcraft is very often a barrage of cruelty and torture in the form of ceremonies of ‘deliverance’, that are hard to believe and difficult to imagine.
Children may be beaten with hot machetes, chained up and starved for days on end or forced to ingest highly toxic, lethal concoctions. All of which are believed to help ‘drive the witch out’ of the child and enable them to ‘confess’ to being a witch.
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Despite our research, operational activity in the Niger Delta and speaking out about this humanitarian crisis, witchcraft accusations remain an extremely hidden problem. Most accusations go unreported and undocumented and due to funding restraints there is a significant lack of robust research into the true scale of the problem. In consequence there are no reliable, concrete statistics on the number of children affected.
Want to know more about why witchcraft accusations happen?
The 2008 Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ provides an in-depth look at the often complex and troubling practice of child witchcraft accusations, which is sadly on the increase. The documentary which was produced by Red Rebel Films and was directed by Mags Gavan and Joost van der Vaalk received wide critical acclaim, winning a BAFTA and an International Emmy Award, for Best Current Affairs.
You can view the documentary Saving Africa’s Witchchildren here (this will open a new link where you can view the documentary on YouTube. Please note the YouTube channel is not affiliated with, endorsed or connected to Safe Child Africa, therefore we can not guarantee the suitability of any associated content.) Please also be aware, that the documentary does contain some very disturbing scenes from the outset and may not be suitable for viewing by young people.
A recent 2018 report entitled ‘Branded and Beaten’ which was produced for the BBC by reporter Marc Ellison provides an up to date window on the current situation of child witchcraft accusations in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. You can read the full report, here.
Last updated December 2018