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Accusations of Witchcraft Against Children Flourish in Some African Countries

Witch-hunts are something that we often think of as historical events. When one thinks about accusations of witchcraft and subsequent punishment for this "crime," the first things that come to mind are the Inquisitions and the Salem Witch Trials. Unfortunately, this is not just a historical problem. Witch-hunts have been occurring, well, since the first superstition about witchcraft manifested itself in society. In history, and now, most of the accused and punished are adults. However, a rash of accusations and punishments against child "witches" and "warlocks" has broken out in Africa.
Most of the religion in Africa is Abrahamic, Islam and Christianity in particular. However, in some areas, these religions seem to be a hybrid of local superstition mixed with the superstitions and beliefs of these faiths. In the case of Christianity, belief in Jesus and witchcraft, coupled with a horrible quality of life for most citizens has led to the belief that some children are witches or warlocks and that they must be rid of the demon or devil inside of them. Either that, or simply discarded by their families. The main areas where this is occurring appear to be Nigeria, DCR (formerly Congo) and Angola.

When a child is accused of witchcraft in these areas, there may be several consequences. The child may be orphaned by his family and left to suffer child abuse (including rape) from people who take advantage of such children. Another possibility is that a "pastor" will be given the opportunity to cleanse the child of evil. This is sometimes done by burning, beating, cutting and/or starving the child. Oftentimes, the "pastor" is paid to carry out the pain and suffering upon the child. Of course, none of these children are witches or warlocks, so what may be leading parents and family members to pave the way for such abuse upon their children?

A few factors contribute to the child witch accusations occurring today. The first is the belief in witchcraft and the belief that these children can be saved through Jesus and exorcisms. The second is that while the law is being changed to state that children cannot be punished for witchcraft, little is being done to enforce these laws. In fact, people who go in to help these children are often prosecuted themselves. Lastly, the economic status of many families in these areas leads children to be more of a burden than a joy, in some cases. Children that are born "strange" or with disabilities are easy targets. In addition, children who now have stepparents or family members caring for them are often discarded in this way. Sadly, the motivation to put these children through this suffering may be as simple as the fact that it is a convenient excuse to rid oneself of an unwanted child.

Since 2003, when this issue became internationally known (It has not been going on much longer than that.), several organizations have cropped up to help these unfortunate children. At this point, it is an uphill battle against authorities and superstitious people who are unwilling to stop the madness. Evidence of this is the fact that tens of thousands of children have been victimized despite international knowledge of accusations of witchcraft against children. If anything is to be done, it must start with the authorities enforcing restrictions and making child abandonment and abuse severely punishable.

Sources

Howse, Christopher, Children Accused of Witchcraft, retrieved 2/12/11, telegraph.co.uk/comment/8260755/Children-accused-of-witchcraft.html